Thinking Out Loud

June 16, 2016

The Storefront Church

Storefront Churches

He was looking for something else, but either the map on the internet was wrong, or the other church had moved. So he went into the storefront church.

The people were extremely pleased to have a visitor, and turned on the charm. They gave him a free book by one of their faith’s key authors, and took his name and email address. They followed up and he ended up going back for successive visits.

The he in the story is my son. He had enough Bible knowledge and spiritual discernment that the church, while having its own unique flavor, passed his religious smell test. Ultimately however, he moved on.


I’m always mystified at how certain churches survive. Springing up in strip malls, industrial complexes, and in the downtown core; these places of worship must attract enough people to 4 or 5 weekend services to pay a monthly rent plus utilities, and yet somehow many continue for multiple years.

There are usually reasons why their adherents have chosen not to associate with larger, established churches, but to speculate as to four or five key factors would be to miss forty or fifty others. There’s almost always something quirky or distinctive about their doctrine, but as in the above example, it’s not necessarily a deal-breaker.


It’s important to remember that the aforementioned established churches didn’t start at the megachurch level. Trace their history, if they have one, and you find storefront types of beginnings.

A passion for world missions (Christian & Missionary Alliance). A concern for the poor and underprivileged (Salvation Army). A unique movement of the Holy Spirit (Assemblies of God).

Or today, many churches are springing up around ethnic diversity. In major cities you can find large clusters of people speaking any given language, but in secondary and tertiary markets, you’d be looking at strip mall type of fellowship.

Some people feel that in North America, the ethnic church simply is the hot church-planting story for the present time. But it’s a complex one, as the second generation, born and raised here, don’t always speak the parent’s language. So you have worship services in the native tongue, and others offered in English. You have kids that have ditched the language, but are always under the umbrella of the culture.


This week I ran into someone else who had chosen a downtown storefront place of worship. He had left a major denomination and was seeking something else.

And I think the s-word is key and deserves one more: People are searching. Their hunt doesn’t necessarily lead to the congregation with the largest parking lot, but increasingly, I think something in the small(er) church environment will resonate with them.

No church library? No child care? No comfy seats and air conditioning? I don’t think they really care. Those amenities are not in their line of sight.


Which may suggest something else. It might mean people are really looking for the house church or what is often termed simple church experience.  Sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name… and they’re always glad you came.

There is something about the interactive and informal nature of certain types of gatherings that appeal to a wide demographic swath right now.


They say in music and art that every period is a reaction to the period it follows. My generation was raised on highly programmatic church environments. When I did a church plant a few years back in a Youth for Christ drop-in center, it was like a breath of fresh air.

Our advertising caption was, “Ever wanted to raise your hand in church to ask a question?  Now you can!”

For my wife, doing a church plant in a condemned motel for the people who lived there and didn’t have cars to get them anyplace else; the experience she had totally wrecked her for status quo churches. She has a hard time now dealing with business-as-usual worship services, following an order of service that was written in 1940.

So when I wonder, “Who is attracted to storefront churches?” I really don’t have to look any further than the other side of the bed. And when I ask myself, “What would draw someone to attend a service with just a small handful of others?” I already know the answer.

November 13, 2013

Wednesday Link List

How to Make Thomas Kinkade Paintings Totally Awesome Very few people know this, but the Wednesday Link List is named after Art Linkletter.  The links below will all take you to Out of Ur, where the list officially resides.

The Wednesday Link Letter (see introduction) was written by Paul Wilkinson and recorded before a live audience (Paul’s wife). Read more of his work at his Anglican baptism website, Sprinkling Out Loud, or at Devotional Plagiarism 201, where only the best get borrowed.

April 26, 2012

Ethnic Church Job Vacancy: Nobody Speaks The Language

Filed under: ministry — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:06 am

 NIV Rom 10:14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?

I guess one of the challenges of being an ethnically identified church is that finding a pastor who actually speaks the language somewhat narrows the field of candidates:

After a fruitless 11-month search, Canada’s last remaining Welsh church is finding it harder than expected to find a minister who can speak Welsh.

“It’s a very shallow pond,” said Betty Cullingworth, a member of the congregation at Dewi Sant Welsh United Church, North America’s only Welsh-language church, in north Toronto.

Welsh is only spoken by an estimated 750,000 people worldwide, putting it roughly in the same realm as Esperanto and certain dialects of Swahili…

…continue reading at Holy Post (National Post)

June 24, 2011

A Good News Story about the Crystal Cathedral

Things are not all gloom and doom at the big glass church at 12141 Lewis Street in Garden Grove, California.  There is a very positive Crystal Cathedral story bubbling under the headlines, but you’d be more accurate in describing it as a Catedral de Cristal story.  The church’s Hispanic service, pastored by Argentinian Dante Gebel, has grown from 300 to 3,000 with no signs of stopping.  The pastor is seen on television in 70 countries and has 800,000 ‘likes’ on his Facebook page.

The service happens at 1:00 PM, after English language worshipers have left the service that forms the basis of the Hour of Power telecast.  As the Los Angeles Times describes it, in an article appropriately titled, “A Tale of Two Ministries;” while older patrons of the English services have resisted attempts to make the service more contemporary in a failed attempt to attract a younger demographic;

Nobody complains about the music at the Spanish service. It is pulsing and loud, driven by bass and drums, and it sets a tone: From the outset, the crowd is on its feet, swaying and singing, arms and eyes raised heavenward. Even the ushers dance in the aisles.

The Times article describes something that more resembles the early days of Garden Grove Community Church:

The success of the service reflects the increasingly Latino demographics of central Orange County. But like Schuller in his prime, Gebel casts a wider net, drawing regular visitors from Bakersfield to Tijuana. He hopes to add a second service this summer, and few doubt his ability to fill it.

His goal: 10,000 people a week by January.

Like Schuller and his daughter, Gebel focuses his sermons on motivational topics, but his style is otherwise very different. His Christianity is far more mystical and overtly spiritual, his sermons deeply rooted in the Bible. It is not uncommon to see people collapse in an ecstatic trance after Gebel has laid hands on them.

Numerically, the Spanish-language service is already the dominant one.  The article engages the obvious question:

[Cathedral lead pastor Sheila Schuller Coleman] asked if she’d give up one of her two Sunday morning services so that Gebel could expand, she said it would be difficult, because the “Hour of Power” depends on two tapings. But she didn’t rule it out. Much speculation rests on whether the church might do that, in effect recognizing that its future has a Spanish accent.

For Gebel, his focus is on preaching to his own congregation, though he certainly enjoys the ambience of the building where he gets to do that:

“I haven’t been called to save the Crystal Cathedral, so that isn’t my goal,” he said in an interview in his office on the cathedral grounds. He thinks about just one thing, he said: “Preaching to the Hispanic people.”

He likens the cathedral, with its soaring, light-filled vault, to a borrowed tuxedo. “I would say the same thing here as in Bolivia or Argentina,” he said, “but here, I have a better suit.”

The big glass church may ultimately have a different future than anyone presently envisions.

Read the entire L.A. Times article here.

Watch a Dante Gebel 28 minute sermon dubbed into English.

Story HT: Get Religion – A blog about Religious Journalism.

August 8, 2009

Everything But the Kitchen Link

  • Do you have a people-group in your area who speak a different language?   If your church has ever considered reaching out to another ethnic group, you probably thought in terms of having a special event or series of services for “them.”   But what if there was another way?   What about the idea of your church becoming completely bilingual.     Tim Archer shares more about that idea at the Kitchen of Half-Baked Thoughts.   (Be sure to read earlier posts, too.)
  • Here’s something — posted by Lisa Thompson at the blog Free Me Now — a few women will say “Amen” to; a Code of Conduct for Men in the 21st Century.
  • If you know anyone whose lost a young child, or had a stillbirth, or had an abortion DON’T let them read this post.    Tim Challies is considered one of the top North American Christian bloggers, but he shows a complete lack of compassion advancing a doctrinal agenda that, even if it is well founded, gets lost in the process.   This represents a low point for both his blog and his brand of militant Calvinism.
  • Cliff Holmes at The Gospel Blog poses the musical question, “Is Christian Television Boring?”  Uh, yes it is Cliff, are you just noticing?   Actually, there’s one point here I really like:  “There are hundreds of Christian conferences every year. In those conferences there are thousands of panel discussions and breakout sessions. Why not record these sessions and air them on a network a couple of weeks after the conference is over. Wait, let me guess…if you air the sessions, then people won’t pay to attend the conference. You don’t have to air every session. Plus, you could do a 1hr show that recaps the entire conference.”   Read the rest here.
  • Because a certain amount of inbreeding can be unavoidable in the Amish community, people in that community can be subject to “Founder’s Syndrome;” which has no consistent symtoms, but is the term given to describe a variety of ailments with roots in genetics.   The writers at Exegeek use this concept as a metaphor for some of the problems turning up in the Amish Christian fiction book market, which, in case you missed it, is experiencing a glut of titles right now.   Read the short analysis here.   This is a fun blog you might want to bookmark.

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