Horizon, Owings Mills, MD
What was your first impression as you entered?
Horizon meets in the AMC theater at the Owings Mills Mall. Parking was easy, and they clearly mark which door to enter, so there was no confusion about where to go.
Unfortunately, this particular theater entrance lacks the more visually appealing setting of many others. Moreover, to avoid confusion with theater goers, they use an exit door rather the main entrance. (In contrast, National Community and Journey's Crossing make bold, full and unapologetic use of the main entrance and lobby.) So, honestly, the first impression was rather unappealing, not unlike sneaking in through a back door from an alley. We were a bit early, so perhaps there were greeters later. But the complete lack of welcome at the entrance was in stark contrast to most other churches I’ve visited.
How long was the service?
1 hour, 25 minutes.
How was the service structured?
25 minutes of music, followed by 10 minutes of announcements (including the sweet blessing/sending of a young couple moving away), and a 50 minute talk. The service ended with “bye.”
What did you like best?
The talk: The pastor gave an engaging and inspiring report of his mission tour of the Dominican Republic. I have no idea what his typical sermons are like – but he definitely knows how to tell gripping stories about life, faith and ministry among the poor! In the midst of the story he masterfully wove in deeply spiritual values. The 50 minutes passed quickly; It was really quite wonderful.
What did you dislike?
Although it was clear enough what to do if one were a newcomer and wanted to somehow break into this group, they unintentionally but consistently acted as though they were unaware of the presence of newcomers. I was surprised to realize that I felt not not even a newcomer, but more like a voyeuristic outsider spying on a large family gathering.
Their gathering is completely consistent with the Baptist assumption that we gather together to hear a message. Apart from the music, there was no sense of participative worship.
What were its greatest strengths that you’d like to import?
They had some great video advertisements showing at the beginning and the end that were fun and inspiring. One of these gave the sense that Christianity was an exciting adventure that required attention, discipline and skill. Another communicated the spiritual and corporate values that form the vision of the leaders. I caught myself coveting my neighbors videos. Ooops.
If you were looking for a church, would this be it?
No… gathering to hear an inspiring message is not enough. However. I’d happily recommend it for teens and young adults who are not yet intentional and conscious followers of Jesus. It is very imaginable that they might find their way to faith by attending Horizon.
What did you learn from this visit?
A big sign on a glass door – black background, bright letters – immediately ends any confusion about where to enter. A well-crafted, quiet video loop playing in the background while people enter or leave can be surprisingly inspiring.
Is there anything else you want to say?
Clarity about entry is far superior to confusion, but is not enough. There also needs to be some friendly faces out front. (Visit Journey in NYC for an example of outstanding greeters.) Nor is a door and a hallway is enough; we need a gathering space that helps us make the transition. (Visit Journey’s Crossing in Gaithersburg for for an example of an outstanding entry area, or St Bart's in NYC for for an example of an outstanding strategic entry area.)
This is my opinion; I could be wrong.
The Lord be with you.