PUC Church Strengthens the Faith Community

By Carissa Smith and Lainey S. Cronk on April 1, 2008

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The Gathering

The first service at the Pacific Union College Church commences with the rich tones of the Rieger organ. Not long ago, this “early service” started at 8:45 and housed a very small congregation, mostly white-haired. Now the first service is called the Majestic and starts at 10 a.m. It is purposeful in presenting a quality traditional service, and is more intergenerational and attended by about four times as many people as before.

These positive changes are part of a larger picture that includes both worship services (the Majestic and the Gathering, which meets just after noon). Led by senior pastor Tim Mitchell, worship and outreach pastor Jessica Shine, and campus chaplain Roy Ice, the church recently began to take a good hard look at the weekly services and the congregational community. Some of the problems they faced were low attendance at the early service, frustration with the blend of elements in the second service, and the need for a sense of community that carries over from week to week.

“We asked ourselves, what does the congregation need?” Shine recounts. Church members filled out surveys; and focus groups made up of people from a wide spectrum of ages and roles met to provide feedback and ideas. The staff then considered practical and focal changes to accommodate the needs expressed. Instead trying for the impossible task of creating a service that would suit the huge spectrum of worshippers, they looked at the two services as individual personalities.

That’s why the Majestic service kept its traditional style, but with a renewed clarity of vision using classic formats and gospel music — and scheduled at a more accessible time. The college music department generates music for the service, featuring choirs, orchestra, wind ensemble, and handbells. The Gathering, on the other hand, follows a contemporary model with a more conversational, informal style, less-traditional music, and a unique later-in-the-day meeting time.

The goal is to recognize different styles of community and worship and build on their strengths. Some people are looking for the formality and familiarity of a service like The Majestic, and others need the creativity and enthusiasm of a service like The Gathering. “We have the resources to address the interests and felt needs of a broader cross-section of our people,” says Mitchell.

Other aspects of church fellowship have been addressed as well, to increase community spirit and recognize different styles. Creative short-term “community groups” were added to the 11 o’clock Sabbath school hour, with groups that study Adventist history or the Gospel of Mark, or “Listening Sheep” focusing on quiet, music, and meditating on Scripture. To encourage fellowship, a hospitality committee offers muffins, fruit, and juice between services.

All these efforts are cross-generational; and students and older community members are now attending both services. “The Gathering is not a 'student' service,” Shine says. “We have significant numbers of students attending both worships, as well as folks up into their 60s at the Gathering.”

Student Krista Brieno has observed this flexibility. “The music is fantastic every weekend and of course the message is always relevant and uplifting,” she says. “I feel that the Gathering is perfectly geared to college students and young adults, yet it remains all inclusive.” To prove her point, she recounts a family visit: “The Gathering really passed the test when my dad (a very conservative Adventist) came up to visit me and was pleased with what he experienced.”

Brieno also breaks out of the idea of generational divisions by attending The Majestic service every so often, which she also enjoys. The changes in both services, Brieno feels, will reach beyond the pew. “I think that the new services can bring about spiritual changes that will have a campus-wide effect.”

Sean Brizendine, another student, also enjoys both services — even attending both in one day! “I really like being able to hear the choir and the hymns in Majestic worship, as well as having a quieter reverent feel to the worship,” he explains.

At the same time, Brizendine says, “I really enjoy the lighting at the Gathering, and I like the interactive feeling of the band music that gets us up on our feet, clapping our hands, and exultantly praising the Lord. This year has been my favorite year in my experience of church at PUC, as I feel it offers a balance for different target audiences and it is even enjoyable to attend both.”

Brizendine reflects on Ephesians 2:14. "For He Himself is our peace, who made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility." This, he says, applies to the church. “I feel offering two services has helped reach more people and allows people to attend a service that they enjoy in terms of music and style, while still keeping what is most important at the forefront: Christ.”