It’s worth pointing out right away that a ton of people I work with go to Journey and suggested that we check it out. Everyone at work says the same thing, “I love Journey.” With that ringing endorsement… why not visit?
First impressions: Journey recently bought a shopping center. So their campus is spread around in a typical California shopping center kind of way. (For you midwesterners, this means that its designed like a mall, but the walkways aren’t indoors.)
As we pulled into the parking lot Kristen told me “if you flash your lights at a parking attendant they’ll know you are a visitor and you can park in the front row.” Apparently, she read that on the website. As soon as she said this I swerved to park back by the student center. Getting out of the car, the kids could tell this didn’t look very much like a church. In fact, Paul said “can we go to a regular church next week?” (Kaleo meets in a movie theater.) So we walked to what looked like the main building and started looking for signs to the kids area.
When we got to the lobby we were pointed towards the kids registration area. So far, so good! As we made our way through the maze of hallways we saw lots of pictures of things the church had recently done, I liked that a lot. (Good to know they do stuff today.) The child check-in process was painless enough. After checkin the desk printed some badges for the kids and we were led upstairs to the kids rooms.
The kids rooms were well stocked and the staff was clearly well-trained. Our kids were nervous, Paul particularly, and they were fine with us giving them a little extra attention before we headed to the service.
From there, Kristen and I made our way to “big church” for the 9:00 AM service. The room has a lot of very comfortable chairs, the room is laid out a lot like a typical conference room. Big sections of seats, bleachers near the back, big stage, and two big screens so people in the back can see.
The service. The music was familiar to us. In fact, the order of service was pretty familiar to us as well and we found comfort in that. Couple songs, announcements, shake some hands, couple more songs, offering, song, sermon, song. The music was good, nothing about it really captured my attention strikingly good or bad. If nothing else, the songs were performed fairly closely to how they are recorded. It was clear when we came in that they were trying to do something artistic in the room that day. There were several prayer stations in the auditorium. Let’s see, lighting was good, display of stuff on the screen was good, sound was good. From a technical aspect the only thing that was distracting was that their transitions were pretty rough leaving the service feeling very disconnected from its elements choppy. Plus, the very fact that I was sitting there thinking about the service order, lighting, set design, and transitions should tell you a lot about the service.
The message. Clearly the people like the teaching pastor. I found him to be an acquired taste and struggled to pay attention for longer than a minute or two at a time. The people listened intently and followed along on the outline diligently. (Well trained!) About 10 minutes in Kristen leaned over and said what I was thinking, “Can we get something in the middle?” This meant at Kaleo the sermons are so deep that it’s easy to get lost but at Journey it just felt very light. Not knowing the mission of the church its impossible to know if this teaching approach is right for this fellowship and the people they reach, but I’m just being honest in reporting that I didn’t connect with the message or the teaching pastor at all. His message ended with a transition to some prayer stations. It was really clear to me that there was a disconnect between the preparation of the prayer stations (art guy) and the communicator/instruction of the prayer stations. (teaching guy) When the speaker told people to get up and shuffle to the stations I looked at Kristen and just said, “Let’s go!” Yep, we bolted.
The church. It was really hard to grasp the heart of Journey in one visit. It’s a big church with a ton of people and a ton of things going on. I know from people who attend that it’s a very loving church and people grow a lot in small groups. In our visit, we didn’t feel the love. (yet) What came across to Kristen and I is that Journey is a programmatic church. You can see that in the kiosks and the endless bulletin. Now, there is nothing wrong with a programmatic church where there is something for everyone. Certainly, a lot of churches operate this way and are successful in reaching people. But not having been to one in a long time… it was a shock to the system! I kept thinking… where in the world would we start?
Kids ministry. Our kids were happy. They told us all about the reward system of verse memory. They told us about the game. They showed us their crafts. They talked about how nice the teachers were. They told us they sang songs, but couldn’t remember what the songs were. Paul didn’t like the puppets but did like a guy dressed like an astronaut or something like that. (Did this really happen?) But when we asked them what they learned about God they looked blankly at us and said “I don’t know.” This is our families normal routine as we talk about what they learned in church… they are really good about telling us what they learned. But for some reason the lesson didn’t stick and 10 minutes after leaving they couldn’t remember. But they did get a nice goodie bag and were very entertained by that.
Overall. Let’s just say that I’m glad our process requires a second visit as we feel it’s not right to judge a ministry based on a single visit. Likewise, we know from our friends who a involved that this is a great community to be a part of. Yet, judging from Sunday services alone you can tell where this review would lead a decision for us. Let’s hope on our second visit we’ll get to meet a few people and get better connected to the heart of Journey.
A HUGE upside to Journey is that I know they have a rocking student ministry. Since we don’t have kids in that age bracket I didn’t get to see that in action. I’ve been in the middle school room, met the middle school pastor, and met a few of her volunteer staff… so when push comes to shove, I’m a youth ministry dude and having a great youth ministry is going to trump a lot of other stuff.