Tuesday, April 08, 2008

The Orchard... Action Point Paper...

Recently, I posted about my visit to The Orchard Community Church in Aurora for my History of the Modern Church class at Lincoln. The paper is due today... so I thought I would post it here.

Enjoy... If you care...
In comparison to previous occasions, this action point turned out differently than I expected. The Assemblies of God congregations have been labeled with the reputation of being both a diverse group of churches and a group having a charismatic bend. So in visiting The Orchard, I was not sure what to expect. Previously, when visiting a Roman Catholic Church and a Lutheran Church, I had more accurate expectations. When visiting the Orchard, I was not sure whether to expect speaking in tongues or a church similar to Fox Valley Christian Church, where I serve on staff. I was pleasantly surprised to find a church in many ways similar to the church environments with which I am familiar.
Upon arriving at the Orchard for their Saturday night service, I was pleased to find a parking lot filled with cars. It is always easier to visit a church for the first time when there is a crowd and that is what I found at the Orchard. The service was welcoming and those who were greeting were helping and inviting. The worship center was set up in many ways similar to Fox Valley. They had removable chairs rather than pews. Projection screens were up front in addition to a stage filled with drums and other musical instruments. The setting was casual with most people, including those leading worship and those responsible for the preaching, wearing jeans. The speaker was dynamic, speaking from an outline rather than a written liturgy. The worship band played songs that were familiar to me which made singing and blending in with the crowd easier. The message for the night was topical in nature. In many respects this service was very similar to a Sunday morning service at Fox Valley.
Several things, however, about the service were absent. They did not observe the Lord’s Supper. In conversation with Ben Hammond, The Orchard’s Student Minister, I discovered that communion is not a regular part of The Orchard’s worship service. Instead, as he shared, they observe communion on the first Sunday of the month and on the first Wednesday night service of the month. He stated the purpose behind this was to be more “appealing to non-believers” who might be visiting for the first time. The same reason was given for the absence of speaking in tongues. Ben stated that several years ago the church went through a transition period when it shifted from being a closely connected Assemblies of God congregation to the current community church that it is today. Part of this transition was making an intentional shift to being more appealing to the community surrounding the church. At that time, approximately 2001 or 2002, the church changed it’s name from First Assembly of God, which it had since it’s founding 80 years ago, to it’s current name, “The Orchard Community Church.”
Ben Hammond has been attending the church since 2006 and has been serving on staff while attending North Park University in Chicago. Ben shared some of the leadership structure which is very different than a typical Restoration movement congregation. The Orchard has elders although they do not serve as a board. Instead they serve in a prayer and oversight role over the Leadership Team, which is a team of four people including the lead minister, the teaching minister, the worship minister and the executive assistant. These four individuals lead the church in making many of the decisions of vision and direction as well as the day-to-day operation of the congregation, in cooperation with the other staff members. The Orchard also features a collection of volunteer ministry teams rather than deacon boards that function in much the same way dealing with specific areas of the church’s ministry. Ben shared that this gives the staff a great deal of flexibility and freedom in casting vision and leading the congregation into new challenges.
Previously, The Orchard was very closely connected with the Assemblies of God denomination. Recently, however, they have been moving away from the denomination norm. One thing that has made them different from many Assemblies congregations is the adoption of various “environments.” These environments are not unique to The Orchard. They are adopted from North Point Community Church, under Andy Stanley’s leadership in Alpharetta, GA. These environments create a clear path of progression from first entry into a worship service and connection with the congregation through being fully connected in all aspects of the church’s program. They feature three environments; the first is the “Foyer” which is their weekend service or entry-level area. From here, they seek to move people in the direction of the “Living Room” which are special events and connection points for people to begin to build relationships. The final level is the “Kitchen” level where they seek to connect their people in small groups, which according to Ben is the backbone of The Orchard. This progression was clearly seen in my visit to the congregation. The worship leader, the lead minister and those who were upfront were very intentional that those who were new to The Orchard should attend “Connection Point,” which is an opportunity to hear more about the church’s history, meet the staff and have their questions answered. This seems to be very successful for them and it seems to be gaining attention. Recently The Orchard Community Church was named as one of the Top 25 Most Innovative Churches in the country.
Being from a Restoration movement church, there are several things to consider about my visit. The first is the centrality of community. It would seem that the Lord’s Supper is one of those parts of church life that is just too important to leave out for the sake of someone not understanding it’s significance. The Lord’s Supper is so central to my thinking and weekly church involvement that it would be difficult to see myself in a congregation where it was only offered occasionally. The New Testament seems to support a more regular celebration of the Eucharist. Secondly, while an elder board can be extremely frustrating at times, it does seem somewhat dangerous to have all of the vision casting and leadership in the hands of a “few.” Elder Boards can add a layer of administration that can at times be difficult. It is, however, beneficial to know that you have the support of those who the congregation view as wise and whom the congregation has chosen as their leaders.
My recent visit to The Orchard Community Church was a pleasurable experience. If I did not have a church home, it would not be difficult to see myself worshipping there on a regular basis. The congregation was friendly and they did an excellent job at not pushing away a new visitor. My conversation with Ben was also great. Since we share a common interest in working with teenagers, we plan to meet next week for lunch. I have appreciated these opportunities to visit other congregations and to talk with their staff members. This time, as other times, I have learned a little more about myself as I have learned about others.


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