Tuesday, August 22, 2006

My American Idol Experience

I just got back tonight from the American Idol tryouts in Birmingham. No, I'm too old to audition - I went with Seacoast worship leader Chris Sligh [he wrote the Communion Song you can download.]

What an experience! Chris had to be at the BJCC Coliseum by 5am, along with thousands of other contestants and friends. Crowds were estimated to be 8,000 to 12,000. After waiting in line for a few hours he finally entered the building and took his assigned seat. He didn't audition for over four more hours!

The entire bottom half of the Coliseum was filled with people. Section by section, contestants were lined up to take their turn. There were 14 booths, each with 2 judges who judged 4 contestants at a time. Each vocalist was asked to sing about 30 seconds of a song.

Even though Chris is a really great vocalist he's flunked the past two seasons of Idol auditions. He decided he needed some sort of quirky gimmick to get himself through so he grew out his naturally curly hair into an afro. Hilariously, that's what seems to have won this round for him - people told him all day that they "loved his hair." The judge complemented him on his "great look" [as well as his vocal talent] and predicted he'll make it all the way to Hollywood. The music biz is all about the image, folks!

Chris was handed the coveted yellow paper [signifying his triumph] and walked out as the crowd applauded. Judges are picky this year and few were chosen - guesses are not even 300 people were chosen for the next round, so it's quite an honor that Chris made it.

Here's how it works: anyone who makes it past the first round is either really great or really terrible. This round is basically meant to weed out the mediocre middle [although I watched the judges pass on a terrific young singer a la Paris Bennet... people in the crowd actually yelled out in protest "you should have kept her!!"]

In the next round Chris will have to audition before the show's executive producers [the big wig$ who own the show.] If he makes it through he'll then go before Simon, Paula and Randy. Then, hopefully, on to Hollywood where fame and fortune await.

Check out Chris's official website:

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Journey Church

>This week's WorshipIdeas is by Chris Surratt, campus pastor of Seacoast Greenville. He and I both love to visit other churches when we can - here's his account of Journey Church in Manhattan. Read his blog at:

My family and I recently took a week of vacation and headed up to New York to do some major sight-seeing. Since we were going to be there over a weekend, we decided to do my favorite tourist activity - check out another church! Being a pastor for a living, I don't get the opportunity to see other churches very often, so it’s always a treat when I can. We decided to attend the Journey Church in the middle of Manhattan. I had been able to connect with their Executive Pastor, Kerrick Thomas, at our Multi-Site Conference in Charleston, and I really wanted to see what they were doing.

The Journey Church was launched in 2002 by Nelson Searcy, who had been on staff at Saddleback Church in CA. In 4 years, they have grown to over 2000 people and are launching their second site in Jersey City next month! All of this while meeting in a 7th floor ballroom on 31st street in Manhattan. It was the first church that I have been to that had a greeter on the elevator! We first stopped off on the 6th floor to drop our kids off for their kid’s church. The children’s volunteers were extremely friendly and walked us through the process of signing our kids in and finding their class. However, this was our first indication that their congregation is extremely young - there weren’t enough kids in my oldest daughter’s class, so they put her in with the little tots. She wasn't thrilled about that!

Our next stop was the auditorium on the next floor up. It was a very large, ornate ballroom that occasionally hosts boxing matches on Friday nights. The majority of the chairs were taped off, forcing us to find a seat towards the front. As more people entered the room, they would "un-tape" another row. This really helped the crowd dynamics, and filled up the normally empty front rows first.

The service started off with a very well done baptism highlights video that promo'd their upcoming beach baptism in a couple of weeks. The band then kicked into a cover of Tom Petty’s "Free Falling" that served the purpose of bringing the people in and getting them to their seats. When we first sat down, the seats were mostly empty. By the time the first song was over, the room was almost full. They then went into a few songs of rocking’ worship led by their worship arts pastor, Jason Hatley. I thought it was interesting that Jason led the entire set with an electric guitar.

Kerrick then came out and announced that because the message that morning was on getting out debt, they were going to give $1000 dollars to someone in that service to go towards their debt! Being that they are in the middle of the most expensive place to live in America, this announcement was well received. Nelson then came on stage and gave a good message on the basics of getting out of debt. He was able to use a personal example of how his family was able to crawl out of debt - after moving to Manhattan five years ago! At the end of the message, they brought out a guy who had just become a member and talked about the next opportunity for membership. This was a great idea for putting a face on a normally boring announcement. At the very end of the hour long service, they had a drawing on stage for the $1000 debt winner.

Over all, we really enjoyed our experience. They are obviously making a large dent in one of the highest un- churched areas in the country!

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Postmodern Stations

A few weeks ago I talked about how Seacoast Church is doing the new postmodern stations thing [read "Postmodern Path" below.]

What's so new about Communion and prayer? Here's what: Seacoast's version is optional and interactive.

The modern service order is linear - announcements, music, offertory, sermon - insert whatever - all in a straight chronological line. Everyone is experiencing the same thing, together, simultaneously.

The postmodern mind is different. Think of a teenager listening to his iPod, doing homework and watching TRL [MTV's Total Request Live] all at the same time. This mindset can multitask, and in fact, would prefer to multitask. We live in an overstimulated age and a one-track mind can be boring.

While the Seacoast service is mainly linear, there is a portion that isn't. During this portion of the service, a person can choose to do one, none, some or all of the following:

1. Participate in congregational singing.
2. Move to a station to receive Communion.
3. Move to a station to make an offering.
4. Move to a station and pray with leadership.
5. Move to a station, say a prayer and light a candle as a symbol of that prayer.
6. Move to a station, write a prayer concern [sin, healing, etc.] on a piece of paper and nail it to a cross.

Here's how the current service order looks:

>5 minute countdown video.
>2 upbeat worship songs.
>welcome, announcements.
>3-4 songs or hymns, during which you may participate in any or all of the 6 options above.

Church. It's not just for sitting anymore.

See pics of the Seacoast Greenville stations at my new Flickr page:

Postmodern Path blog entry:

Blended worship on a budget. is the best sheet music value on the Internet. Download a free contemporary hymn arrangement.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Want to visit a cutting edge church to recharge your creative batteries? How about Saddleback? Status quo. Mosaic? Overrated. Willow Creek? They had their heyday in the late 90's.

Surprisingly, I found the most innovative church I've *ever* visited not in a major metropolitan area like LA or Chicago, but in Oklahoma City, of all places. is simply the most amazing church I've ever experienced.

With 9 campuses (one is virtual!) has a combined weekly attendance of 17,000 people. It's one of these video church networks I've been talking about lately.

Greg Atkinson and I visited the South OKC campus first, then caught the second service at the main campus north of town. Each location has 6 service options.

Unlike other video churches that operate on a delay (perhaps playing the sermon on video or DVD,) LifeChurch simulcasts the services live to all their campuses. Each campus has its own band, worship leader and campus pastor. The music may vary, but when the sermon begins, what you see is what's happening at each campus.

LifeChurch really puts effort and $$ into their plants - I actually liked the auditorium of the south satellite better than the main location. The children's facilities are top-notch... Disneyesque, actually [see pics, link below.] The signage, decor, coffee and bookshop are all first rate.

What sets apart, though, is the overwhelming sense that these people know what they're doing, and it's not in the typical 2nd rate church way.

Like most seeker churches, the emphasis here seems to be on the sermon. The music was wonderful and more participatory than similar seeker churches, but not really long enough to satisfy those with a worship bent. I heard some Starfield songs as well as a rocked-up version of Lakewood's "You Are Good."

The sermon [although I wonder if that word really can describe what's happening here] is where I connected. It was the most meaningful God experience I've had in a long, long time.

What made it so meaningful was a skillful, artful blend of a movie clip and pastor Craig Groeschel's talk. This week's theme was "At the Movies" and featured clips from the recent Johnny Cash flick that highlighted his tough childhood and his eventual turn to Christ [quite a solid testimony.]

Most pastors integrate a video by preaching a sermon point then announcing "watch this clip!" Here's what was genius about LifeChurch: I sometimes couldn't tell when the movie clip stopped and the preaching started - it was that seamless and professional.

Craig's sermon points were previously filmed at different locations... a cemetery... an old house... it wasn't just a talking head at a pulpit. He usually preaches live and is broadcast live, although this particular week the entire sermon was recorded.

One of my favorite moments of the service was a clip of Johnny and June making their way to an old country church and a choir could be heard in the background singing a hymn. The clip transitioned to Craig wrapping up his sermon, but you could still hear the audio of the choir, which slowly faded into silence. It was almost like watching a documentary. And unlike many seeker churches, I heard solid stuff - talk of sin, repentance and a need for Christ. The south location reported over 200 professions of faith last month.

Check out my pics from the trip, link below. But before I sign off, a few quick impressions:

1. Coordinating graphics are a subtle clue that a ministry has it together. Their fonts aren't cheesy. Colors match and are used throughout the ministry, everywhere from coffee shop signage to seat colors and decor. Notice the cool font used for lyrics [see pics, link below.]

2. I saw some very unique signage - words projected on the hallway walls [see pics, link below.]

3. The guy running the song lyrics was singing along.

4. The stage lighting was exciting and appropriate. I counted at least 10 robot lights.

5. A brilliant use of the Internet. The .tv Internet domain suffix is rarely used, so they probably have it all to themselves! An upcoming sermon series is at, and is a takeoff of similar, popular website. I'll bet they register a new domain for every new sermon series!

6. Keep an ear out for new worship leader Stephen Cole - I'm sure you'll be hearing more about him in the future. He's the freshest, most engaging worship leader I've seen in some time - a great vocalist and guitar player. Stephen is the worship pastor at the main campus in Oklahoma City.

7. Instead of a keyboard pounding "Just As I Am," a movie score orchestration faded in as a backdrop to Craig's sermon wrap up (invitation.) The orchestration was probably taken from a commercial stock music library, but the effect was absolutely beautiful and added weight to what Craig was saying. Props to a church that can rock, but isn't afraid to use some classy music.

Visit their extraordinary website:

See pics from my visit at my new Flickr page:

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