For those who know, Sarah and I recently moved to Louisville, KY. Before we moved here, we found out that the sixth largest church in the US, Southeast Christian Church, is here. Although we have found a new church home, I decided that I wanted to experience at least one service at Southeast, and see how one does a church service with 6000 people. So I attended the Saturday evening worship service.
I'm going to divide this into two parts. The first will examine the logistical aspects of being in a worship service with 6000 other people, and the second will examine the content of the worship service itself.
So first, how do you have a church with 6000 people in attendance? Well, you have a really, really big building. But first, you have to have a place to put all of their cars (really bad public transit in Louisville), so there is a really big parking lot. And to get those cars into the parking lot, there were actually people outside directing traffic into the driveway, and they looked like police officers (I saw one badge that said Louisville correctional services). I should mention at this point that there were a lot of staff, from greeters to people handing out the elements of the Lord's supper, which isn't that surprising.
Upon entering the church itself, I found a very large information center, and a coffee shop. Although I had read the many jokes about various mega-churches and coffee shops, I was still surprised to see a coffee shop in a church building. I guess people need their jolt of caffiene to be able to worship God, and where better to get it than the church itself? There was also a lot of doors and hallways leading every which way.
Then there was the sanctuary. Outside, there was a main entrance, and stairs going up to the two upper levels, although I found out that there are actually 5 levels. Inside, it was just huge. I think many conference centers are smaller than the sanctuary here. And the seats, they just go on and on. I counted at least 4 video cameras focused on the stage (there may have been more I didn't see), and then there were a bunch of large video screens, and at least four banks of speakers feeding audio out. It was impressive, and massive. On stage there was a setup for a full band, and off to one side a small pool sized baptism tank.
During the service, they had the Lord's supper, with what looked like an army of people going around to hand out the bread and the juice. There was also the same army (from what I could tell) doing the collection of the offerring.
What about the service itself? Listening to the worship music felt like being at a concert, and people actually applauded after each song. The music was so loud I often couldn't hear myself or others around me singing along. And the words on the screen were superimposed over video of the worship team. The songs weren't any worse than many hymns theologically, but they were loud. There was a video spot where one person talked about a recent story in the NYPost involving a homeless man saving a woman, being stabbed to death, and then no one helping the homeless man while he dies. This was then tied to Jesus dying for the ungodly.
The sermon was on "Goodness and Kindness" as fruits of the spirit. The text was 2 Sam 9:1-11, where David is looking to make good on his promise to Jonathan to protect Jonathan's family, and David's treatment of Mephibosheth. The whole sermon built up to three points regarding kindness: (1) We need to show kindness to family and friends; (2) We should show kindness to someone who can't return the favor; and (3) we should show kindness when it may not be deserved. Now, I will admit, these are things we should do, and I would agree that Christians need to be reminded of these types of things. But in building up to this, I felt there was a lack of emphasis on Christ showing us this kindness himself, and therefore this should be our response as those who have been saved. This may have been due to the shortness of the sermon itself (I forgot my cell phone, but I would judge it was ~30 min), but I also think the time spent telling everyone about the ways that people in the church have/will show(n) kindness to others could have been better spent on examining David as a type of Christ, but don't take my word for it. Don't get me wrong, there was some stuff about Christ's and God's kindness to us, but given the imagery in 2 Samuel 9, this could have been brought out a lot more. Then again, I don't write sermons. For those who want to verify what I am saying, the date I attended was May 15, so go to the church website and see if the sermon archive has it.
So would I go there again? No. Would I recommend the place? Not with just one visit, but not likely ever, either. Even if you don't agree with the Presbyterian view on covenants, I'm sure there must be some more solid churches in Louisville with better expository preaching. But man there was a lot of people, if that's what you think is the best indicator of a church.
I was speaking with someone after our church service today about the services at Southeast, and he made a really good point that in a seeker sensitive type church you are not using the service to necessarily feed the sheep, but rather to bring the goats in from the outside and make them comfortable, and get them into programs where they can get more learning. But in my mind this goes completely against what the purpose of church should be, which is worship of God and feeding the sheep so that they can better understand their relationship to the shepherd. If any goats do come in, they should not be comfortable, because they do not yet know the shepherd, and don't even know that they need a shepherd. If they come in, they need to know that they are seperated from the flock, and that the only way to become a part of it is through repentance and knowing the shepherd.