April 27, 2009

Church Experiment #17: Seven Hills Church

For the first time in seventeen weeks, I didn’t want to attend church on Sunday. The weather was beautiful in Cincinnati, I stayed up late Saturday night, and I really just wanted to sit on my balcony and write.

It felt like old times.

One of my biggest church complaints is that regular attendance always seems to get in the way of life. Especially when the weather is nice. It always feels more “holy” to enjoy the gorgeous day than to sit inside and mouth the words to some lame worship song. There were always a hundred other things I would rather be doing, but I showed up every week out of obligation, causing bitterness and resentment to fester in my soul. Clearly, not healthy.

This week, I couldn’t deal with an exhausting church. I half-jokingly (and half-seriously) mentioned a snake-handling church last week, but I wouldn’t have been able to deal with the ridiculousness of the whole thing. (Plus, I doubt there are any near Cincinnati.) I needed a place I could go, relax, and enjoy the show. That led me to Seven Hills Church (www.7hillschurch.tv) in Florence, Kentucky.

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


Joy said...

One little thing that bothers me: you have mentioned pretty often previously that most of the churches you visit would be very confusing to people who visited for the first time because they wouldn't know what to do (when to stand up etc). But this church you picked on because they did tell the worshipers when to stand etc. I just don't think you'll ever be happy.

Anonymous said...

Cool, a mosque. That should be interesting. I have a bad feeling the sermon(I think it's called a Khutbah?) will be in Arabic.

Dorothy said...

I really love this blog and the insights get from your experiment. This post especially touched me because I have suffered from burn out as a result of doing too many things in the church and came to see Sunday as a day of chores rather than a day of rest. Unfortunately thewend result for me was that I dropped out of church completely and have only gone for a few services in the past three years.
I have been thinking of doing my own experiment. I dont know yetr if I will blog about it but I think it will be a good way for me to both get back to going to church and tio find a back-up church (I wish I had heard of the concept sooner ! )
Dorothy in East Africa

Steve Fuller said...


Maybe you're right.

But I think the common theme is that I am not a huge fan of ritual, whether we are told what to do or not. The rituals at the Catholic Churches were more confusing than Seven Hills, but they were equally programmed.

And I'm not sure I'm "picking on" Seven Hills - just related how I felt during my experience. Other people may enjoy it. I'm sure many do.

Ruby Red Slippers said...

I am really interested in your next three choices-I want to hear about all three...
This church sounds like mine...and yesterday-I just wanted to "be" and not participate-after a long weekend. It was nice not to feel any pressure-except clapping...Why do people clap for everything-during the songs-I get that, but after the video annouoncements, at the end of every song, and when the pastor takes the stage, and when he is done...too much!!!
Since that is about my only complaint-I can deal with it...sounds like even though the weather was great, you stuck with your commitment-now that is something to clap about!

random blogger said...

totally agree about having a back up church. only for people to are the 80% who do all the work. makes sense to me. very interested in your LDS experience when you get there. i live on a street in NCH with several LDS families whom i have gotten to know. looking forward to reading that post. happy to make available my notes before or after you go. if you want some background shoot me an email.

DanThoms said...

I think worship leaders tell people what to do because if they don't a lot of people will just sit there and play on their cell phones.

I've worked in the church pretty much my entire life. My parents were both ministers. I've seen a lot of people over the years get "burned out." I was just curious as to if "burn out" was ever experienced by any of the apostles.

samarahuel said...

I think the back-up church for my husband and I is our bed. Some weekends we just need to sleep in. Another refreshing thing I did with my family growing up was to attend two weekend retreats at a Christian camp each year (Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends). They would have morning and evening chapel services, inviting various pastors from churches all over the state to speak for the weekend. Some of the messages were better than others, and sometimes the music was horrible, but what I loved was spending 4 days away from the work and routine, in the beauty of God's creation, spending quality time with my family, and being among other believers that I didn't see every week. The camp has become more modern over the years, the chapel building is no longer an open shelter surrounded by trees, with singing birds or pouring rain accompanying the simple acoustic worship, lit by the morning sun or the evening sunset. It is a nice building with air conditioning, a stage, full sound and light systems, and curtains to block out the sun's rays. I'm disappointed, but my husband and I still keep the tradition of camping and being refreshed a couple of times a year. God says that he reveals himself through his inspired Word and through his creation, and I've definitely found this to be true.

Steve Fuller said...


Is that one of your trick questions where you already think you know the answer, but ask anyway?


Good point. One of my favorite events of the year is the Leadership Summit at Willow Creek Church in August. It has been an amazing source of renewal for me over the years. Even last year, when I wasn't attending church, I made sure to catch the Summit.

Lindsey said...

Interesting how you don't like to be told what to do in worship. I live in Africa (but I'm an American) and I find this aspect of American culture intriguing.

My observation is that Americans hate to do anything that is contrary to how they are feeling that day. It is almost seen as a sin.

In Africa everyone worships the same way, dancing the same dance, clapping, standing, etc. If you don't feel like it then you just choose to do it for the sake of the whole, to be a part of something bigger. They would think it quite strange to break away from the group just because you don't feel like it that day. It is seen as selfishness. In America it is seen as being authentic and sincere.

I'm not saying you are selfish... just your observations triggered some thoughts for me. Thanks for letting me share. I think both viewpoints have some validity.

Christine said...

I keep getting 7th Day Adventists mixed up with Jehovah's Witnesses. You'll have to tell us the differences next week.

I will risk stating the obvious to remind you you'll be going to "church" on Friday when you go to the mosque. And I wouldn't refer to it there as "going to church"...

And finally, a word to that (possibly) rhetorical question about risk vs. safety. You said this was the youngest church you went to, and I think those two issues are linked. According to studies, the millenial generation is one of the most risk-averse/safety conscious generations ever raised. They've had safety spoon-fed to them since the safety-approved cradle.

Steve Fuller said...


Thanks for sharing that thought. It is a very interesting point. I never really thought of it that way before.

Definitely partly a cultural thing, and probably partly a personal issue.

Steve Fuller said...


Another good point about risk and safety.

David M. said...

I decided I hate it when worship leaders tell me to do stuff. Raise your hands, clap your hands, stand, kneel, whatever. I don't want to lift my hands unless I feel led to do soDude, you've been corrupted by the Quakers. Next you'll be refusing to doff you hat to your superiors!

Jayna said...

Hi. I am LDS (mormon) and have been following your blog. It has been very interesting. If you'd like to study before going to the LDS church look at www.mormon.org. It answers some basic questions about our beliefs. Also, you will be glad to know that you don't have to "do" anything but sit and listen during our "sacrament meeting". You should know, however, that the first Sunday of each month, is a slightly different meeting. We call it fast Sunday (most people fast for 2 to 3 meals that day) and give the money they would have spent on food to the welfare program in the church. On those Sundays, the meeting is opened up to the members to share a testimony or feelings about Christ. Other Sundays, 2 to 4 members are asked ahead of time to study a topic and share with the rest of the congregation. So, if you go on the other Sundays, that will be what you experience. I think you should go on Mother's Day. There will likely be some beautiful talks prepared and maybe even songs by the children. Good luck!

Leigh said...

I'm so enjoying your blog. Applause following worship music is a pet peeve of mine. I feel like applause honors the musicians, while really their objective is to bring you closer to God.

Jen - Mom of 4 said...

I attend a church that applauds - not a lot, but after each worship song. I do understand how some might be annoyed by it, but for me I applaud to thank the band for helping me come closer to Christ.

I recently realized that I feel closer to God when I worship. (Actually, I'm one of those people who would attend a 2 hour, just worship service).

I also love the idea of back up Church. The church I attend has several locations and I can go to one location and just relax which is nice.

DanThoms said...

Ha ha, no Steve, that is not a trick question. It's like you don't trust my questions to be genuine. Shame, shame shame. I may just google my question and see what people have to say. People are generally pretty defensive about "burn out" so I guess I don't generally bring up the topic.

Tina said...

Steve, thanks for continuing to blog for us. I look forward to reading your experiences each week. I find your interpretations and opinions intriguing and thought-provoking.

My husband and I are Lutheran and very active in our church. We have found outlets for our less traditional needs by means of a small ministry we both serve (he as a staff memeber, I as a board member and volunteer).

He just finished the book "So You Don't Want to Go to Church Anymore" and has been encouraging me to read it. I don't like to read (beyond blogs), so I've been resisting. I'd be interested to know if you've ever read it and if so what your reaction was to it.

Keep up the great work!

folksinmt said...

Hey. I've been lurking around your blog for several months now and I always enjoy your insights. I understand what you are saying about needing a back-up church, but it got me thinking...those Sundays when I really don't want to be there are always the Sundays when I have a turning point. I always have an a-ha moment or recognize a weakness I need to work on. And since I do have Sunday obligations or jobs to do at church, I have to think about those in my stewardship. Even if I don't want to be there, they need me to be there. I won't be able to contribute to their spiritual growth if I decide to worship elsewhere. So even if it's not where I want to be, it's where I should be. It's the least I can do. After all, do you think Jesus really wanted to be on that cross?

Thank you so much for sharing your experiences. Best wishes.

Karin said...

Dear Steve,

Although i'm not religious in the way that i was raised that way and i don't go to church unless i'm invited to a wedding or something like that. I do believe there is someone up there that watches over us. Whether it's a god or the spirit of a loved one that has passed. While reading your blog it has made me realize that you can believe without having to go to church or without "sticking" to one religion. I know that when my boyfriend was in a motorcycle accident and was in the hospital his niece had asked someone at their church if the group could pray for my boyfriend. And not only did they pray for him, one of the men decided to pay my boyfriend a visit. Although we where a bit apprehensive about it, we did really think it was a nice gesture to show that there were other people out there that wanted him to get better.
Reading your blog makes me happy to think that religions can also be fun and you can laugh and voice your own opinion about a church and/or religion without getting into trouble. Ps can't wait to find out what you think about the mosque (i've always wondered what they do inside)

Ps sorry if my comments make no sense, but i just wanted to get them out of my system

Anonymous said...

I love your blog and have passed it on to many others. I was raised Catholic, "tried out" some non denominational churches and now find organized religious fairly ridiculous. One of the churches we tried out was here in the suburbs of Chicago and was one of those tele-preacher churches. I loved when the guy told everyone to get their wallets out and wave them and then that you needed to give more than you could afford because "God doesn't think it is a sacrifice if you just give what you can afford.". Wow...when I think of the name I will pass it along...maybe you will want to visit for a laugh. Love your work!!

Nathan Brown said...

Asa "church type" and a writer, I have been following your journey with interest. Thanks for sharing your insights.

As a Seventh-day Adventist, now you've got me nervous. I wish you well in venturing into what can sometimes be a strange world. I also suggest, as with other denominations, there are quite a range of Adventist church options, so a little pre-research might be helpful.

I wish you well and welcome in advance for your visit this weekend. And, it also mean you can have Sunday "off" this weekend. :)

God loves you.

Steve Fuller said...

Nathan and others,

A couple people have mentioned the service not being on a Sunday, but the 7th Day Adventist Church in my neighborhood meets Sunday mornings at 10:50am. Is that wrong of them? I am confused.

Nathan Brown said...

Not knowing the circumstances of your local Seventh-day Adventist Church, I do not know why they might worship on Sunday morning and so do not want to judge them unduly. Indeed, I would be interested to hear more about this congregation in your neighborhood.

However, as the denominational name suggests, one of the things that distinguishes Seventh-day Adventists is "keeping" the seventh-day Sabbath on the seventh-day of the week—Saturday. Incidentally, we also enjoy and feel privileged to celebrate Sabbath for a whole 24 hours, somewhat in the Jewish tradition of Sabbath observance.

Thus, the overwhelming majority of mainstream Seventh-day Adventist churches hold their major worship services on Saturday morning.

Could be worth checking out a little further.

Anonymous said...

There seems to be a lot of energy here on the "burn out" subject. Matter of fact, that's why I came here to comment. (perhaps there's enough interest on the subject for a new, "burn-out blog"?)

I started at a "mother ship" church 9 years ago, and switched to a "plant" (closer to home) 3 years ago.
I've volunteered at both, have seen burn out at both... and have experienced moderate burnout for the last year.

Having seen too many burn-outs stop attending anywhere, I determined to "step-out" before it got to that point.
My word to potential burn-outs is "Step out, so that others may step-up".

Another thing helping me recover is regular visits back to the mother ship to see old (and new) friends... and put the diversity of teachers back into the mix. I got spoiled hearing over a half dozen excellent speakers at the mega-church. Moving to just one of those pastors (as good as he is) left a void.

Add to that occasional visits to other churches where I have friends... and I'm always in a church on Sunday (and frequently Saturday night too).

I continue to do "one time" projects for the new church, and am open to limited projects at other churches.

I feel now like I am part of a larger community.
(and that was one of my goals for attending a non/inter-denominational church in the first place)

As long I don't get pressure to commit to something that seems again like a 7th day of work, I'll continue this way... and try to encourage those who feel like quitting church is their only option.

Solmead Fairdale said...

Wow just found your blog, and am enjoying reading your experiences at all the different churches. I am commenting on this entry though because I actually go to Seven Hills Church. And I want to thank you for the nice things you had to say about the church. (And giving us a look into what things look like from a visitors perspective).

Anonymous said...

Hmm, I really liked hearing your opinion. I've read this a few times and have never commented but I felt like I should. I personally go to 7 Hills and work as a worship leader there (for the kids ministry. I'm 17). Its always interesting to hear some one else's opinion. Our church is definitely not like other churches. We're a "young church". Some would call us a new believer church and I would agree. On mission is to get people into heaven. Marcus is really good and young. He's been there about five years now. He doesn't have a degree in psychology; God has just really gifted him. As to the worship, I really can't agree with you there. It can be extremely deep. Yes its up beat and fun but the spirit of worship that fills our church is amazing. The only reason that Fred (our worship leader) tells people to raise their hands or clap is to get them excited and to have fun. Worship should be fun and people tend to forget that. You're good at guessing too; our auditorium actually holds 850 people. Its been a long time since you've been to our church and its grown and changed so much since then. We'd love to have you visit again. God Bless,

Anonymous said...

7 Hills is a great church with a lot to offer. Pastor Marcus is funny and down to earth. However... It's a huge church and in the process of expanding. I've paid close attention and noticed its very clicky. If you don't feel in you'll feel shunned. A lot of upper class ppl and even celebs attend. The church is all about reaching our to the community. But its own members can feel lost like their drowning. If you try getting help you'll get the run around. Everyone is always too busy. If you do start talking to someone its hit or miss. They seem very focused on their Christian rock band. And at times it feels more like its entertainment then church. They do have Hillz Kids which is a wonderful youth program. And they do provide safe daycare while you attend church. Also they have a college night & a junior high and high school night. If you go in the church on Legacy night your not in hs you'll feel pushed right our the door. Like if you just show up to pick your kids up or are dropping off. They'll treat you like your trying to sneak in to backstage at a concert or something. The more I attend the more this place rubs me the wrong way. I believe their very good brain washers. And they really need to focus more on the individual needs of their immediate church and members. It's a their way or your not accepted mentality. Friday is Freedom Night. For recovering addicts & their family. Probably honestly the best part about this whole entire place. So approach with caution, have your guard up. And pay close attention!