Sunday, July 11, 2010

Atlanta: Buckhead & North Point Churches

This morning I had a fantastic experience at Buckhead Church, one of the sister campuses to Andy Stanley's North Point Community Church.  Their facility is located in Tower Place, a business/retail complex in Atlanta's Buckhead neighborhood, so you don't drive up to a sprawling campus, you drive into what feels like the parking garage of an urban mall.  However, the "host team" volunteers are everywhere, helping you find your way.  Upon entering the church area, I was greeted - and greeted and greeted and greeted.  I loved it.  I also loved that the greeters are labeled as "Guest Services."  They make it very clear.  It's about welcoming the guests.

The auditorium seats 2,000, and seeing as this was the 9:00 a.m. service on a July Sunday, I wasn't expecting a very large crowd - yet there were probably 1,000-1,200 in attendance.  It was nicely attended without being crowded.

This weekend starts a three-week series called "More" - about how our "appetites" try to control us by constantly crying out for more - and these appetites can be for food, sex, material things, success, etc.  So the band launched the service with a stirring cover of "Satisfaction" (Rolling Stones).  It was rockin'!  The worship song set began with an upbeat version of the hymn "How Great Thou Art", followed by two top current worship songs, Our God (Chris Tomlin) and You Alone Can Rescue (Matt Redman).

After the offering and the obligatory title package, the message was brought by Jamie Dickens, who really brought it.  It was a slammin' sermon.  He even looks like a young Andy Stanley (down to wearing a blue dress shirt with the sleeves pushed up to the elbows over blue jeans).  I couldn't find out much about him, but he's an amazing talent and I doubt he's over 30.

As it turned out, he was preaching essentially the same sermon as would be preached at North Point later this morning by Clay Scroggins.

After worship I attended their "Next!" session - an orientation for people who've started to attend the church and are wondering "What next?"  They hold these once a month.  They showed a short video and distributed a 3-CD audio set that describes their mission and vision.  What really impressed me was the extent to which they were truly sharing their mission strategy with relative newcomers.

They talked about how everything was thought of with the metaphor of three parts of a house: the foyer, the living room, and the kitchen table.  "Foyer" experiences include things like worship.  In the foyer of your house, it's all about being welcoming.  "You don't abandon your values, but you're sensitive to theirs."  The "living room" environments are where people meet and get to know each other.  Service teams are examples of living room environments.  The "kitchen table" is where people become family.  These, of course, are small groups.  Overall, it was a great introduction to how they think and how they position themselves to be a church of influence.  And "Next!" is for people who haven't even considered membership yet.  (Next! is where you find out about membership classes.)

From there I made the 30-minute drive to the parent campus, North Point Community Church.  The first auditorium (now called the East auditorium) seats about 3,000.  When they outgrew it, they decided to build a second auditorium back-to-back (West) that seats about 2,000, rather than enlarge the main auditorium.  The message is video simulcast from the East aud to the West using a very cool technology that makes it feel more "live."  Despite it being a beautiful July Sunday, the East auditorium was standing room only! I meandered over to the West auditorium, which was about 2/3 full (I wanted to see the video system in action anyway).

I was late because of trying to find a seat, but caught the last worship song ("Cannons" by Phil Wickham). In keeping with the difference in campus styles, they didn't do "Satisfaction" here; instead, the thematic song was Carolina Liar's "Show Me What I'm Looking For."  The preacher here, Clay Scroggins, preached the same message as Jamie Dickens - same theme, same basic structure, same opening example - but in his own way.  Clay, for instance, was as folksy as Jamie was dynamic.  And I wonder if it was their personalities or the difference in audiences (Buckhead is much more singles-oriented, while NPCC is suburban families), but in discussing "appetites" that control us, Jamie spoke a lot more about sex than Clay.

The video system uses a cool technique of a large, high-def (but not 3D) static center shot that approximates the look of the "real" stage - including the fact that the preacher is "small" (life-size) - while the two side screens receive the same simultaneous angle shots that you see in the live auditorium.  The net effect (see right) is that it looks like what you would be seeing in the other auditorium.

Overall, though I liked North Point, I loved Buckhead Church.  And I'm pretty sure that when Andy Stanley is preaching at NPCC, they use the same video technology to simulcast him to Buckhead.  I could see going there every week, if I lived in Atlanta and had a different occupation.  Maybe that's what I'll do when I retire.

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