Little Gruene Church

Date: January 24, 2016

I moved to the Gruene district of New Braunfels in mid-January. As when I moved to San Antonio, this time I also decided that I’d visit all the churches here before making my decision on where I’d land. Once I have a short list of churches, I’ll take Don back around to see which he feels most comfortable worshiping in.

How I ended up at Little Gruene Church

As you drive into Gruene Lake Village, you see a small sign for Little Gruene Church to  the right. Makes you wonder what it is and certainly I immediately put it on my list, due to the proximity to my new home. This weekend, I’d planned to go to the Unity Church of New Braunfels, but the night before, I met a new neighbor named Rich. After a brief introduction, he shared that on the weekends, he teaches at the Little Gruene Church. Come to find out, he is a co-pastor of the church and views himself more as a teacher versus a preacher. He invited me to come the next day because after church, there’d be a potluck at his large home next door. So, I changed my plans.

Arrival

Took me all of three minutes to walk over to the church, if that long. Might have been less, if I’d known that I could have gone in the backdoor versus the front.

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Really, folks, this church is maybe 1/16th of a mile from my home. I walked over on a perfect day with wispy clouds in the sky. The sign in front is small, but has a big welcome.

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Rich greeted me at the front door, then I quickly met Barbara who also lives in my neighborhood. Oddly enough, I quickly learned that my other neighbor Heath is the pianist for the church.

Service Begins

I’d say that the general start to the service is much like the church in which I grew up. You have your meet & greet, hymns and such, then a children’s sermon. Two boys came forward for that (sons of Heath and his wife Patsy) and Pastor Don gave the message. Before finishing that message he asked if the boys had a scripture for him. Each took their turn standing and gave a verse that they’d chosen and memorized for the week. LOVED this idea! What a great way to get kids to read the Bible and make it part of their lives.

Offertory

This church doesn’t put great emphasis on the offertory portion of the service. Pastor Rich pointed that out then shared that if God had called you to donate, there were boxes located at the front and back doors to drop those in. I thought this was unusual and delightful at the same time. Although I’d written a check before I arrived, I stepped out of the church in the end and forgot to drop in my tithe. I caught myself at the last minute and stopped back in to put that in the box. Guess there’s some training needed for that new tithing process. As with the Baptist churches I’ve attended in the past, the Doxology was then sung.

Before the sermon, one of the lay readers, who I think was also a board member, got up to read the scripture for the morning. Here’s where the service lost me for a few minutes. The man quoted from Two Corinthians 10 versus 3-5. Yes, he really said “Two Corinthians.” Well you know that had my mind off and running, given the current Donald Trump political talk about him saying the same thing versus Second Corinthians. Did this man support Donald Trump? Was he making a statement by doing that? Or, are there really people who also say “2 Corinthians” versus “Second Corinthians?” Guess I’ll never know, but sure had my mind in a tizzy trying to figure it out.

Message – “Winning the Battle for Your Mind”

Pastor Don gave a great message about taking control of your thoughts and how everything proceeds from thought to emotion and then result or habit. Felt like I was back at Mile Hi Church in Lakewood, CO with such ideas. That immediately struck a chord with me, so I enjoyed listening to him make the analogy between war and thought.

As he explained, he is much more of a teacher than a preacher, so his sermons are quite informative. Plus, he provides handouts for his talk, which makes it easy to remember over the coming week.

Thoughts

Afterward, we went to the pastor’s home for a potluck. (Pastor Rich calls this the church annex because it literally adjacent to the back door of the church.) Loved, LOVED his and his wife’s home. It’s filled with teak wood pieces and is one of the most beautiful, relaxing homes I’ve ever been in. I look forward to spending more time with he and his wife Kay and enjoying this neighborhood.

 

 

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Summit Christian Center – (non-denominational) San Antonio

photo 2-25  Saturday #46– Summit Christian Center – Nondenominational, 2575 Marshall Road, San Antonio

Why this church?

Proximity! Only 4.8 miles from the house and it has a service on a Saturday evening – two of the most important things (at least to me). Since I’ve been to one or two non-denominational churches already, I’m not sure why I had this one on my list; I suppose it’s due to website intrigue. The singers on stage look excited on the site, as well as multi-cultural. Also, I lassoed my son into going with me, so he could give a young person’s perspective.

Arrival

Seems I never can get it right. Sometimes I forget my pencil in the car; other times I forget something to write upon. Tonight, I forgot my cell phone, so as Alex and I entered the doorway to the church, we did an about-face and headed back to the car. As a result, we were both warmly greeted twice!

As we walked to the sanctuary, we passed a nice coffee shop, then gift shop. photo 5-7

From that point we could already hear the bass of the 9-member band playing on stage. Even though the sanctuary can fit several thousand people, most of those at the Saturday evening service sat away from the balcony seats. All in all, I’d estimate about 300 to 350 people at tonight’s service. Those in attendance primarily dressed in jeans and pants, and were equally divided between whites, African Americans and Hispanics. I’m sure there were other nationalities in the service, but the sanctuary had already dimmed its lights for the bands’ production, which included a fog machine and spots of purple, green and blue gel lighting and some major amps.

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Service Begins

As the first song began, the crowd stood as the words appeared on two large overhead screens. No one around me sang along with the band – perhaps they were tone deaf. It’s always hard to follow along with just the words, if you don’t know the tune.

When the second song began, we remained standing. I wanted to poke Alex in the ribs and remind him that with all other non-denominational churches they typically stand for four songs before the audience is asked to sit. I decided against that because I figured Alex might bolt for the door if he had to stand that long. (Neither of us are big stand-in-place kind of people). However, after the second song, a bouncy woman (I believe this was the pastor’s wife), came to the stage and led us in a prayer. To me, it sounded more like a political rally prayer, but then again, everyone prays as they are led. From there, the service had a few announcements and then we were asked to greet those around us. I shook hands with a few people, but it was more of a quick “Glad you are here kind of greeting.”

Then to my surprise (was expecting at least two more songs by the band, according to my experiences at mega churches), the pastor popped on stage, dressed in a long sleeved shirt with the tail out, jeans and possibly even boots. This seems to be the clothing choice of many non-denominational pastors – at least for a Saturday evening service.

The Message

Pastor Rick Godwin spoke on “The Benefits of Having a Spirit of Gratitude.” He immediately sailed right into his message, peppering scripture with a multitude of vignettes and stories. From the pulpit, he read his notes as he went. While I like a pastor who can weave a story into a message to make a point, I felt like this message was all story and scripture and no space or breathers. I likened it to having only one note to play and no space around the note. After a while, the stories that made me giggle and smile began to wear on me. However the delivery was simply a matter of style and one that I wasn’t used to.

I did find his mannerism to be a bit like a young Ronald Reagan and that was endearing. The points of the message about being grateful in all things that you do and that you are unique, so “be a voice, not an echo,” struck a chord with me. Also liked his wording when he said, “We so often count our blessings with our fingers and our miseries with a calculator.”

After the message, the pastor led us in prayer and then had kind of a silent (no peeking) in-your-seat altar call where those who wanted to accept Jesus as their Savior could do so somewhat privately. Then the pastor cued a video about a couple that had made Summit Christian Center their church home, when it was called something else before Summit. It was a heartwarming story and I think if someone in the audience were looking for a church home, this may have had some impact.

After the video, guests were told to sit back and not participate in the offering, and that it was time to give members a chance to give of their tithes and offerings. Like most mega churches, this one used buckets to pick up the checks, cash and coins.

Finally, the pastor had everyone hold out their hands and he gave the parting blessing and we were dismissed.

Post Thoughts

I didn’t see this as we walked in, but can you believe it, this church has a two-story full-sized carousel!

photo 4-16   I’m talking a major carousel here. Who has a carousel in their church? It certainly made me smile, almost as much as that cross made out of used telephone cord at the at Passion City Church in Atlanta. Although I couldn’t find anything about this carousel on the church website, I immediately understood its value. I used to tell neighbors holding garage sales: You have to have one item that is the big draw. You should never sell it until close to the end of the sale because that one item will draw people in for its novelty. A carousel in church – definitely a novelty!

In the end, Alex had many of the same feelings as I did. Wasn’t his kind of church. He really didn’t like the tele-evangelist style of preaching and the over-the-top production from the band, even though he did enjoy the music. In the end, he said he felt like many of those in his generation (under 25) aren’t looking for the highly polished productions but instead, a genuine, heart-felt experience in which they can participate. I’m not sure what a church like that would look like, but I’ll keep my eyes open for him.

What’s Next?

Theatre church? Who knows? Depends on how late I sleep in as to whether I can make it tomorrow. If not, I may hit another service at 6 pm.h

Oak Hills Church – Crownridge Campus – San Antonio

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Sunday #24 – Oak Hills Church, 19595 IH 10 West, San Antonio

Why this Church?

Last week, I decided to go to a Church of Christ church this weekend, so last night I searched the online Yellow Pages and Oak Hills Church came up near the top. I wouldn’t have known this church from any other, but a few months ago, I attended an event and met a woman named Denise. She told me all about Oak Hills Church and invited me to come. I said I would at some point, so when the church name popped to the top of that list, I decided it was time. I later learned that while this church has its roots in Church of Christ, it is now a non-denominational church.

Preconceived Ideas about Oak Hills Church

I know very little about this church other than the following:

  • Max Lucado is one of its lead pastors. (I know he is an author of many best seller books and a recognized name. Still wondering if I’ve ever read any of his books, or have just heard of him through the grapevine.)
  • I’ve also been told that either David Robinson or Tim Duncan go to this church. (Have great respect for both men, so it must be a good place.)

Arrival

Denise and I agree to meet for the 9:45 service and fortunately for me, she tells me it starts at 9:30. I pull into the large expanse of a parking lot at about 9:28 a.m. and immediately see the Golden Ticket – a whole section for first time visitors.

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As I’m directed to a parking spot by a young man dressed in shorts, tennis shoes and an orange shirt like several others in the lot, I smiled and thought; Yep, this is going to be a good morning. 

He asked me if it was my first time, welcomed me and then directed me through the front doors, up the stairs and said I’d find the large auditorium at the back. Immediately, I was glad I’d gone back inside the house and switched from high heels to flats. Yes, there was an elevator, but for someone who just completed a five mile run, I thought that I’d feel like a wuss if I chose the easy way to the top.

Through the use of modern technology (smartphone), I eventually found Denise in a crowd of about 1500 people. She saved me a seat. Yay, Denise! As I sat down, I asked her about the Church of Christ thing, and she told me years ago it was a Church of Christ church, but later switched to non-denominational. She said that the earlier morning service is more reflective of those roots, with music that is done completely a cappella.

Service Begins

As with all the other non-denominational churches, this service begins with music directed by a band and yes (darn it) we stood. What is it with these non-denominational churches and this incessant standing at the beginning of the service? Isn’t anyone else running early in the morning and ready to sit down? Sigh The words to the songs were emblazoned across two large screens that were located way too high for my vantage point. I think those in the higher sections in the back were probably at the right angle, but nearer to the front, I had to crane my head to read the words. My favorite part of all this was thinking about the drummer located to the right of the stage in a little plexiglass box. Honestly, it reminded me of the Pope-mobile. I guess it’s for sound dampening, but sure looks funny. I’ve seen this in other churches, but never closed off on almost four sides.

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Finally, after three songs, we got to sit. At this point, I looked back to see that hardly a chair in this auditorium was left vacant. Then Denise leaned over to say that with the combined services, the attendance is around 4,000 to 5,000 each weekend.

The worship leader then gave us the good news – The San Antonio Spurs are World Champions. That announcement got everyone going.

Then we sang another song, while the worship leader read some words from his smartphone. Some musician on stage played a black instrument that had an unusual sound. Still wondering what that was. It looked a lot like a clarinet, but the diameter was much larger. From this vantage point, I also had a good view of the deaf interpreter. These guys and girls totally amaze me how they can follow along and not get lost.

Time for the Message

Then everything went dark and it felt much like a movie was about to begin. Wasn’t sure if I was about to see a video production or hear a sermon.

However, this was just the lead-in to the sermon.

Then Max Lucado walked on stage and stood in front of a generic black music stand like thing – no fancy podium, no altar, just pastor Lucado and his notes. His sermon was the last in a series called “The Glory Days” and centered on the story of Joshua.

He first asked why the book of Joshua was in the Bible. The answer: Because the story of Joshua reminds us that we need to come out of the wilderness and claim our inheritance and stop walking around in circles.

In fact, Lucado said, the word “inheritance” is mentioned 51 times in Joshua. He also reminded the audience that the Israelites may not have wandered around for 40 years, if they had just claimed their inheritance. “They were delivered from Egyptian bondage but still remained captive in fear, anxiety and dread.” He went on to say that discipleship is learning how to access God and all that you have already inherited.

My favorite analogy was when Lucato held up his smartphone and said that this phone had amazing power and capability, but for many of us, the smartphone is smarter than we are. He said, “I may know what an app is, but if I don’t know how to access it through my phone, that power is unavailable to me.”

After the sermon, pastor Lucado called those people to the front of the auditorium who may want to receive a special blessing and prayer. This reminded me a bit about the Hope Center Church and seemed to be similar to what the Pentecostals do at the end of their service. Then, everyone went back to their seats.

After that, we all prepared for Communion. The choir sang while the plate of bread and wine (er, uh, grape juice) was passed out. At this point, I had to smile. While the choir sang, a picture of stained glass windows was projected onto the backdrop behind the choir. Who says you can’t have a modern building with stained glass in it? And I bet it cost a lot less, too! The Communion reminded me of all the years spent in the Baptist Church with a plate of chicklet-sized crackers being passed down the aisles with a half shot of grape juice to follow. In many churches, this is a rather quiet, solemn portion of the service, but at Oak Hills Church the music made it a bit more lively. We all held the sacraments in our hands and then once they were all passed out, the worship leader instructed us to “eat of Christ’s body and drink of His blood.”

After that, a prayer was given and we all stood to clap and sing. That was one happy choir – lots of hands raised in praise, a leader jumping up and down on stage and a lot of swaying to and fro.

At the end, black curtains that had been blocking the sun were rolled back electronically to reveal floor to ceiling windows that I never knew were there. Then, pastor Lucado made a few announcements, including the one that he and his daughter finally got last minute tickets to last Sunday’s final playoff game. Of course, he said he was in the section at the top, where they needed oxygen masks to breath and he said he was quite sure that he saw Archangel Michael flying just below his section.

After a final prayer, we departed. My friend Denise wanted me to meet Max Lucado, so she took me to where he was and snapped a photo. Nice guy!

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Post Service Commentary

I’d consider this church to be one of the many mega churches in San Antonio – and there are many of those. This one has a different feel though and I liked it. Reminds me a lot of Mile Hi Church in Denver, so it really felt like home. I’ll still have to find a Church of Christ to go to at some point. Will keep looking for that one.

What’s Next?

I’ll be in Angel Fire, New Mexico next Sunday. I’d like to go to a Native American church, but it is about 20 miles into Taos where that is located. I’d have to borrow a vehicle and just don’t do that. My father taught me long ago, never borrow someone’s car and never let someone borrow yours. It’s a rule I’ve always tried to live by. So, I may be going to a church that I can walk to in Angel Fire. Who knows where I’ll be?