Today I visited the church of one of my long-time friends, Andy Stanley. Andy and I went to college and church together (about 30 years ago!). I was privileged to participate in his ordination service by saying the ordination prayer. When I was a youth pastor, he also served as a youth pastor and we strategized about reaching the youth of Atlanta for Christ. When I left the Episcopal Church in 2004, Andy offered me some wise and needed counsel.
Andy's church, Northpoint Community Church, now has four worship locations on three campuses along the GA 400 corridor in North Atlanta. The central campus is in Alpharetta with the Buckhead Church 20 miles south and Brown Bridge Community Church 20 miles north in Cumming. For traffic reasons I decided to visit the Brown's Bridge Community Church at the 11:00 service.
I arrived by having parking volunteers direct me to the nearest available parking place. On the way into the "auditorium" I was greeted by at least 4 different people welcoming me to Brown's Bridge and "thanking me" for being there (they did not know me or my name; they were just being friendly). The auditorium seats (my guess) 3000 and is just that -- a stage with seating. Warm upbeat music was playing and slides were changing on the video screens. Soon we were asked to scoot to the middle of the row as people were standing in the back without seats. Today was "Promotion Sunday" for the children -- over 9,000 children at the three campuses.
At precisely 11:00 the Worship Band begins to play a hit from the 70's and on the corner of the screen, it says 'live from Brown's Bridge Community Church.' As soon as the song was over -- without missing a beat -- on the screen we see "live" the band from one of the Alpharetta campuses playing the next song yet the music is just as loud and just as clear, and then the band from Buckhead Church, and then the other campus at Alpharetta. At the end of the song, all four bands from the four different locations all play together - in tempo - with all the voices coming through the sound system -- ALL AT THE SAME TIME. It sounded terrific. The congregation erupted in a standing ovation. As it turns out, this was the first time they had done this via symucast with the music. All I could say was "wow!" Technology is being used in great ways in this church.
The service continued with a few worship songs and then, while the offering was being taken up, the band literally disappears and a large screen the width of the stage is lowered. Out onto the stage walks Andy, but he is not there, he is in Alpharetta. The two regular video screens on each side of the stage show close-ups of his face like you would expect, but the center screen shows the whole stage -- so when Andy gets up, it looks like he is walking on the stage. Amazing use of technology. Here is the fascinating thing for me: it didn't matter that he was not there; the technology made it feel like he was there. So much so that people laughed at his funny comments and responded to his questions.
I picked a good Sunday to attend as Andy was speaking on the vision of the church. He recounted the start of the chuch 14 years ago. He said they never sought to establish a big church. They have from the start attempted to be the best church they could be at reaching people who are unchurched or have been dissatisfied with their church and stopped attending. (I think they are definitely succeeding in this mission!!!). He reminded the church of their mission statement which is not too different from the one at our church: to lead people into a growing relationship with Jesus. He said two basic principles have kept them anchored through the years: Who is Jesus? (Matthew 16:16-18) and the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19f). With these two principles in mind, they have tried to "reinvent church in a relevant way."
After his sermon, he prayed and that was it. 60 minutes sharp. It then took me 20 minutes to get out of the parking lot (and that was with the help of the local Sheriff's department directing traffic). Check out their website at www.northpoint.org.
On a personal note: we took James back to UGA today to start his Junior Year. I thought it was supposed to get easier to let them go!!
Quotes worth reflecting on...
"Never once did it occur to me that when I found the trail again, it would ruin my life forever. For once you feel the breath of God breathe on your skin, you can never turn back, you can never settle for what was, you can only move more recklessly with abandon, your heart filled with fear and your ears ringing with those constant words, 'Fear Not.'" -- Mike Yacconelli
"Our first most spontaneous response to pain and suffering is to avoid it, to keep it at arm's length; to avoid, circumvent or deny it... Befriending it at first seems masochistic. Still my own pain in life has taught me that the first step to healing is not to step away from pain, but to step toward it." -- Henri Nouwen