January 12, 2009

Church Experiment #2: Christian Life Center

Two hours and ten minutes.

The service lasted two hours and ten minutes.

One hour of worship. Ten minutes of announcements. A ten-minute discussion about tithing. Five minutes of shaking hands with people sitting around me. And a 45 minute message.

Two hours and ten minutes. But I digress.

Here’s the thing. Like last week, I met a lot of very friendly people at Christian Life Center (www.clcalive.org). [It looks like they have changed their name to LifeChurch West Chester in case you’d like to visit sometime.] I was greeted by a hospitable older man at the front door who handed me a program. The main room probably sat about two hundred people, and I estimated it was about 70 percent full. Almost everyone was white. Some were younger, but most people were over forty years old. During the handshaking portion of the service, a lot of really nice people walked up to me and introduced themselves, including a man named Tom who seemed like a very kind man in his early seventies. Overall, the vibe felt less “creepy” than Solid Rock Church did last week. But …

To finish reading about this experience or any of the reflections from my 52 visits, please purchase the full book here.


Liz said...

Does it seem genuine to you? I think my issue with worship like that (and to be honest, I don't know that I've experienced worship like THAT) is it always comes off as fake to me. But, maybe I'm just a close-minded cynic about such things.

random blogger said...

very interesting steve. you've got more guts than me as i would have quit the 52 week thing after this. i sometimes have a hard enough time going to VCC, much less some of these more radical places (maybe radical is not the right word). No issue with VCC; the issue is me.

Steve Fuller said...

The worship wasn't as good (in my opinion), but it seemed much more genuine at Christian Life Center. For one, there were no cameras. Two, people were doing weird things, but they seemed normal in the process of doing them (if that makes any sense).

And Randy, one thing these first two weeks have done is make me appreciate the comfort level of places like the Vineyard. I am sure Solid Rock and Christian Life Center are great churches for their members, but I have no idea how first-time visitors would ever survive and/or want to come back.

Christopher Day said...

So, are you saying the service lasted 2 hours and 10 minutes?

Yikes. After those two I think you may need a bit of a break. I grew up Catholic and I know a great priest. He'll get you in and out in 45 flat!

bshawise said...

steve, i appreciate that you're looking for the good, the bad, the crazy, genuine, etc. i could see these first two entries just slamming your experiences but they're balanced. you seem fair.

like fox news....

Steve Fuller said...


Thanks for the complime...hey, wait a second! Faux News?

The only thing worse is when Liz told me my novel reminded her of a Lifetime Movie. Still recovering from that one.


There is a joke in there somewhere, but I ain't touchin' it.

Offensive Coordinator said...

Steve - I admit it...I am living vicariously through your observations. If I could, I would go on this journey with you and take it all in...but the way you write about it really helps me see it first hand. So here is the question? What makes a great church?

It would be interesting to come up with a list of characteristics or observations that a church could be measured on. Kind of like in the book "Good to Great." Is there a common set of characteristics amongst great churches (relative...I know) that would set them apart as great vs. other churches who are more, I dunno, "normal?"

Based on your first two visits...they could be things like authenticity, or engaging to newbies or non-dubya worship songs (just kidding about that one), and what not.

So I guess the question is...do you have a set of things you are measuring when you go in (formally or informally)? If so, I would love to know what they are...I know what mine would be, but I know I am skued and full of ^&*($%^& when it comes to that kind of stuff.

Just my thoughts, but I love this experiment already because it is causing me to re-engage what is happening in my own sphere of influence and really question everything in a very healthy way.

Thanks for doing what your doing.

Reverb said...

This experiment kicks booty.

I'm excited to read more of these and excited to see how your picture of the body of Christ looks after it's all said and done.

Keep it up!

Micah said...

I learned to dance the electric slide to the tune of "Our Father's House", by Audio Adrenaline, during a worship service.

Not sure what that means, but it seemed relevant.

Ann Victor said...

Interesting concept - 52 churches in 52 weeks. Good luck. Hope you find peace and blessings in your search!

Cindy said...

I stumbled on your blog from Brad's and Chris'. I love this experiment. If I could do it I would take part in something like this as well.

I have a couple of churches in mind that might interest you. I would love to know an outside person's thoughts on the churches.

If you are taking suggestions let me know.

Thanks for sharing the journey with us.

Helen Ann said...

I once had a very yukky experience at CLC...The Holy Spirit actually sent me home and told me to go to bed because the place had triggered some stuff (which is my own junk and not their fault) but also my 'something's amiss' radar was going off. I couldn't even focus in the prayer room where I fled to during the service to try and hear from God on it. I later learned there were other folks who got the heebie jeebies there too.

My gut feeling was that the blah came from "the top"...I actually enjoyed the dancing up front...I thought it was kinda neat. The worship time was OK except for the subtle "Are you holy enough to be in the presence of God" messages in it.

Ironically, the final straw for me that night was the 'give money' speech that came during what was supposed to be a revival meeting.


Enjoying the journey! I attend Vineyard Westside...Tim pointed us to your blog...Thanks for sharing!

Ellen Karns said...

Fella!! Long time... no chat! As officially as possible, I'm signing up to follow your journey. My interest is totally peaked!

DanThoms said...

Dear lord your harsh. Dancing during worship sounds normal to me. Granted, I understand that this is 100% based on your biases and expectations but take deep breath try to be open minded.

ps. I should mention that I go to VWS. Guilt giving based on Old Testament tithing drive me nuts too as does equating nationalism with Christianity.

Steve Fuller said...


You thought what I said was harsh? Not my intention to be harsh. Just trying to relate my thoughts and feelings as I experienced them. Seems like the experiment would be silly and pointless if I censored myself.

I am trying my best to keep an open mind. That's why I'm doing this in the first place - to keep an open mind and experience stuff outside of my comfort zone.

I would ask any church leader or member out there to read my posts and consider how new people experience YOUR church. Dancing may be normal to you, but how do new people experience the ritual? And especially non-Christians. Of course, I am just one person with one opinion - maybe everyone else sees it as normal.

Just food for thought. Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

DanThoms said...

A bit harsh, yea, but I feel ya. I know your trying to keep an open mind. I do hope that if any member of any of the churches that your review reads this that they take it well and understand your intentions.

Anonymous said...

You, Steve Fuller, are a hypocrite and a coward. To hide behind a blog and put down others is not Christian at all... it disturbing! I think you are the creepy one! Sneeking into churches and looking for things to critisize publicly is not honest or a journey of discovery, its just plain wrong! I think you should grow up, especialy in your faith and love! That's a journey worth taking. Remember, a good rebuke is better than flatery. - Pastor Randy Rice (Christian Life Center)

A Modern Ancient said...

I think one thing to consider is who is "church" for in the first place? Is it supposed to be comfortable for newcomers, or is it supposed to meet the needs of the community that forms the church itself? I think that anyone who steps into a community of which they do not belong will feel uncomfortable. The only way for a newcomer to not feel uncomfortable is if the community they are entering into at church looks, feels, acts just like the community they are coming out of in the world.

That is just one thought and model for church. I am not saying I adopt this thinking. I am just throwing that out there to see what other people think about it.

Helen Ann said...

Hey Steve-

About considering how a church's "rituals" come off to newcomers-

A church should be who they are so the newcomer can make a decision based on truth. If you're a leaping, dancing, undignified worship church, BE that. If you believe people should tithe or burn, teach that from the front. I wanna know what you believe.

While I was not a fan of CLC, I am glad they showed me up front who they are. I think too much seeker sensitivity can lean into the realm of deception...Make them feel comfy, don't show them too much until we get them in the door...THEN we can show them what we really believe. How awful for the newcomer who may have a rude awakening.

Scripture clearly states that we are free to sing and dance before the Lord. If my focus during worship is "what will new comers think if they see me dancing?" then I'd argue my heart and focus are in the wrong place. The opposite is true as well...IF I am dancing to show PEOPLE how worshipful and in love with God I supposedly am, then my focus is also off.

The gospel itself is uncomfortable because it challenges wordly and religious paradigms. Jesus sure didn't tailor his behavior or teachings based on what newcomers would think. Neither should we.

Helen Ann said...

Additionally -

I believe VCC has found a good balance in this area. While it isn't overly done or forced, a newcomer can see that this is a church where you can choose to be outgoing or not during worship. Prophetic stuff and tongues are not overly-emphasized during corporate services, but on the prayer lines after there is tongues, prophetic prayer, deliverance etc, going on in plain sight. I could get DEEPER teachings in small groups or classes but it was just a building on of what I learned in the corporate services.

Kim said...

I'm not really a big fan of pastors who call people names. That gives me a new perspective on "What would Jesus Do?" It makes me so sad to know that people who don't know Christ may meet Him for the first time through a pastor who calls people "creepy."

~*~KIMBERLY~*~ said...

Steve... I'm as open minded as anyone can be when it comes to this sort of thing... I love the humor God interjected in your posts this one & last. I know I'm coming into the picture months later. Ryan from thisisreverb.com posted about your experiment on his blog and I thought I'd come check it out.

I love how you do this. I'm sorry others feel you're harsh and biased. I hope your experiment rewards you well and others can glean from it.

Paul Monnin said...

I never noticed this before. CLC is in my hometown. I've been there before, I found it to be creepy also. Nice people, strange service.

Paul Monnin said...

I never noticed this before. CLC is in my hometown. I've been there before, I found it to be creepy also. Nice people, strange service.

Anonymous said...

Okay, second church. There are many differnt forms of worship. The flags and worship dancing can be very beautiful. People who love the lord, love to express it. If we are to uptight or think we are to cool for something like this...then this could be a problem. We are to concerned with ourselves and what other people think. Instead of what the Lord thinks. He wants our hearts and our love. So however someone wants to show that should be okay. Once again...it is there personal relationship with there King! In the old testement there was a lot of dancing with banners and flags. David danced to the Lord. So if they did it in the old testement, why can't we do it today? As far as the tithing..I agree with you.

Shelli FCA)