A unique and fulfilling worship experience
When we travel, my family often visits local churches where we are staying to experience different types of services. We’ve been to small and big churches, country churches, barefoot churches and contemporary churches in many areas but, until recently, I had never been to a predominantly black worship service.
Now keep in mind that I grew up Presbyterian and migrated to the Methodist church before settling in at a Baptist church. I have always been intrigued by the differences in worship experiences and the only references I had to African American church services are the ones I’ve seen in movies. Even those expressed to me how unique the atmosphere would be, but there is no way I could have prepared for what I found.
A couple of weeks ago my wife Barbara, my son Thomas and I found ourselves in Atlanta on a Sunday morning. My in-laws had spoken about a charismatic speaker named Creflo Dollar, a televangelist they watched regularly, whose home church is based in College Park, Georgia. Intrigued by their enthusiasm, we asked about his church when we arrived at our hotel.
“That’s my church” said Austin, the person behind the desk, obviously proud and excited that we had asked. “It’s only about five minutes from here and you just have to go; you’ll love it! But you’ll have to show up early if you want to get in.”
I thought he was exaggerating. Boy was I wrong.
We arrived at 9:30 a.m. for the 11 a.m. worship service at the World Changers Church International. We parked in one of the last spaces of the main lot, which was big enough for two Wal-Mart shopping centers, and buses were bringing people in from overflow lots. We made our way to the church and were greeted by a gentleman who said, “You must be first-time visitors. Come with me.”
I was thinking, “How did he know this,” as he guided us through the lobby of this mega church called “The Dome.” I was about to find out.
In the sanctuary, he paraded us up nearly to the front row. As we took our seats and looked around at this immense building, it dawned on us that this church had a congregation of 8,500. That meant there were 8,497 African Americans, dressed to impress, and us. We felt like three white buttons on a black tuxedo jacket. Since we had just come from vacation and this was an impromptu visit, we were wearing our best beach outfits. Think pink!
In all seriousness, this visit turned out to be one of the highlights of our trip. As the chorus began singing we were enveloped by the most uplifting praise music, and there is no doubt every person in that church was singing, clapping and praising the Lord. It was truly a multi-media spectacular event and a cultural experience you really have to be immersed in to understand.
When Pastor Creflo Dollar took the pulpit, we were all ready to listen. For more than an hour and a half, he held our rapt attention with a message about how much God loves us and how blessed God wants us to be. Pastor Dollar has a special gift for relaying a beneficial message that is strong and direct, supported by biblical references, yet simple enough to relate to every person in the room.
The church's website describes a WCCI service as, “… uplifting worship, prayer and …the uncompromised Word of God… taught with simplicity and understanding.”
I say, ”Amen” to that but also with a little humor and grace thrown in. If you ever find your self near the College Park, I highly recommend taking in this unforgettable experience.
After the service we were discussing with others how comfortable everyone made us feel and even though we probably stood out like three pink cherries on top of a hot fudge sundae, we never felt out of place.
Suddenly Austin, the host from our hotel, found us in the crowd and said he knew where we were because he had seen us on the Jumbotron screens as the camera zoomed in on us during the service. It was then we realized our image had been broadcast to all 18 satellite churches across America and world wide to the WCCI television audience. I’m sure glad I brushed my teeth.
As we were walking out to the car at about 1:30 p.m., we got the real confirmation this was truly a special event. My 17-year-old-son said he couldn’t believe how great the experience had been and that he had never once looked at his watch. Now that is an endorsement you can believe in.