By Marcia Horn Noyes
As someone who loves to experiment with new foods, new recipes, new running routes and all things new, it’s not surprising that an idea to try out a different church every Sunday would pop up. I’ve always considered myself an open-minded person, but I wanted to do something that would help me truly understand the different ways people worship God, while simultaneously testing my comfort zones. As many know, I stretch my physical limits to understand how much mileage and speed my body can take. To stretch my spiritual limits I’d need a different test — one that would test my preconceived ideas, my own judgments and rather I could get past that uncomfortable feeling from showing up at a new church service every week, rather I knew anything about the denomination, or not.
Upon hearing what I planned to do, a loved one cautioned that attending one service is simply a small snapshot view of what a particular church is all about. To truly experience a church, you must be involved in that church. To that statement, I agree, so I want to make a point that my comments are simply my own observations, not judgments on any given denomination or church, and they are for only one given Sunday – a small slice of time. I believe there is no right or wrong way to worship God, only a different way. This year, I want to experience them all. I hope you enjoy the journey with me and experience a few new things along the way.
Crossbridge Church, 25700 Overlook Parkway, San Antonio, TX 78260.
Why This Church?
Now living in zipcode 78260, I decided to simply start with the churches around me. I got out later than normal to run this morning, so I didn’t have the luxury of going to just any church. I had to go to one that had a service at 11:00 a.m. Crossbridge Church fit the bill. Additionally, I thought a non-denominational church wouldn’t stretch my limits too far right out of the gate, thus prompting an end to something that had just begun.
Preconceived Notions About Non-Denominational Churches
- Assumed that the bible is used frequently and often quoted
- Expected moderate attendance
- As a non-denominational church, I also expected to be sitting on chairs versus pews
Hadn’t planned it this way, but of course, I arrived a few minutes late. Felt somewhat redeemed by the numbers of other cars turning into the parking lot with me. Looking at the full parking lot, an initial wave of anxiety surfaced. Having to walk a long way would surely add to my tardiness. However, I immediately saw a parking spot sign up front: RESERVED FOR FIRST TIME GUESTS. I smiled and whipped the car in thinking, Wow, if every church I visit this year has an up-front parking spot, I can be a Last Minute Lucy every Sunday.
As a further welcome, this church also had an outside “new visitor” sign-in table, and the attendant handed me a packet of information about the church. I slipped into the service and found a seat next to a couple in a back row. Everyone was already standing and swaying to the music from the rock band playing on stage. Can’t say I’ve ever heard that particular song before, and it didn’t rhyme in many places; also seemed to go on forever while various people in the crowd raised their hands in the air. I’d forgotten my phone and my watch, so I’m not sure how long this lasted; just felt really long, probably because I didn’t know the song.
The church indeed had single chairs scattered about and the service was well attended by those in the 35-55 age group. I imagined this church to be much like the one my high school friend pastors in Spring, Texas called The Church at Creeks End. I’d previously seen a video where my friend Bobby Martin drove a Harley on stage, so this church felt like a small version of what I imagined his church to be.
A bit more theatrical than what I’m used to, the church had rows of Unistrut hanging from the ceiling to fasten various production lights. Took me a while to notice that the sanctuary also doubled as a gym, or the other way around. Basketball backboards had been covered in black cloth and once I saw that, I then noticed the gym markings on the floor. Definitely overdressed in my sundress with arms covered in a black sweater, most everyone else had on jeans and or leggings with boots.
After the intro song, a man in jeans made a quick introduction and invited the children from the back rooms to make lines around the crowd. The overhead video screens then switched on to Pastor Kirk Freeman standing in a vat of water that resembled a large mortar without the pestle. I’d arrived on a day when a few of the youth would be baptized, while the younger kids watched and listened to each of their testimonies. Each gave moving testimonies while standing in the water, but I enjoyed most when the very tall guy stepped into the water. The pastor smiled and said, “I usually put baptism limits on anyone over 6’2”. But just as he said that, a football player who had just been baptized, jumped back in to help the pastor dunk the guy. Of course, the pastor then said, “WE baptize you in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost.”
After that, people were asked to introduce themselves, and I met Ashley and Brennan, a married couple on my left, as well as Chris sitting in front of me. Since this was the second in a “Future Family” series the pastor gave, another couple was summoned to delivery testimony about their parenting. I laughed most when the woman said, “I was a really GREAT Mom, until I had kids.”
One big difference became apparent midway through the service when the ushers began taking the offering. I’d always experienced the offering being passed after the sermon and quickly wondered why this church chose to do it differently. Would the sermon be so bad, that no one would give money after the message?
After the baptism and offering, Pastor Kirk Freeman popped on stage donning blue jeans and a long-sleeved shirt with the tails out. Can’t say I’ve ever been in a church where the pastor wore jeans, but I’ve heard it is to align with the general feelings younger people have about attire. Again, I don’t know; can only share what I’ve heard. The pastor also didn’t use the Bible to read passages; instead he used an iPad mounted on a stand. That was a new one on me. He highlighted biblical passages on the large overhead screen and I noticed him using the NIV and NLT versions of the Bible. It threw me when one was marked as the KAV version. I’d not heard of that version, but he quickly pointed it out and said it was the Kirk Amplified Version of the Bible, because he couldn’t find the exact words he wanted to convey from any of the other biblical texts. That made me smile.
Having just run three miles before coming to church, it warmed my heart when the pastor used a photo of Olympian Derek Redmond on the overhead screens and told the story of Derek’s father jumping through security to help his son limp to the finish line after he severed a hamstring in the 800 meter semi-final. And, I loved how he relayed that illustration to what God does for us.
No invitational was given at the end of the sermon. The pastor simply said, “Go in Peace” and everyone filed out. No hymns, no invitational, just a dismissal – a bit different than I’m accustomed to but not bad, just different.
Post Service Commentary
I enjoyed my time at Crossbridge Church. I can see why people come here. I saw many hugs and welcoming faces and I certainly felt a spirit of family. My thoughts about the chairs was spot on for this church and it was much like I expected with quoted passages from the bible, as well as a few bibles sitting next to people on the floor.
This church had a greater attendance than I initially expected, and I was a bit surprised by the dress and the heavy use of technology, but it is 2014! Technology is a tool and churches are making heavy use of it. I’m looking forward to that first church that passes down an iPhone® with a Square® credit card payment device attached. No more basket passing, just a swipe of your credit card for donations. Now that would be technology at its best.