Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Church in Vegas

Part of the reason for coming to Las Vegas the day before the NAB show started was to have an opportunity to go to a church. The cool thing was that we had [almost] our whole music programming and media staff with us (we had to leave some behind to run the ship! (thanks Mike and Nathan!)

The church we decided to go to is a larger church by attendance. The Church's name is Central Christian. It is located off a major highway and finding it didn't seem to present too many problems. We were able to go to first time visitor's parking right up by the building. It looked like regular attenders had to park in the "dust" parking lot, which was really just a cleared dirt area. There's plenty of dirt here.

The service began about ten to fifteen minutes ahead of the scheduled start time with a couple of praise songs led by the worship band. The band featured a leader playing acoustic, an electric lead, an electric rhythm player, a bass player, drummer, B-3/keyboard guy (who also doubled as a vocalist), a "front" female (soprano), plus to "back" vocals, two guys and another girl, who was covering alto. So all together, there were four guys and two girls, vocally.

From a technical standpoint, the look was outstanding. It should come as no surprise that a church in the Las Vegas area who wants to push the presentation envelop not only has plenty of resources to draw from in terms of expertise, but also is uniquely aware of what is possible. Walking into the room, you're greeted with a techno-idustrial look, house lights way down, a blue look on the stage, and a sense that something was about to happen.

The house presentation featured four front screens. Two on the off-stage outside provided I-mag and song lyric content, while the screens on the stage in the background provided visual effects, complemented by the LED display installed in symmetrical fashion in the back ground. The visual coordination and feel and look of the stage was nice.

One of the things that frustrate many churches is the ability to mix sound in a large room. This room was no exception. From what I remember, there was a great deal of low end, which is great. There was plenty of bass, but as you continued on up the frequency spectrum, the clarity diminished severely. The lead voice was always pushed out front, but secondary voices were hard to pick out. We watched all morning as the B-3 player worked and worked on his instrument, but we never once heard it. OK--I heard it once. Literally, once.

The players were having a great time, they were all connected musically to one another by IEMs which meant that they each probably had the sound in their ears exactly the way they wanted it.

So the "sermon" was presented as an interview between the senior pastor and someone I had never heard of, "Dog, the Bounty Hunter." He apparently has a big show on A&E where he, as a former felon, is tasked with hunting down other wanted criminals.

He came across as being somewhere between a WWF wrestler and a NFL running back. Cocky, self-assured, but articulate, a good story teller, and larger than life. He conveyed to all of us from Providence a vague understanding of God. He did this by acknowledging any good thing that happened in his life seemed accidental or fortuitous at best, as being directed by God somehow--with the help of his "crazy" praying, Christian mother.

What frustrated me was that the pastor did nothing to steer the conversation toward Christ. We brought our Bibles, but never once cracked them open, even the music, as slick as it was, tended toward pronoun-centricity, never rich with theology, never a hint, really, of theology. Here was a church who had thousands of people attend over five weekend services, and they all heard exactly the same thing: God (or the big guy upstairs, as "Dog" referred to him) has got your back.

When the interview was over, and the guest accepted the cheers and adoration of the "congregation," there came from the senior pastor an inexplicable offer to pray a prayer of salvation by repeating after him. There was no context for it, it just seemed perfunctory and out of no where.

So here's the question: Is this all a problem? Really?

The lady beside me repeated after the pastor to receive Christ. Did she? Who did she come for? "Dog," or Christ? Is it ok to lure the entertainment-centric Vegas community in with something fun to then say, "oh yeah, don't forget about Jesus...?"

Can we use any means possible to bring people into a church, entertain them, show them a glimpse of Christ, then hope they desire it for some reason, and plead with them after they've shown interest to join a small group where they'll really grow?

Are we comfortable in saying that we need a guy like "Dog the Bounty Hunter" to show up at our church because we don't believe the gospel alone is sufficient enough nor powerful enough to attract people?