by Marcia Horn Noyes
Sunday #4 – Cornerstone Church, 18755 Stone Oak Parkway, San Antonio
Why This Church?
After last week’s visit to a small rural Cowboy Church in Boerne, I thought I’d do an about-face and worship in one of the many Mega-churches that can be found in Texas. This one is only about five miles from where I live and its large electronic sign overlooking Loop 1604 and Stone Oak Parkway is one that can’t be missed by passersby.
That flashing sign always brought to my mind Mega-church leaders like Jimmy Swaggart, Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, Ted Haggart, as well as others whose broad-reaching television fame came crashing down when details unearthed about their personal lives and how those details didn’t dovetail with what was being preached from the pulpit.
Preconceived Notions about Charismatic Mega-churches
With my underlying notion that these types of churches are all the same – money trumping the message – I had really never considering stepping in. Before today’s attendance, my general thoughts about Mega-churches consisted of the following:
- First-time visitors probably get lost in the crowd
- Likely too much emphasis on the slick production versus the message/teaching
- General feelings that these pastors are more concerned with fame rather than leading from authenticity and a right relationship with God
I know you won’t believe it, especially after hearing that I’d been out until 1:30 in the morning attending a local fund-raiser for which Mike’s cousin performed, but I got to this church early. I didn’t even look for an up-front parking spot in the Mega-parking lot that serves the needs for a multitude of buildings on this campus.
Upon arrival, I stepped into a crowded lobby that snaked around the arch of the sanctuary. I quickly walked around to get the lay of the land. As I strolled, it felt less like a church and more like Mile High Stadium, where every few feet some vendor sold something. I saw tables manned by people with pamphlets and information. Other tables had people selling tickets for upcoming events, others hocked wares like t-shirts, books and trinkets. I even found a table at the end of this arch with people selling Girl Scout cookies. (I abstained, but it wasn’t easy.)
After the previous service was dismissed, we all walked in. I quickly noted the crowd mix of blacks, whites, Hispanics and Asians; in many respects, it seemed like quite a diverse group. Keep reading to learn where the church can be viewed as much less diverse.
Some may be a bit overwhelmed upon entering the sanctuary. The set up of studio cameras, floating cameras, cameras on booms and lights resemble what you might see at a major league sporting event; the audio soundboard is one of the biggest I’ve ever seen. I climbed the many stairs to the top of the balcony so I’d have the best chance for observation. As you’ll read later, it was a wise move.
Massive velvet curtains extended from one side of the stage to the other and a band of about 17 musicians holding trombones, guitars, saxophones, drums and trumpets populated both sides of the stage. Before the service, the two large video screens came on with church announcements. I like when church announcements are made more interesting with the use of humor and this video delivery rose to meet my delight.
A short song with everyone standing, quickly evolved to more standing. The curtains then unveiled a robed choir of about 100 singers. I’ve never been to a black Gospel church, but this is probably the closest I’ve ever personally experienced – lots of clapping and swaying from side to side. Lively music made this part of the service quite enjoyable. Didn’t see anyone dancing in the aisles, but it was close. After about 15 minutes, the congregation had the first opportunity to sit down.
I realized how far reaching this ministry extends when the minister got up and said, “For those of you watching around the world on GETV….” I’d seen these types of church productions on TV before, but I’d never been a part of one being televised. Before the pastor continued, he said that this service reached all the way to the Super Bowl. He sat down and a video came on the two large screens of Gerell Robinson’s mom who works in the television ministry at the church. We learned her son would be playing for the Denver Broncos at the Super Bowl; she also spoke about how early on in his career, he avoided conflict and contact at all costs. She said as he learned to play football, he would run to the other end of the field and back to avoid getting hit. Being from Denver and about to cheer for the team, I loved this part of the service.
After that came more announcements about the Christian School, the ministry’s college and other news from the multitude of events happening in the church. Then visitors were welcomed, recognized and asked to stand. (Yep, I stood as a first-time visitor. Felt somewhat brave today. Yeah, I know…you’re impressed.) Then came the tithes and offerings. Got a weird feeling when the pastor asked, “How many of you have brought your tithes and offerings this morning? Well hold them up high and let me see them.”
Then the lights went dark and I saw several men come on the stage to reset it for the main message. At that point, I felt like I was watching the second act in a stage play. We then all stood to read as the day’s bible message was read; I noted how many people had brought bibles with them to the service. You don’t always see that at every service.
Today’s message was the first in a series about the Lord’s Prayer, so the stage crew had erected a huge freestanding backdrop that illustrated four different points about the Lord’s Prayer. It didn’t take long before I understood why I saw no gay couples in the audience. More than once, the pastor made repeated points about how marriage is between only one man and one woman. Add the pastor’s outspoken views about abortion, and I suddenly realized why two men in suits stood at the base of the stairs leading to the stage. They remained absolutely still while facing the audience for the entire service. I’d only witnessed that scene once before. Years earlier, I’d covered the arrival of then president George H. Bush at the Jefferson County Airport for KBMT-TV and at the time had a first-hand view and many conversations with some Secret Service men while they waited for President Bush to return to the airport.
Seemed rather odd, but considering what happened in the New Life Church in Colorado Springs a few years earlier, I suppose I understand the need for security. What I didn’t get was how I felt toward the end of the message. This pastor’s booming voice had no rival in the area of evangelical preachers. As he hammered the points one right after another with increasing volume and emphasis, I felt as if my insides were being jolted and jarred by the sheer sound. My ears just couldn’t handle this level of sound. So, I was glad when it came time for the Holy Communion of chiclet-sized crackers and grape juice. I needed a break from the noise.
Post Service Commentary
People gravitate to such large churches for the array of fellowship opportunities that these churches can offer. You can find something to do every day of the week and for each and every member of your family. It truly is a place where your whole life can revolve around the church. Likewise, if you choose not to be as actively involved, you can slip in and out of church services virtually unnoticed from one Sunday to the next.
After this week’s booming sounds, my ears need a break. I’m a very peace loving person and cherish the quiet, contemplative moments to worship God, so maybe I’ll learn more about what the Buddhists are doing in San Antonio and seek out a more serene and calm service next week.