Sabbatical Journal: attending newlife church

On Sunday, August 18, I attended newlife church (no capital letters) in Silverdale. I attended this church because I wanted to see how our local megachurch does worship. Newlife is a very successful Assemblies of God church with six campuses in Kitsap County that have a combined Sunday attendance of over a thousand people.

I arrived about ten minutes early and found plenty of parking space with yellow-vested parking attendants on hand. The vast lobby was filled with people, especially people in their twenties and thirties. I walked into the auditorium and was handed several papers including an offering envelope, a sheet for sermon notes, and a flyer on newlife. The auditorium is completely black except for the stage which was brightly lit with colorful abstract murals in the back and large screens on each side.

The worship team came on, consisting of three guitarists, a keyboardist who was the lead singer, a woman drummer behind a plexiglass shield, and three young women with microphones on the front of the stage. The lyrics to the songs were projected on the screens for everyone to sing, and I did see people moving their lips and occasionally lifting their hands. The din from the band was so loud I couldn’t actually hear anyone sing. There was no discernible melody to the songs but since the notes were simple steps up and down, it was easy to stumble through the songs. Frankly, the music did nothing for me. The praise team was earnest and enthusiastic, but the lyrics were bland and predictable and the noise level was just too much for me. But I think others found the music meaningful.

After 17 minutes of this, a bright young pastor bounded onto the stage and enthusiastically welcomed everyone. There were announcements, and offering baskets were passed very efficiently (you can give online or by text). Then the lead pastor, Wes Davis, took the mic to introduce his friend, Jeffrey Portman, who is also a pastor of a multi-campus church. Portman spoke for 25 minutes on “Brokenness is God’s specialty.” He asked twice, “Can anyone be too broken for God?” He answered, “No, brokenness is God’s specialty.” It seems they have substituted the word “brokenness” for “sin”, which I admit is much more appealing. Most people don’t want to call themselves sinners, but they’re willing to admit to having “brokenness” in their life.

The speaker used a number of photos on the screens, including his family and his dogs, and he told several stories of personal conversions that he had facilitated. He ended by inviting people to pray a prayer accepting Jesus as the Lord of their life. Pretty standard evangelical sermon.

Another ten minutes of praise music was followed by a pep talk by Wes Davis, promoting his next sermon series on “Jesus Apprentice,” about becoming disciples of Jesus. When he was finished, he walked off the stage and the service was over (no blessing or benediction).

I think newlife has found a successful formula for attracting young people: soft rock music, a casual and welcoming atmosphere, an appealing evangelical message, and excellent speakers and musicians. Looking through their website, I see that they often teach about “how to become a healthy and mature person and family,” a kind of self-help message, and they have many small groups and events for people to join, as well as outreach activities to help people contribute to their community. They have quite a large staff to facilitate all these activities. They’ve created a subculture of evangelical Christianity that is appealing to many.

However, I missed the sense of the holy that I get when I attend a liturgical church. The liturgy of the Prayer Book welcomes us into the presence of God with solemnity, silence, and majestic language. That’s what works for me and for others like me. I also missed the sense of participation I get in a liturgical church. Watching people perform on a stage just makes me into a spectator. I guess I’d rather be a member of a congregation participating in the hymns, responses, and in the Eucharist. Without Holy Communion, I always feel something is missing.