Mystery Worshipper: The Episcopal Hopper
Church: Radiant Church
Location: Surprise, Arizona, USA
Date of visit: Saturday, 4 October 2008, 4:30pm
A campus of very large box-like structures built between 2005 and 2006. Previously, the church met in the auditorium of a nearby elementary school. The grounds are sparsely planted if at all just some small trees, with most of the landscaping being dirt. The main sanctuary's exterior looks like the entrance to a big mall. There is cafe seating outside for those enjoying their pre- or post-service snack. As you enter the church, there is a large bookstore to the right and the cafe to the left. In the middle of the entryway, one sees a welcome center with two attendants who looked very pleasant and appeared polite to those who asked questions. The sanctuary was brightly colored with shades of green and maroon. Other than that there were no decorations, crosses, or any other symbols.
Their many ministries and outreaches are all documented on their website. Of special note are a recovery (12 step) ministry and programs for children of elementary and high school age.
Surprise, a suburb of Phoenix about 40 miles from downtown, was founded in 1960 primarily as a senior citizen housing enclave. However, later on, with the housing boom and low gas prices of the early 21st century, many young families moved into Surprise. Today, Surprise is mostly a sleeper city with lots of housing interspersed with commercial areas for grocery shopping and other household needs.
The worship leader was Evan Fernald, accompanied by the Radiant worship team. The preaching pastor was Lee McFarland, the senior pastor of Radiant Church.
What was the name of the service?Adult Service.
How full was the building?
The building was about three-quarters full. There were about 1,200 in the room. The majority of the congregation were in their 20s and 30s and were all dressed very casually in blue jeans and t-shirts.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes. A door greeter handed me a program and welcomed me to the church.
Was your pew comfortable?
The pews were actually chairs linked together, padded and very comfortable.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
People were talking and reading the weekly program. Pre-recorded worship music was playing and announcements were being displayed on the two large monitors behind the platform.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Everybody, let's stand up and sing to Jesus."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
No books were used. Words to the songs and readings were projected up on the screen. The readings were taken from The Holy Bible, New Living Translation.
What musical instruments were played?
Keyboard, electric guitar, bass guitar, drums.
Did anything distract you?
A mom was constantly berating her children to keep quiet and keep still. (Why hadn't she let them go to the children's service?) Also, the church's music soundboard had burned out and they had rented one that didn't appear to be of good quality.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The worship was happy-clappy and very charismatic. People were clapping to the songs, and hands began to be lifted up in the air during certain songs. Some danced, but no one joined in the singing so far as I could tell. Some people were also praying out loud between songs, but I didn't hear anyone speaking in tongues. There was no communion service.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – The preacher had a very down-to-earth and comical style. He immediately garnered good rapport with the congregation with his jokes, but he also helped the congregation to remember what he was preaching about by using rhymes in the sermon outline (such as "I am a mouse, but God is in the house"). Also, his use of appropriate clips from movies helped folks to pay attention.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Pastor McFarland was beginning a new series of sermons called "Stop and Stare at My Security." His text was Joshua 6:1-6, 13-24 (Jericho fell at God's command, even though heavily fortified). He related this Bible story to the current worldwide financial crisis. We ought to focus on trusting in God and serving our neighbors during these hard times.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The sermon was like heaven because it was very thought-provoking and comforting. The pastor told everyone that God would bring them through and that they really needed to share the gospel with others and serve others during these hard times.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The music system failure was like being in the "other place." It's unfortunate because the music team sounded good (I sat close enough to the front to hear them without the sound system).
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
When I looked lost, people just hung about assuming I was looking around at the building. No one came up to me. There was a desk labeled "Welcome Center" staffed by two attendants, which I guess is where I was supposed to go if I had any questions.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Everyone was offered a free cookie from the nearby Paradise Bakery, a chain of upscale sandwich and salad shops. Those who wanted other refreshments could purchase them in the cafe.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6 – My score is based on the fact that I come from a liturgical tradition for worship. I like modern worship music, but I also have a need for liturgical celebrations like the holy eucharist.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. I'm glad that people are hearing the message of the gospel in a way that is relevant and suitable to them.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
"I am a mouse, but God is in the house."