First things first, I saw a United Methodist Church
commercial, I think at the airport or something the other day, and I was pretty impressed. (The "I Believe" tv spot is here.
) Transcript of the commercial:
I believe no one who asks for help should be turned away. I believe it's good to question. None of us are qualified to judge the lives of others. I believe a church isn't a building. When you truly embrace diversity, you embrace God. I can't believe there's a church that believes these things. We may not all believe exactly the same thing but the people of the United Methodist Chruch believe in God and each other. If you're searching for something to believe in, our hears, our minds, and our doors are always open.
Anyway, the United Methodist Church is pretty liberal, and my parent's church, Ginghamsburg United Methodist
(GUM) is a strong example of how liberal it is. Let's put things into perspective - GUM is a large church, with weekend attendance of around 4,000 people (not counting classes or anything) split over the multiple services (I think six total?) We went to the last of eight Christmas Eve services (10:00 PM) and there were probably 800 people there. The church has definitely grown over the years, and the presentation has gotten slicker and slicker. They've got a large projection screen (maybe 15' or so?), and the polish in the worship ceremony is apparent. The praise was with a live band consisting of 3 strings, a woodwind player, a full drum set, 2 guitars (one electric, one acoustic), a bass, two keyboard players, and a 20+ member choir. The numbers were all contemporary, charged, fast tempo tunes, drawing the congregation in (which is exactly the point of praise before the sermon). The church has definitely diversified, with more faces of color in the crowd. It was interesting to see a large black woman, belting out a jazzy rendition of Joy to the World or some other Christmas carol in a stereotypically black church manner, and the crowd responding like you were at Southern Baptist church in the deep south.
I was impressed by just how coordinated everything was . . . the worship mixes live music, spoken verse, video, etc and it's all timed. There's video with pauses in it for live, spoken word, and the guy in front of me (we were in the second row) had the script to the worship, and it was as complicated as any stage directions for full on stage productions, with music, lighting, marks, etc. They're also slick enough that they have the sermons online for download
- streaming video, podcasts, text, study guides, etc. Very impressive.
Mike Slaughter, the pastor, is an impressive speaker, who has a true gift for public speaking. The church has the philosophy that they'll make the Word as accessible to the people as possible, so rather than asking people to turn to Bible verses, they'll be on slides during his sermon (an example of presentation software/slides used in a manner that enhances, rather than distracts from a speaker). His sermon last night included him talking about how he was paddled in school, and it even involved him describing how the administrators would tell him to "assume the position" and him acting out on stage how he had to bend over and grab his ankles before being paddled. I can't imagine that flying at a conservative church.
The numbers are staggering as well - Slaughter mentioned in his sermon that last year on the Christmas Eve services they raised $317,000. Wow. GUM impresses me in that it's community building. For all the VISTA projects in Montana, we focus on the Community Tool Box
model, and it's amazing how many examples of this at work you see at GUM.
I'm still a non-believer, but it's impressive what GUM has managed to build over the last 18 or so years, starting from a tiny little podunk church in a field, to becoming the 3rd largest United Methodist church . . .