Three years ago, I visited crossroads church after an invitation (or invite, or “ask” in cooler parlance) from my personal trainer at the time. He invited me before he violated the terms of his drug arrest parole, and completely disappeared from the scene. He was at my first service (“at service” was how he said it, dropping that pesky article) and introduced me to the friends he was with. It was nice to be known by someone in such a huge group of people. I was swooning at the music from the get-go, struck by the hipness of everyone on stage and I seem to remember that the talk (no messages or sermons here!) was filled with humor, transparency and even some Scripture!. A few weeks later Greg and I attended our first Super Bowl of Preaching service. I joyously cheered at the amazing creativity, and marveled that Moeller High School’s marching band swarmed in at halftime and put on a “dope” show.
In a couple of months, i was chomping at the bit to become one of the “thousands of volunteers who keep this place going.” Four months in, I began to volunteer at the Info Center. And soon enough I was attending a service on both Saturday AND Sunday, volunteering on Saturday, attending the service on Sat and then going a second time on Sun, amazed every week at all i was getting out of the service, the message. Soon I was creating a custom message guide for my family, complete with personalized application questions, after each Saturday service so they could use it on Sunday morning. I was SOLD on the Crossroads brand!
One could imagine that I might hearken back to my teen years and remember what effect it had on me to change churches in my junior year of high school to a church all the way across town. Being across town made getting there a time and traffic nightmare. Being new to the youth group brought about the challenge of breaking into a new scene at a point where I was getting close to being finished being in a youth group. For the first time in my life, but unfortunately not the last, I was faced with the challenge of assimilating into an established group. After about a year, I was off to college, as were the other kids my age, and the tenuous connections I had made were weakened by distance and infrequent visits to church on rare weekend visits home.
And yet I blithely put my own kids into the same position. My life as a teen had basically operated around a nucleus of the local church, and so I was motivated to try to become a part of the new, already established group. My own kids, however, had grown up in a different church environment, and so the chances were almost none to none that they would assimilate into the giant youth group called Crossroads Student Movement. They preferred the “mainstage” service anyway.
I felt so sure that the huge “congregation” (not a word I ever heard at Crossroads) was manageable if I just kept on the prescribed path for getting “connected.” (a word I have heard quite often at Crossroads) Along came the first “all-church journey” and I said YES! What a great idea to get everyone in a group for six weeks, all going on a carefully and creatively crafted path together. Didn’t hesitate for a second to join a group and participate to the best of my ability. I was excited to be a part of the some 50,000 people all doing the same study! Wow! How ecumenical and inclusive and stuff!
We loved our group. 4 married couples, and the occasional single lady who came a few times. At that point, nothing bothered me! It was all good! At the last of the six group meetings, Greg and I expressed how much we had loved the group and let them know that we would love to continue, that we needed this type of connection with people in the busyness of our deep-in-the-midst-of-parenting stage of life. I was pretty surprised when the rest of the group demurred, asking for some time to recover from the 6-week group before we had to meet again. Needless to say, the group did not continue. We met for dinner a couple of times in late spring and early summer, and I realized that without the structure of the group process, we didn’t have quite as much in common as I had first imagined.
Although still technically a Crossroads attendee, I no longer volunteer. I am no longer so enamored with the edgy, with-it people and processes. I think there is a wonderful depth to Brian, the senior pastor, and Chuck, the associate pastor, or co-pastor, or whatever he is called. I know there are loving, caring people in this church who genuinely want to see people grow, and especially see children really embrace The idea of following Jesus. There is clearly a clarity in the stated purpose of the church, from its facility usage, to decisions about who is allowed to give out information, to choices about exact wording and gestures to use to be as welcoming as possible, kind of like I think Walt Disney World employees might do it. Yep. All that’s true. And this isn’t about whether or not some place is perfect, because no place is or can be or ever will be.
Maybe it’s partly knowing I will never be a part of the Inner Circle, that my station in life and age and background and needs maybe really aren’t the kind of station, background and needs that get the attention and focus of the big-picture planners.
Maybe it’s partly understanding that the emphasis on getting everyone engaged in the “all-church journey” precludes really focusing much on getting people connected to other Christians in a small group setting. The people onstage all seem to be connected in small groups, and I am happy for them, but they must know something I don’t know. Maybe with such a large staff, it is fairly easy to do life together. Such a cool place to work. Such outside-the-box thinking. Obviously really creative people at the heart of this thing, people who know how to get things done.
Maybe it’s partly that their focus on not being religious has left an empty space where religion used to be in me, and that I’m finding some new, very alive things to fill that space. Getting rid of the false guilt, leaving behind the drive to always be focused on what I “should” do, and shifting my focus from behavior to character and joy — these things have been part of my experience at Crossroads, but I wonder if the powers that be would be happy those things are gone and sad that I haven’t found the non-religious aspect of Christianity to be fulfilling.
Just recently, I visited my main childhood church for a 50th anniversary celebration. Little has changed there. They preach sermons based on Scripture. They are not trying to be emergent or seeker-friendly, although they are certainly not trying to be seeker-unfriendly. They serve Communion exactly the way they did 40 years ago when I was there. And they seem to still have the type of community I remember being a part of. It’s a smaller church, so those types of relationships become more possible, at least for me. I was not part of the decision to leave that church — we kids just got in the car and rode to where our parents took us for church. I wonder what it is like to be a part of a place that seems to be more “religious.” I don’t want the religious piece, but it would be nice to share regular times with people through the focal point of church. I think.
I’m still at Crossroads because my two youngest kids are finding community and connection there. As long as they are growing, we want to provide that opportunity. But this strikes me as a great opportunity to ask myself some good questions right about now. I acknowledge that we will probably always be a very small fish in an extremely large pond as long as we are there. I don’t need to be a big fish. I’d just like to be a fish that swims well with others, that enjoys the wonders of the ocean together, that has occasional adventures like jumping UP! out of the water and then back in. Not sure I see that ever happening where we are. Sure, it can be complicated to sort through the issues and possibilities, but I feel more prepared than ever to see this as an opportunity and a gift, and to believe that figuring out the WHAT and the WHY of that what, will make the HOW clear and possible.