Tag Archives: Christianity

ChurchSurfer @ Hamilton Community Church: My First Adventist Experience

Church visit # 25 – Saturday, June 25, 2011

Hamilton Community Church (Seventh-Day Adventist) – Chattanooga, TN


One of the things that has been amazing about the ChurchSurfer journey so far has been the overwhelming response from the people I have talked to who have told me that after reading one ChurchSurfer article (usually about their own church) they continued to keep up with the blog week after week.  The majority of these people have told me that the reason they like to keep up with it is because it gives them insight into what is going on in other churches in the community.  It gives them a sense of “having been there” without actually being there.  You could argue that it is good for Christians to venture out of their home church on occasion to visit another congregation, but many people simply do not have the desire to do that.  They are understandably connected to their own church and do not want to miss out on their “family” time.  This is especially true of church leaders…elders, deacons, teachers, preachers, pastors, etc.  The church leaders are potentially the ones who would get the most out of experiencing other congregations, but are obviously the ones who would have the hardest time sacrificing a Sunday (or Saturday for the Adventists) at their own church.  The result of never venturing outside of your own church is that people tend to become “denominationalized” (OK, I just made that word up), meaning that they become intensely loyal to their own church denomination, adopting it as their identity in some instances, which can lead to forming negative stereotypes and attitudes toward other churches and denominations.  This is where it becomes a problem.  If we harbor these ill feelings toward other churches, how in the world are we supposed to work together to advance the Kingdom of God?  Of course I know that there actually are substantial differences in doctrine and practice from denomination to denomination, and I agree with C.S. Lewis who writes in his book “Mere Christianity” (a HIGHLY recommended read) that Christians cannot even agree on what is acceptable to disagree about (what are salvation vs. non-salvation issues?).  But the more we disagree, the less we work together, and the less we work together, the less we will accomplish for God, plain and simple.  So it was my intent with ChurchSurfer…both for myself and for those who read the blog…to experience as many different denominations as possible and hopefully come away with a better understanding of who we all are and a more open and positive outlook on how we can work together.  It was this desire that led me this week to visit a denomination I had absolutely zero knowledge and experience with, aside from reading “The Great Controversy” by Ellen G. White about ten years ago (which was donated to me by a missionary).  The denomination I am referring to is Seventh-Day Adventist (or just Adventist).  So Laura and I got up on Saturday morning and here is what happened…

ChurchSurfer @ Scott Memorial Church of God: In Need of Fathers

Church Visit #24 – June 19, 2011

Scott Memorial Church of God – East Ridge, TN

Added Pressure

In the week leading up to this week’s church visit, I received an interesting phone call.  Clint  Cooper from the Chattanooga Times Free Press called me to inquire about doing a newspaper profile on the ChurchSurfer project.  Clint and I had met a few months earlier at a weekend event called the Walk to Emmaus, at which he had heard me mention the ChurchSurfer blog, and since then he had read it and apparently felt like it would be a good story to share in the “Life” section of the Times Free Press.  I was all for it, of course…my thought all along has been that the stories from these churches would be a valuable resource for people in Chattanooga…and hopefully uplifting and entertaining as well.  After making arrangements for a photographer to come out and meet me at the church I was visiting (but still had not chosen) I realized that having a photographer taking pictures of me may complicate the “average-Joe-first-time-visitor” experience that I’m always looking to write about.  I immediately began deliberating about the various churches I had been considering, and questioning to myself whether they would feel intruded upon or exposed, or maybe feel like I was reporting or investigating their church rather than just writing an experiential blog article about it.  I became somewhat troubled about this decision and thought about calling the pastor of a church beforehand to alert them to what would be going on, but then I reasoned that I would be making a bigger deal out of this thing than it really was.  On the morning that I was supposed to call Clint back to let him know which church I would be attending, I still had not made a decision.  I was looking at the calendar and it suddenly dawned upon me that this Sunday was Father’s Day.  My dad, Mark Davis, recently became the Interim Pastor at Scott Memorial Church of God in East Ridge.  How could I possibly choose any other church in the city of Chattanooga to attend on Father’s Day over my dad’s church?  Problem solved!  Not to mention that if having a photographer around caused a stir I probably wouldn’t get kicked out of a church where my dad is preaching, haha!  Thank you Lord!  So here we go…

ChurchSurfer @ New City Fellowship: A Culture of Accepting Cultures

Church Experience #23 – June 12, 2011

New City Fellowship PCA – Chattanooga, TN

With or Without Generalizations

When it comes to making generalizations about how people worship and conduct church services compared to what types of cultures and subcultures make up the majority of the people in a congregation, I would say I have pretty much gotten what I have expected so far on the ChurchSurfer journey.  Denomination seems to be the best foreshadow of what to expect out of a church experience, and then as you add in the demographics of the pastor and people that make up the church you can pretty easily paint the rest of the picture.  For example, if you go to an Episcopal church that has a predominantly white congregation in an affluent neighborhood, you can probably bank on the fact that the service will be dressy and formal with conservative hymn-based worship led by a choir without electric instruments or drums.  There are plenty of generalizations like this that will tell a story about what a certain church is like, and I would argue that (whether consciously or unconsciously) these are the tools most people use to decide which church they will attend or join…it is really just human nature.  So far, I  have attended twenty-two different churches in 2011 and have not really been surprised (by not knowing what to expect) yet.  I am not really sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing.  Should churches be that predictable?  I can think of arguments for both the “yes” and “no” answers to that question, as well as for “yes and no” answer.  Let me also clarify that I am speaking of the typical format and style of the worship service here, not the events that happen (or results of those events) at a church on any given Sunday, which are wholly up to the Holy Spirit (you like how I did that…wholly and Holy?).  The reason I am bringing these things up (as you can probably guess) is that here I am in week twenty-three and feel like for the first time I visited a church that was not what I thought it would be.  Well, to be honest, I have actually been to New City Fellowship once before, probably ten years ago or more, and that was my experience then.  Now that I am married I thought it would be a great church for my wife Laura to experience as well, plus one that should definitely be included in ChurchSurfer.  So here is the run-down on our experience…

ChurchSurfer @ Bethel Temple: Which End of the Pentecostal Spectrum?

Church Experience #21 – May 29, 2011

Bethel Temple Assembly of God – Hixson, TN

Call Me Crazy

Once again on my ChurchSurfer journey I was venturing out to my weekly “first-time” church visit without my wife Laura, who was traveling to Florida to help a long-time friend of ours move to Chattanooga.  For you analytical folks out there, one of the things I have found to be very interesting along the ChurchSurfer journey, has been to compare the way different church experiences have gone (sociologically, I suppose) based on various environmental factors…such as whether I’m alone or with Laura, whether we are dressed up or casual, how different we are from the majority demographic, etc.  Of course, none of these analyses can be scientific or definitive, but I often find myself thinking about them anyway…what might have made the experience go differently, either for the better or worse, and why does any single experience turn out the way it did in the first place?  Let me take a moment and speculate on what God’s perspective may be on these issues (an ignorant undertaking, of course, but I’m OK with that).  I would be inclined (or, not be declined…inside joke for my wife) to think that one area in which God would especially want all the individual local churches to be of the same accord, would be on how they receive guests or visitors.  I’m not taking the time to search for any Scripture references to back me up here (dangerous, I know), but shouldn’t every single church be looking for the opportunity to “wow” their guests and visitors?  I do not say this meaning that churches should put up some kind of superficial exterior that is not a true representation of the hearts and attitudes of the individual members.  What I mean is, shouldn’t having a guest or visitor in a church be one of the easiest and well-timed opportunities for us to share Christ’s love with someone?  I would think that Christ Himself would want us to welcome people with hugs and brotherly kisses, with visible excitement over their presence, with sincere interest in getting to know another fellow heir to the Kingdom, and with the desire to serve them, esteem them, and honor them.  Whoa!  How completely awesome would that be?  Some of you are probably thinking I am crazy right now, but that’s OK with me too.  Now, let me tell you a quick story about a church called Bethel Temple Assembly of God that came closer to that word-picture I just painted about how visitors should be treated than any other ChurchSurfer experience I have had on my journey thus far.

ChurchSurfer @ Red Bank Baptist Church: In Search Of A Baptist Baptist Church

Church Experience #20 – May 22, 2011

Red Bank Baptist Church

Strike One, Strike Two…

So far this year I have attended two Baptist (Southern Baptist, that is) churches and have yet to have what I would consider to be a “typical” Baptist church experience…if there is such a thing.  The first one I went to, Central Baptist Church a.k.a. Abba’s House (read my article here), somehow forgot they were Baptist and started worshiping like free-wheeling charismatics.  The second Baptist church I went to, Lookout Valley Baptist (read about them here), held a prayer and healing service and abandoned Sunday night church in favor of small groups and community service…what gives???  Maybe it’s just that the small town Baptist church I grew up in was part of a different era than the Baptist churches of today.  Can anything qualify as a Baptist church these days, or what?  Maybe today’s Baptist churches are encouraged to break out of the mold and take on organic and dynamic (and any other “-ic” words you can think of) characteristics and grow into something unique…a reflection not of the SBC (Southern Baptist Convention), but instead of the congregation and church leadership.  But, then again, maybe not…so I thought I would give the good old SBC one more chance to show me that all-too-well-known reputation of delivering fiery sermons, tug-at-your-heart altar calls, and those traditional organ/piano driven hymns that seem so down-home simple compared to the rockin’ contemporary worship that has now become all the rage (and which I also prefer, >wink<).  With that being said, I took a new friend of mine, Keith Rocha, up on his offer to visit Red Bank Baptist Church.  Alright SBC, three strikes and you’re out, so here we go…

ChurchSurfer @ The Mission Chattanooga: The Increase And The Decrease

Church Experience #19 – May 15, 2011

The Mission Chattanooga

Traditional vs. Contemporary

Recently during a small group meeting we were discussing all of my various church visits this year, and specifically, what type of service my wife Laura and I liked the most out of all the ones we had visited.  This discussion was, of course, drilling down into the traditional worship versus contemporary worship debate, with a layer of complexity added by spreading the topic across denominational lines rather than just examining it from the perspective of one church or one denomination (yes, our small group goes there).  I have noticed during the ChurchSurfer project, that there is not much shared space between the traditional service and contemporary service camps.  What I mean is, the traditional services I have attended are very traditional, and the contemporary services are very contemporary.  There is very little resemblance of one to the other.  While we were on this topic, I expressed the desire to find a church whose service had pieces of both, because I believe there is an ideal blend in there somewhere that would produce an awesome result (for me at least, but hopefully for others also).  That is when The Mission came up.  One of the group members recommended that I visit this church, believing that it might be just what I was describing.  So I looked up their website to find out more, and did not get a single answer to any of my questions.  But what I did get was a mysterious and intriguing gobbledy-gook of descriptions and information that left me even more interested in visiting the church in person (which had to be on purpose).  For example, under the “Essential Beliefs and Values” page it states:

ChurchSurfer @ Living Faith Church: Baseball and BBQ Sauce

Church Experience #18 – May 8, 2011

Living Faith Church, Hixson TN

It’s Gotta Be The Clues

For the fourth time this year I was left alone on a Sunday, deserted by my wife (to be with a friend who was recovering from surgery in Atlanta), and left to venture out to a church service all by myself.  So far my solo church visits have been interesting…a gospel-fest at New Philadelphia Missionary Baptist with two of the kindest and most talented women I’ve ever met, my sister’s crazy California New Year’s Eve wedding, and a fly-under-the-radar Sunday at First-Centenary United Methodist.  This week’s visit was to Living Faith Church in Hixson, a church I knew very little about except for what I had read on their website on Saturday night before the next morning’s church service.  I had been told about the church by a friend, who had never attended there either, but had somehow heard about it through word of mouth.  I don’t even really remember what it was that my friend said about the church, but what was important to me was that it was mentioned at all.  This stood out to me because I drive by this church a lot and had thought about attending there (or at least researching it), but for some reason I had written it off, maybe assuming that it was a Church of God, and since I had already been to a church in that denomination (Joyful Sound COG), I was more interested in attending other denominations first.  But I’m always listening for “clues” as to where God is leading me next, and anytime a few clues point to the same place, I take that to mean I should go there…so here I am.

ChurchSurfer @ Trinity Lutheran Church: Seeking The Next Generation

Church Experience #17 – May 1, 2011

Trinity Lutheran Church, Hixson, TN

Unnecessary Reminder

Laura and I had planned on visiting a different church this week, but due to the loss of power at that church from the storms that passed through the area, we had to find an alternative.  I live in Hixson, and drive by the intersection of Hixson Pike and Highway 153 pretty much on a daily basis.  Elevated just above this intersection sits Trinity Lutheran Church, calmly peering down on the flurry of activity that consumes the surrounding roads, restaurants, and stores.  I had never attended a Lutheran service before, so I thought this would be an ideal time to experience a new denomination without having to wander too far from home.  We pulled up the church driveway and parked, noticing a large tree laying on its side with its massive root ball facing the parking lot…as if we needed another reminder of the recent weather related devastation that had hit our area in the previous days.  Walking by the downed tree, I squeezed Laura’s hand and refused the urge to go over and get a closer look, doing my best to  refocus my attention to this week’s church experience. (I have included some additional post-storm thoughts after the end of this blog article)

The Coffee Room Incident

Trinity Lutheran Church
Trinity Lutheran Church

ChurchSurfer @ St. Jude Catholic Church: The Experience Was The Experience

Church Experience #16 – April 24, 2011 – Easter Sunday

St. Jude Catholic Church

A Personal Challenge

First of all, let me take a moment and acknowledge and thank my Lord God for how much He has blessed me this year.  I’m amazed at how much increase God gives to your faith, wisdom, and love, when you find new ways to serve Him and dedicate more of your time and focus to His Word.  The ChurchSurfer project has already brought major blessings to my spiritual walk, and whether or not people read or like this blog, the benefits of holding myself to the commitment of visiting 50 different churches this year are mind-blowing.  God is good, all the time, amen.  So for Easter this year I decided to challenge myself a little bit by skipping (or should I say hopping?) the Easter church service that is so meaningful to us as (Protestant) Christians, and instead opt for a Catholic church service.  Why is this challenging?  Because going into the experience, I already know that as a non-Catholic I am not welcome to take Holy Communion at a Catholic church, nor do I agree with most of their doctrinal beliefs, which makes it particularly hard on such a significant day as Easter.  So why even go to a Catholic church?  Because I also know that like all Christian sects and denominations, there are true believers with a heart for Jesus inside the Catholic faith.  What will be the big challenge?  Trying to remain focused on the point of my blog, which is “Experiencing God through People”, and not falling into a rant session on the differences in doctrinal beliefs, which is so tempting with a subject matter that is at the core of your very being.  What will be the outcome?  Let’s find out (and I’m more than a little nervous)…

ChurchSurfer @ First-Centenary United Methodist Church: Outreach to the Inside

Church Experience #15 – April 17, 2011

First-Centenary United Methodist Church, Chattanooga

Desires, Hopes, and Goals

My desire for ChurchSurfer is to go in to each church that I visit and get blown away by God’s power and love, uniquely displayed by another group of Christians, and write about all the great things that I experienced.  My hope is that by being the person who goes to fifty different churches in a year, I might break down some of the barriers that exist between people of different denominations and open their eyes to the fact that there are true Christians engaging in true worship in every church.  I think this is a great tool to allow people who are happy in a church home to get a glimpse of what other churches in the area are doing, without having to physically go there and miss out on their own service.  My possibly naive goal is that somehow through this process I can begin a work in Chattanooga to bring churches and Christians together to focus on the many things that we have in common, the most important of which is serving our Lord Jesus, and inspire a culture of unity in the local Christian community.  It’s a big task, but I know all things are possible through Christ who strengthens me, and how would I ever live with myself knowing that God put this on my heart and I did nothing to accomplish it?  So here I am…going about it the best way I know how at the moment.  The prerequisite and challenge to this goal (that I mentioned in my opening sentence), is that at each church I attend I must be diligent in attempting to meet people, engage in conversation, and hopefully have a moving experience of God’s power and love.