Monday, January 5, 2009

Anchorage Church Blogger Chris Thompson Issues Top Ten New Year's Wishes For Local Churches; How Does The LDS Church Measure Up?

As members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we are always under observation and evaluation from a multitude of sources. Some people come to us through the interecession of another member or the missionaries. Others casually drop in of their own accord.

And still others actually visit for the purpose of documenting their observations publicly.

One example of the latter is Chris Thompson, a resident of Anchorage, Alaska. He is an amateur Biblical scholar and student of religions, and is a member of the American Academy of Religion (AAR) and Society for Biblical Literature (SBL). He is employed by Workforce Consulting as a management consultant. He edits the Church Visits blog, operated under the auspices of the Anchorage Daily News. Because he is searching for a permanent church home, he visits at least one local church per week, and documents the results on his blog. He has not yet visited an LDS Church service.

Here's the criteria he uses in evaluating his church visits:
• Did the church project friendliness and warmth?
• Did he truly feel welcomed?
• Did he relate to the main teaching and was it delivered effectively?
• Did music merely entertain or did it deepen the worship experience?

In his latest post, Thompson publishes a top ten-type list of New Year's wishes for local churches. But although tailored for the Anchorage, Alaska readership, it is applicable elsewhere. And I decided it was a good opportunity to analyze how we as Latter-day Saints measure up. You can read his entire post HERE; below I present the categories and how I believe we measure up.

1. Be Friendlier and More Welcoming: Thompson is almost morbidly obsessed with the "greeting" and the "welcome". He states, "Anchorage church visitors are not warmly greeted as a rule. The official "Meet n' Greet" is a poor excuse for extending true Christian hospitality. True hospitality means extending oneself. Many churches ask visitors to identify themselves, but in only one in 2008 was I introduced by a member who extended themself". During opening remarks, LDS bishops frequently extend a welcome to visitors, although it is not customary to ask visitors to stand up and identify themselves publicly. The "welcome" shouldn't overwhelm the service itself.

2. Clean Up Your Church Website: We can give ourselves a letter grade of "A" in this category. The LDS Church is constantly optimizing their two websites, and We make it easy to find the nearest LDS chapel; click HERE then enter your address or zipcode to find the nearest LDS chapel and the times of the services. If there is more than one, you can pick any one you desire (it is only after you join the Church that you will be assigned to a specific ward).

3. Pick and Train Greeters Carefully: LDS churches do not have or need official greeters, although assigned missionaries will frequently stand in the lobbies to identify and assist unfamiliar people who enter. Since most visitors are accompanied by an LDS member, this problem frequently solves itself in advance.

4. Involve Parishioners More in Services: Letter grade "A++++"!!! Any LDS member showing any interest at all is usually called to a position shortly after joining the Church and becoming part of a particular congregation or ward. The opportunities for service are available and endless. During the first Sunday of each month, those who desire can stand up and bear their testimony, relating faith-promoting stories designed to motivate other congregants. Many members are invited to give talks in order to cultivate presentation skills.

5. Balance Church Suppers with Community Food Help: The LDS Church strives to achieve this balance. Missionaries are not merely called for proselytization, but also for service. LDS Church members provided assistance for victims of Hurricane Ike. Nevertheless, this remains wise counsel; we can always improve in this area.

6. Pastors, Emphasize Christmas & Easter All Year: The LDS Church measures up implicitly in this area; during every weekly service, we constantly emphasize what Jesus did for us. This is why we don't have unique Christmas or Easter services.

7. Offer Explanations for Visitors: We can do better in this area. In particular, we should better explain Sacramental protocol. We define partaking of the Sacramental emblems as "renewing our covenants with the Lord"; one must have made the covenants in the first place in order to "renew" them. Consequently, we recommend that only worthy members of the Church partake of the Sacrament. However, we should not be heavy-handed about it; we should invite the visitor to make his or her decision based upon good conscience, in accordance with the counsel of the apostle Paul, who said, “But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself” (1 Cor. 11:28–29). Our Church should become less of a "can't-don't" church and become more of a "can-do" church.

8. Don't Make Your Church a Coffeehouse: Because of our Word of Wisdom, we don't have a specific problem in this area. However, Chris Thompson's underlying message here is "reverence"; he counsels us to avoid unnecessary disruptions to the service in order to maintain a reverential atmosphere. Good counsel.

9. Rely less on PowerPoints: I don't see where we have a problem here; we do emphasize the scriptures and use songbooks.

10. Use Music as Spiritual Glue, not Entertainment: We pass this test as well. Music is primarily provided by congregational singing, accompanied by either organ or piano. There are no "snappy bands" or "rocky" music.

Analysis: Chris Thompson seems almost morbidly obsessed with the "welcome". Perhaps my disdain for this issue is driven by personality bias; I'm not the classical "hail-fellow-well-met" type, and I'm turned off by anyone who comes up and slobbers all over me like a Great Dane before they even get to know me. But I still think Thompson's a bit obsessed with this issue; when you read through his blog, you'll see that he criticizes many Anchorage churches for an insufficient "welcome". Perhaps the problem lies partially in his inflated expectations.

Nevertheless, the rest of his counsel is quite valuable and can serve as a serious of benchmarks designed to keep us relevant and attractive to the general public. We should always accept worthy counsel, regardless of the source.


Anonymous said...

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Chris said...

As the writer of the aforementioned Church Visits blog, I appreciate the dialog. Christians need to learn from each other. My major issue is with characterizing part of my focus as "...Thompson is almost morbidly obsessed with the "greeting" and the "welcome"." I'm glad Mormons don't have these issues, something I shall be testing. However, not only is hospitality and greeting a Biblical imperative, but it directly ties to whether one will come back, or even get anything from the service.

I have withheld visiting a Mormon church because of your geographical assignment, which takes some of the local church flavor out of the service. However, stay tuned as I'll be there when you least suspect.

Chris Thompson

Anonymous said...

I am always amazed at the Mormon Church. And, quite frankly, what amazes me most is the history of this "religion", its racism and secrecy, too. What do you mean by "worthy". How do you decide who is "worthy".

I would suggest you read Under the Banner of Heaven, too.

You require that every member present their Federal statement of incoome to also insure that member is "tithing" correctly. That is just insane, too.

I feel sorry for your "members" who appear to be brain-washed.