Journey’s Crossing, Gaithersburg, MD
What was your first impression as you entered?
Journey’s Crossing meets in the Rio Theaters in the upscale Washington Center shopping center. Parking was very convenient in the parking garage directly adjacent to the entrance. The glass-sided elevator down to the street gave a great view of river/lake beside the theater, and a huge flock of ducks made me smile. So I was predisposed toward liking the experience. Attractive sandwich signs guided us through the doors, to the entrance, making this the least confusing entry into any of the theater venues I’ve visited.
Inside the mall, just outside the box office, attractive display tables were set up in a large circle, facing inward. Each table was colorfully signed, manned by friendly people, and devoted to one function: refreshments, visitor information, child care information, a book table, ministry group sign up, small groups, sermon tapes. The effect on me was to feel that I had “entered the church” while still in a mall, and to feel they were very well organized. I was pleased to see a healthy age spread from little children through middle age, and a variety of races. My hopes were high.
How long was the service?
One hour and 20 minutes.
How was the service structured?
25 minutes of music, followed by 10 minutes of welcome and announcements, followed by a 35 minutes sermon, followed by communion and dismissal.
What did you like best?
Darin Brown, one of the staff pastors, delivered a terrific sermon. The passage for the day (not chosen by him, but the next passage in succession) was one that is very difficult in our current culture, and in my inexperience, usually misunderstood and handled very badly. But not by him! His presentation was carefully crafted, thoughtful, and well-nuanced. His delivery was low-key, humorous, and focused on real life issues in a healthy way. His main idea, “the unselfish life is essential for peaceful, healthy human relationships” accurately reflected the thrust of the passage.
What did you dislike?
Nearly everything else in the service. Apart from the sermon, there was no sense that we were engaged in anything important, large, awe-inspiring, or life changing. A college student in our group summarized it over lunch afterward:, “Instead of worship, it was 'youth group schtick.' It felt like they were trying too hard to convince the non-church people that they were hip and edgy. As though they were trying to convince them that this was worthwhile instead of actually being worthwhile. Great sermon, lame everything else.” That was my impression too.
The song leader was distracting. We found ourselves trying too hard to ignore his behavior and comments so that we could engage with the music. (Go visit National Community Church to contemporary song leading done very, very well.)
The band appeared competent, but the selections were uninspired, both musically and lyrically.
They showed us two videos. One, which they had done themselves, was both creative and amusing, while the other, a clip from the film Spaceballs, was boring and annoying. But neither of the videos were in any way helpful for worship or spiritual formation. We felt that they wasted our time.
The communion was utterly individualistic and superfluous -- nothing more than a quick reminder that Christ died for us. (It's no wonder that so many Protestants think that weekly communion has no meaning! In contrast, Dylan's Lectionary blog this week indicates why the communion could and should be the most powerful highlight of our worship. (Read the Proper 13, Year A comments at Dylan's site.)
What were its greatest strengths that you’d like to import?
Their administration!! They have a well-organized team of dedicated, enthusiastic volunteers, terrific nursery and children’s programs, a superb orientation CD for visitors, and an excellent website.
If you were looking for a church, would this be it?
No. I’d like to hear Darin Brown preach again, but the other elements of their worship service were too off-putting.
What did you learn from this visit?
Although I've seen both electric and acoustical drum sets in a number of churches now, their excellent use of their electric drum set convinced me of their value, and that electric drums are right choice for a worship band. Every acoustic drum set I've experienced tended to overpower the band and the singing. This group new how to tone it down and get the right balance. It was more modest, both visually and audibly than any acoustic set I've seen, which I appreciated. I also think their entry area was perhaps the most helpful I’ve seen anywhere, whether in a church building or alternative venue. It was both welcoming and functional, and was a gentle yet certainly liminal transition from “out there, apart” to “in here, among us.”
Is there anything else you want to say?
It's worth a Sunday morning to go to Journey's Crossing to see how they set up the entry area. While you're at it, go see their excellent use of space for nursery and children's programs. Also notice how their abundance of attractive, colorful signs not only helps newcomers find their way, but helps create hope for something wonderful. However, we then need to ensure that our worship planning meets or exceeds our expectations! And -- busy, moving backgrounds are not helpful when projecting lyrics!
This is my opinion; I could be wrong.
The Lord be with you.