A few years ago, I was given permission to take a Sunday every two months away from my duties at COS to visit area churches. This gives COS a little break from a constant diet of Greg and gives me a chance to learn from the way other churches worship. Today I visited Vineyard North.

I first heard about Vineyard North when I led a discussion about worship with the COS middle school. In that discussion one of the young men compared worship at COS to Vineyard North. Unfavorably. Multiple times… So, it was with somewhat of a chip on my shoulder that I checked out the church’s website. But my prejudice quickly dissolved when I watched the movie of “cardboard testimonies” at their website. Check it out. It’s really moving.

Today I finally got a chance to visit the church at their 11am service. The first thing I noticed is that the place is over-flowing with hospitality. I was greeted at the door with a friendly handshake, then passed through a large foyer full of people enjoying coffee and warm conversations. In fact, the conversations were so spirited in the foyer that it wasn’t clear when the service actually started–the band started playing, but it was some time before the sanctuary filled up. There was another opportunity for community later in the service when we were asked to greet those around us. I expected the obligatory, 2 minute-long “hey, how are ya,” but instead, it was 5+ minutes of people milling about, enjoying mini-conversations, and refilling coffees. (It was during this time that another COS member and I were surprised to bump into each other!)

Vineyard North’s strong sense of community was especially refreshing given the (seeming) socio-economic diversity of the congregation. There were lots of 20 somethings with hip hair and ear tunnels, but also lots of middle-aged people, young families, and a smattering of older folks and non-whites. The lack of social common denominator made the strong sense of community and unity even more impressive.

The worship service itself was about 1/3 music, 1/3 fellowship and announcements, and 1/3 preaching. The music was led by a praise band that was a well-rehearsed and effective leader. We sang 3 upbeat songs, were welcomed by pastor Matt, and then the music became more reflective, ending in a song of dedication that accompanied the offering. The music drove home the point that different kinds of music serve different purposes. While most COS members would probably feel that Vineyard North’s music was light on theological content, I found the repeated lyrics were easily internalized so that I could worship without always scanning the page for what came next. There are advantages and disadvantages to both approaches.

Pastor Ray preached on Galatians 3:19-4:7. He used some news clips from the anniversary of the Berlin wall’s fall to illustrate our freedom from the law. I’m still chewing on some of the ideas–does grace completely negate the law, allowing us to simply follow our hearts in the Spirit? Or does it continue to play a role in illuminating the will of the Spirit? Maybe I’m one of the legalists he was talking about! In any case, the sermon was engaging, and he clearly knew his congregation. I especially appreciated the chance to respond to his sermon through song or going forward for prayer.

Though the music and sermon were both good, the focus on community was the church’s biggest selling point. I’m sure that’s intentional; in a conversation with the pastors later they said that most of their people are brand new Christians. From the pre-service coffee to the post-service prayer, there were moments in which fellowship was encouraged. That created an extremely welcoming environment.

So what can COS learn from Vineyard North? COS is known for its liturgy and preaching, but not so much for the warmth of its fellowship. Is there a way to have both? Are there places in our service that we could sacrifice liturgical integrity to create moments of welcome? Or are there ways to build a warm atmosphere outside of worship? (Building on the coffee time, greeters, etc) Can a church with as strong of an ethnic and socio-economic identity reach out to others well? How do we connect with people who may have none of the same interests and experiences as we do? BES is a start; what are some other ways?

As always the questions are easier than the answers. I may have lunch with the associate pastor of Vineyard North, so maybe I’ll get to pose some of these questions to him. And maybe he’ll ask me about some ways they can incorporate some ideas from COS!