After the musical, theatrical first half of the service at Christ Fellowship Church, during which they managed to bang out a rock concert, a comedy show, a Broadway musical, as well as practically choreographed audience participation (not to mention a call for donations and volunteer recruitment for Easter, which seems to be their biggest opportunity for conversion of newcomers), we moved into what Adrian described as the talk show portion, but which felt to me almost like school.
We were all given a church brochure as we walked into the auditorium, and inside was a paper insert with a bunch of quotations from scripture, interspersed with numbers and incomplete phrases with lines to fill in the blank. At first glance it looked like some sort of religious MadLibs, but I soon realized that it was more like a worksheet, along the lines of those you would have to complete for homework in middle or high school to prove you had done the reading. While I had brought a pen and notebook to the service for note taking, I was prepared to be stealthy about it so as not to seem disrespectful, until I noticed that many people around me had their pens out as well, alert and ready to take down the answers to the worksheet questions.
The insert was titled "Reach - Part 1, Pastors Todd Mullins and John Poitevent," and it marked the first service of the theme of Reach, or rather the first class of a new unit. As the discussion between Pastors Todd and John continued, it felt more and more like they were laying out their lesson plan, and the space that had so recently felt like a theater was suddenly transformed into a lecture hall, with the professors sliding seamlessly between anecdotes and PowerPoints, and the students jotting down everything they thought might be on the exam. This interactive approach was certainly a great way to keep people listening; in my churchgoing experience, zoning out and even falling asleep are often inevitable, no matter how much you want to pay attention. On the other hand, the layout of the worksheet made it easy for us to listen only for the answers to fill in and miss out on what was in between. Either way, people took notes when they were told to and our "professors" were able to mold what we paid attention to and what we took away from the sermon.
The worksheet, and the sermon, began with the statement (and assumption) that "You are an _evangelist_." With this classification of the audience, the pastors worked hard to dispel the idea of the "scary" televangelists who are only interested in getting your money. They assured us that they were not trying to "sell people," but rather to get people "one step closer to Jesus." This was certainly refreshing to hear, although it was difficult for me to accept completely when the first half of the service had been mostly about ways to give money and support the church, volunteering with the goal of gaining more megachurch members, rather than "reaching" out to the community as the theme of the second half suggested.
Pastors John and Todd defined the term "evangelism" as our "mission in the world" to spread the Gospel, or the "good news," as we filled in for the second blank. Once they had defined the term, the rest of the discussion was about teaching us how to be evangelists, using a mixture of personal anecdotes and stories from the Bible, with the "7 Steps to Sharing the Gospel" as the next seven blanks to fill in as we learned more. The discussion itself was a very positive one, which focused on listening and engaging with the people around you to see what their needs are and understand how God has called you to help them. And while I had a lot of difficulty with the service we went to last year because the sermon left me with so many questions that went unanswered, I found that almost every question or problem I had with one of the steps in this service was answered within the next few steps.
By the end of the service, my worksheet was completely covered in notes; not just with the one word answers to Gospel Bingo, but with my questions and the answers they provided, plus thoughts and quotations and further questions for reflection that I asked myself. It was difficult to read because there was hardly any space in the margins beyond the text and the blank lines they gave us, so I had to smush in my thoughts wherever I could make them fit. This made me wonder about their intentions for giving us these worksheets, as I looked around at my neighbors, who had written one word per blank space (which was the same answer for everyone) and looked satisfied with the information they had gleaned. Regardless of how much the pastors' discussion made us think, we walked away with the written proof of only a few simplified ideas – and while the subject matter might seem like it belonged in a class where we are graded on essays of analysis and interpretation, instead we were given a homework sheet of questions with only one right answer. Whether these answers agreed with or contradicted what we heard during other parts of the service (i.e. the words and requests of Pastor Todd's father, Senior Pastor Tom Mullins, during the first half), we walked home with a clear and cohesive set of notes that showed no proof of any contradiction, and provided all of us with a homework mission to keep us coming back.