Doomsday evangelist Jack Van Impe has got my 79 year old mother all worked up. He’s been ranting that contemporary churches like Saddleback are apostate because they don’t display the cross!
Dr. Van Impe would be pleased with Lifechurch – they have a ginormous cross sitting right in the middle of their parking lot. And I mean ginormous – it’s a few stories tall and you can see it from the highway (as I approached the church I actually wondered if my GPS was off as it seemed more in line with Orlando’s Holy Land Experience than a high tech ministry, but good for them for being daring.)
Lifechurch is starting their yearly “At the Movies” sermon series where they analyze popular films from a Biblical perspective. Nearly every inch of the church, inside and out, is very elaborately, cleverly and painstakingly decorated in a “Kung Foo Panda” theme (see the Flicker picture gallery below.) I heard another campus was decorated like the movie “Tron.” These people go hog-wild with theming that gives Disney a run for their money – a dragon spewing real smoke, a zen garden, fish pond with walking bridge, a giant Chinese takeout box with slide, decorated entrances and a massive kung foo panda sitting on top of the building. To complete the movie experience you can pick up a box of popcorn and soda as you take your seat.
I always bring earplugs with me when I visit churches but I forgot mine this trip. Thankfully, Lifechurch provides earplugs on request. It’s seriously the loudest church I’ve ever been to – ridiculously so (I wish I had thought to use my db meter app but it had to be approaching 110 dbs.) If I didn’t have the earplugs I simply could not have stayed, it was so excruciatingly loud.
Once the earplugs reduced the noise to normal, non-damage inducing levels, I enjoyed it. The music was perfect as you would expect in a megachurch of this stature – a perfect band, winsome young worship leader and a pretty female backup vocalist. They opened with a cover of Kings of Leon’s Use Somebody then launched into a praise set of a few tunes. I appreciated hearing songs I knew like Beautiful Jesus and Inside Out.
Now this is, of course, entirely subjective but I didn’t really feel a worship vibe going on. I attended Crosspointe Church in Norman that morning, and while it was nowhere near as polished as Lifechurch I was immediately surprised by the presence of God I sensed in the congregation.
From what I understand about churches like Lifechurch, worship is a distant second in the scheme of things and only meant as a prelude to the pinnacle of the service: the sermon. In fact, a worship leader of one mega church with a similar format to Lifechurch told me their unsaved visitors complained about “too much worship music” so they cut their sets short!
Lifechurch and their video venues run on tight time constraints. All services broadcast the live sermon simultaneously and each campus band has to end at the same time. I would guess all songs are on a strict click track with no option to repeat a chorus or pause for prayer. Maybe if you don’t make room for the Spirit to show up He won’t?
While the music was excellent but not particularly (for me) emotionally moving, the sermon was one of the most spectacular displays of melding media, emotion and truth that I’ve ever experienced. The last time I felt this way about a sermon was five years ago… at my last trip to Lifechurch. Imagine visiting a church and begin blown away by a sermon, then getting blown away again on a random visit five years later! Craig Groeschel is the real, consistent deal and is one of my favorite preachers.
What made the experience wonderful was the seamless blend of the film “Signs” with Craig’s message. A clip of the movie played, then effortlessly blended into Craig’s sermon. The camera work and transitions were so expertly done you couldn’t tell where the movie ended and the sermon began. Even the movie score was perfectly transitioned. Then, at the climax of the movie as the orchestra swelled, Craig explained how God can use signs and circumstances to guide us. It touched me to my core and brought me to tears – I’ll remember it for years just as I can remember Craig’s sermon from my visit five years ago.
This is how it’s done – technical excellence in media balanced with excellence in Biblical truth. Church media people – you might want to book a flight and experience this for yourselves during one of their “At the Movies” summer series.
Photos from LifeChurch: