This past weekend I stayed in KC with my family to celebrate Father's Day and my wife's birthday. While there we visited Jacob's Well, a very interesting church. Here's a little bit about our visit.
The most interesting observation I have to make about this congregation is that there are an overwhelming amount of contradictions. And I'm not using that term in a bad way. Contradictions can be a very good thing.
We walked up to this old ornate church building, which used to be a Presbyterian church, and were surprised with what we saw at first. Usually when you walk up to a building like this all you see is people with gray hair and walkers. Instead I saw a multitude of bicycles chained to the street signs, kids running around everywhere, and young couples and families walking in the doors. I was surrounded by people my own age, which is something I've never experienced in church before. It was unexpected...and good. During the worship service it was really cool to be in that old cathedral-like sanctuary, but hear alt-pop music for the service. I looked up into those old wood rafters and listened to the people singing out loudly and I had a sense that this building was finally experiencing the kind of thing it was made for.
Pastor Tim Keel presented the sermon/teaching...which was well done. It was a bit longer than I'm used to. But Tim did excellent exegesis and fantastically articulated a lot of heavy information about a difficult subject. I was surprised to walk into an Evangelical church and hear a sermon lifting up women as full participants in the faith community and it's ministry (way to go, Tim!).
One other note: their regular practice of communion made me feel right at home.
My wife and I discussed our observations on the way home. We focused on the thing that stood out most to us: the presence of people our age, the presence of young families with kids, the presence of younger adults than us, even. And we discussed what we saw there that might be attracting to these people. Here's what we came up with:
1. Location, Location, Location. This church is located in one of those old mid-town neighborhoods that was in decline. Now, however, young couples are moving into all those old houses and renovating them. We saw people walking to church, riding their bikes to church, and very few drive-ups (which was good considering the small parking lot). This was truly a neighborhood experience.
2. Good music and teaching. The music was excellent. The band was good, but not Nashville polished. It really felt like a coffee house environment. A really-really packed coffeehouse. I also appreciated that the music was all original. They weren't doing the WOW worship songs. They were doing songs that originated in that faith community and had meaning for them. And Tim's teaching was excellent. When the pastor(s) have something to say that is meaningful, and when they're effective communicators, I think people are willing to engage.
3. Child safety. There were kids everywhere...so many kids they didn't know what to do with them all. I really appreciated that they had a check in system to keep track of kids and so that other people couldn't leave with my kids. Even though I had to climb a lot of stairs and it seemed a bit chaotic, I still felt safe leaving my kids there. This is very important to parents. If they don't feel their kids are completely safe they won't return. ('Tis better to err on the side of safety, and err enormously, than to err on the side of danger, no matter how miniscule.)
4. Blending of the ancient and the modern. The visual and audio aids were very tastefully done. And the contrast of the music to the style of building provided a truly eclectic feel.
5. Intentional Inclusion. I got a very deep sense from the way people talked and acted that inclusion was a core value of this congregation. During communion we all sang to the refrain of "No One Should Be Left Out." I really felt like any one could walk in there and not be made to feel like an outsider.
And, of course, every church has it's growing edges. There were also some things about the experience that I would ask them to give more consideration to.
1. I got no sense of what this congregation was doing in the community. No sense of mission outside the church. There was a little blurb about something in the program, but nothing discussed or brought up during the service. I know this congregation is active in service and mission, but as a first time visitor I couldn't tell you any one thing they were doing.
2. I recognize it must be difficult to deal with so many kids. The sanctuary couldn't even hold all the adults, either. So with that caveat, I do have to question the lack of children's presence in the worship service. They were present for one or two songs, then ushered out. I didn't feel like children had a "welcome place" or "role" in the regular worship of the community.
Thanks, Jacob's Well, for letting me be a tourist last week. May God continue to richly bless your ministry.