Sunday #26 – Passion City Church, 515 Garson Drive, Atlanta, GA
Why this Church?
While visiting my daughters in Atlanta and running the Peachtree Road Race 10K on July 4, I decided to go to the church my college-aged daughter attends – Passion City Church. From the outset, I thought perhaps this was a non-denominational church, but my daughter quickly corrected me and said Passion City is not non-denominational, nor an interdenominational but is called a Jesus Church. Okay.
What I found was a church unlike any that I’ve previously visited. This church must be doing it right for the city, because the 10:00 service was packed, and I understand that the three other services are equally well attended.
The girls and I pulled into the lot and were directed into a parking spot. I saw no steeple, stairs, stained glass or cross. Instead, we walked up to a large, white building that looked more like a warehouse, and indeed, it had been in the past. Passion City Church is housed in an old Home Depot Expo building — a concept that never really took off. After Home Depot pulled out, the building became a warehouse for a golf company, then the church moved in after it had been empty for a while.
The warehouse…er, uh, church, is located in the middle of what once had several strip clubs. In the earlier church days, one of strip club parking lots was used during church services for overflow. One church member told me that it felt rather odd at the time, but yet so like where Jesus would have been. In fact, the church has had several dancers from those clubs become regular churchgoers.
As we walked down the large expanse of the hallway leading to the worship area, I noted a modern-like design that reminded me of a retail Apple store. Large monitors hung on white walls and dots of bright orange from round cushions in the middle of the hallway caught my eye, as well as the rather…okay….really odd cross. Looked rugged from a distance, but as I approached, I suddenly realized it to be made of old telephone cord. My quirky mind immediately wondered if this wasn’t a piece of abstract art that churchgoers were supposed to derive some personal meaning. Something akin to – “Cut the cord and go direct to Jesus.” I smiled, thinking that surely some of the SteepleStretch readers would have something to add in the comments after seeing this.
A few steps on and I looked to my left, where I saw two half buses with little children going in and out. I asked my daughter about that and she said it was a local mission project to outfit disadvantaged children with school supplies in Atlanta. Loved the visual for this project and found it captivating for children and adults alike. Kudos for that one, Passion City Church.
Speaking of children, I must mention the most unusual children’s Sunday School set up that I’ve ever seen. A few steps further, I saw a bank of electronic sign-in things and a room filled with camping tents.
I immediately wanted to know about it, so I wandered over to speak to the man standing guard at the door. He shared that parents sign in electronically and both the parent and child get a security wristband, then the child goes to a specific tent that is marked by age. The children have a Sunday session with a couple of teachers, then at some point during the hour, all the children will come together at the “pond” – a blue lake painted in the middle of the floor. Band members leave the adult service service after their performance and then play for the younger children in theirs. I found this concept completely fascinating. The man said the children love it and when the large room is needed for other reasons throughout the week, the room is quickly and easily transformed. Second kudos!
Just down from that area, I found a large white wall with light bulbs on it. I could vaguely make out the wording “Jesus is Life” and asked my daughter about it. She said that after you accept Jesus Christ, you can come place a light bulb for Jesus on the board. Kind of cool. These people really think outside the pew!
Finally, we were at the worship center where we found seats in cushioned chairs. (See triple selfie below of me and my awesome daughters).
The room was dark with a stage lit in purple and blue light. In this particular service, I saw a wide variety of ages, but most were in their 20s, 30s and 40s and outfitted in a mishmash of clothing that ranged from t-shirts and shorts, to jeans and dresses.
Then I realized I’d forgotten something to write on. None of the door holders handed out an order of service or church bulletin, so I went back to the front to ask for a piece of paper. You would have thought I’d asked for a Smith Corona typewriter. No one had any paper; everything being electronic in this building. WOW! Eventually, someone dug for and managed to find two pieces of paper in a cabinet below — used on one side, but blank on the other. SCORE! Then, I was ready for the concert…..uh, service.
An 8-piece band hits the stage in jeans and t-shirts and OF COURSE….we all stand up. By now, you know how opposed I am to standing on my feet for song after song, as if I were attending a Deep Purple or ZZ Top concert, instead of church – especially so after developing a toe blister while running that 10K two days before. From the first strum, It felt like a rock concert. This church had either invested in some serious mics, sound equipment or had hit the nail on the acoustical head. I felt the base notes reverberate throughout my body.
At this point, I’d begun to wonder whether what my daughter said could be true. Does rising to one’s feet as the music begins and then staying vertical really show reverence to God? What about those faiths that kneel, sit or prostrate? Does God really care? What about raising one’s hand in the hair as a sign of praise? Many in the churchgoing group were doing so. In fact, I thought about raising my hand, but only to ask if I could please sit down. I think God likes runners, too, and would want us to be comfortable and thinking of God, instead of our blistered feet.
After three songs (standing), we sat. Ahhhhh. Someone made a few announcements about the Community Groups that meet around the Atlanta area to help those located far from the church feel connected to those living near them.
Then came the offering. While large white buckets were passed among the thousands of people in attendance, words filled the four large overhead projection screens that gave a further indication of tithing technology: “Send a text with any amount to 45777 to give to Passion City Church. I’m “pre-Internet” and “pre-Smartphone” so I opted for the bucket.
Time for the Message
My daughter loves going to this church to hear lead pastor Dr. Louie Giglio preach. The man has a strong drive to connect young adults to the message of Jesus Christ. Unfortunately for me, he was preaching at a leadership convention in Australia. So, I had the wonderful opportunity to hear the Pastor Clay Scroggins from Browns Bridge Community Church in Cumming, GA.
Scroggins started the new church series “From Darkness to Light” by telling stories about his three kids, aged 5, 3 and 1. (From a quick look at his Twitter page @ClayScroggins, sounds like he has another on the way.) To set the mood for the message, he talked of trying to herd his cats (children) into the van, when his 5-year-old daughter darted back into the house. When he yelled from below that she needed to “come on and let’s go.” She popped her head from upstairs and yelled down, “I have to get my lipstick or I won’t be pretty.” A cute comment like this can actually make a parent’s heart sink, as it did his.
As he talked from the stage that held a white chair and a large on-stage monitor, he shared how we often cover up and conceal our faults, sins and defects because we think the world won’t accept or love us as we are.
His message centered on the Bible’s story of the “Woman at the Well.” In the story, we never get to learn this woman’s name, so she is forever known as the “woman at the well.” We do however eventually learn that she has had five husbands and the man she is currently living with is not even her husband. As the encounter progresses, we see that she is blown away that Jesus knows this about her even though she tries to conceal these facts.
Scroggins drove the point home that God doesn’t turn his love on and off depending upon what we do or have done. He stated that, “God’s love is like a waterfall, not a water faucet.”
Loved the engaging, well-delivered message and felt afterward that I hadn’t missed a thing with this stand-in pastor.
Then, we STOOD for two more songs before the end of the service.
Been on the road for several weeks, so this Sunday I’ll be back in San Antonio. I’ll be playing catch up on work, so I think I’ll take in a service from a church closer to home – Episcopal? Christian Church? Honestly, having attended 26 different churches thus far, my close options are dwindling.