Church Trip: Woodlands Church

Woodlands wins the best pop vocals award. Plus they have disco.

After reading about the top US gigachurches I’ve decided I’d like to visit as many as possible to see what makes them tick. I was in Houston last weekend to write with worship leader Kyle Worsham and realized that town has quite a few gigachurches – at least 5 Houston churches are in the top 50.

Kyle suggested we start with Woodlands Church. We visited the Fellowship campus. I got there a little early and was still met with a traffic jam (the gigachurch list says they’re running 18,386.) I parked in the F6 parking lot and hopped on one of their mini electric golf cart bus things to be shuttled to the main building. The driver was extremely friendly and helpful.

The campus is beautifully landscaped with fountains. As we entered the enormous sanctuary we took our seats. Disco lights swirled around the room as the praise team performed some 70’s era disco hit. A black gentleman referred to as “Doc” raised the roof with his powerful voice.

The band is the typical baby boomeresque megachurch configuration that reminds me of the Tonight Show band: studio-looking musicians playing from charts complete with a small brass section. The brass gave the music a 90’s feel.

CCM artists and Avalon members Greg and Janna Long are now at the Woodlands leading worship, and the three of them (including Doc) led various songs. Wow, Janna is a mindboggling vocalist – perhaps the best female vocalist I have ever heard in a church. Greg was outstanding as well.

In addition to the disco song I heard CCLI staples like Today Is the Day, He Knows My Name and Blessed Be Your Name. Doc closed the service with a roof raising rendition of Andre Crouch’s The Blood Will Never Loose Its Power (two roof raisings in one service – I’ll bet he’s exhausted after a weekend of four services!) About 1/5th of the congregation left during the final song, performed during the offering.

The music was as polished and perfect as you would expect from a church like this, but I definitely got a vibe that I was experiencing a CCM concert rather than a worship service – not surprising since the worship leaders are CCM artists.

Financial guru Dave Ramsey was guest speaker and I thought I’d slip out after the music since I would have preferred to hear pastor Kerry Shook. But right off the bat Dave caught my attention and I stayed. He’s quite good and I enjoyed his talk. However, both Kyle and I felt we were at a church conference, not a worship service.

It’s no mystery why churches like Woodlands are huge: fantastic music, dynamic speaking and beautiful facilities. Smaller churches can feel defeated in their shadow. But a smaller ministry can offer things a big church can’t: a closer sense of community and perhaps more depth.

Compare churches to movies: you have the big, banal summer blockbusters (with smoke and lasers, just like a lot of megachurch stages) that generate millions, and you have the less popular, more thoughtful and smaller budgeted indie movies. I like both. And there’s room for both. If you’re in a smaller church, discuss below what you can offer that a big church can’t.

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