Website Review:

If you’ve ever arrived early for a Sunday afternoon matinee at the local cinema, you’ve probably wondered: what’s the deal with all the well-dressed white people hauling stuff out of the building? Even more curious, they’re often led by someone carrying a tall crucifix, followed by a flag bearer, then a retinue of folks schlepping folding chairs, tables and a podium or two. If you didn’t know better, you’d think the Missouri Synod of the Lutheran Church had merged with Staples for a joint venture in looting.

What you’re probably witnessing instead is the exiting congregation of a growing number of churches who’ve set up temporary lodging in rented movie theaters. As established churches split into sects over doctrinal disagreements — the recognition of gay clergy, or the rift between supporters of meatloaf versus mac-and-cheese for covered-dish night — they’re scrambling for space to hold their Sunday services. Building a sanctuary from scratch, even with currently depressed real estate prices, can be prohibitively expensive. Land might be cheap but steeples have gone through the roof.

Though not currently a church-goer, I have a long history of Christian worship so I do understand something of what goes on in there. (Once I’d nailed down the concept of  God=good/Satan=bad, continued attendance seemed superfluous.) However, I have a bit of trouble reconciling the sacred rituals I remember as a child with the comfort of heavily padded stadium seating. For example:

How do they stage a processional down those steep steps and through the dark? Can anybody eat popcorn, or is it saved for use as a communion wafer substitute for the gluten-intolerant? Do you still attend if says the Holy Trinity concept isn’t credible, and the sermon scene runs at least 15 minutes too long? Do they use those giant Coke cups as baptismal fonts?

Hoping for some answers to these fundamental questions, I recently visited the Internet site for one of these congregations, and offer my observations in this week’s Website Review.

The Element Church of Charlotte, located temporally at The Shoppes At Ayrsley Grand Cinema and spiritually at, is more of a new-wave church than a bitter bunch of separatists who hated the font of the new hymnals at their old congregation. This is a group of hip young singles and families whose mission is to help people “become fully engaged in their pursuit of Jesus,” with a strategy of “connecting people to Jesus,” while “committed to simplicity.” They are “focused on your heart, not on your clothes [so] wear what doesn’t itch” while “we play music you will want to download as soon as you get home.” The church’s motto is “where you belong” though, on the afternoon I drove by, it could just as easily have been “stay after church and see ‘All About Steve’.”

It’s in their “new to element?” pulldown where we find out more about their casual philosophy, as demonstrated by their avoidance of the extra effort it takes to capitalize proper nouns and the first words of sentences. Headlined “first things first … relax,” newcomers are told “you won’t be asked to stand up or make any type of contribution,” immediately addressing fears that congregants will do any hard work in their pursuit of spiritual truth. Instead, “here is what you’ll find: a hot cup of coffee, a live band, [and] speakers that will encourage you from the bible in ways you will understand.”

The “our leaders” section, which inexplicably has a large graphic of chess pawns at the top of the page, gives brief bios of what we used to call clergy but now hold titles like “directional leader/vision team,” “life groups leader” and “administrator.” A shaggy-haired Canadian says he’s “stoked” to be at element. The spiritual development leader lists among his “fav offline stuff” the opportunity to “take kelly’s $ at the texas hold’em table.” The children’s director enjoys walking (much like Jesus himself eschewed motorized transportation) while the California-born youth leader has a “fav kid memory of going to an MC Hammer concert,” so you know he’s cool.

Not exactly clear-eyed youth leader is totally 'vogue-ing'

Not exactly clear-eyed youth leader is totally 'vogue-ing'

There’s a part about life groups, which are mostly gender-specific aggregations who “hang out” so they can discover more about their inner chick and/or dude. There’s also a place where those with more ambition than simply sipping mochachinos and chillin’ can volunteer to actually do something in support of the church’s mission. They’re always in need of help at the “wee dock” nursery, to “assist with care of adorable babies” (the ugly ones are presumably kept occupied chewing on nitrate film stock in the projectionist’s booth). And you obviously can’t operate a modern-day ministry without a barista, an audio tech, a lighting tech and a video tech.

The self-proclaimed Jesus freaks at element church do have some totally awesome core values too, if anybody’s interested. “Jesus knew something about living,” they say, in some of their few concessions to using the shift key. “we are taking Him at His word and choosing to make life about what we can give away. as we give away what really doesn’t matter, we are receiving the stuff that really does.” There’s a handy three-part checklist to connecting with Jesus: first, start building relationships with others in a life group; second, start serving others (see barista opening); and third, consider partnering with us. “Partnering,” in case you don’t recognize the euphemism, involves a saintly little entity known as PayPal, which is at least twice as important as Jesus if capital letters are any indication.

To test your commitment, the church “helps people navigate their significant service decisions with a spiritual GPS (gifts, passions and struggles),” what they call a passion survey. This is a five-question online submission that, once you get past the multiple-choice first question about the kind of people you’d like to work with (prisoners, teen mothers, hospitalized, homeless, or all of the above), becomes a free-form essay opportunity. “At the end of life, I will look back and wish that … (maximum 500 words)” is one such fill-in-the-blank. “My friends say I’m passionate about … (maximum 500 words)” and “if I knew I couldn’t fail, I’d honor God by … (maximum 500 words)” are two others. There are no magic answers that immediately fill the void in your wretched life. “Because of the nature of this assessment, the answers themselves are the results,” reads a caveat at the end. “There will be no ‘results’ sheet.” All that hard work for nothing at the end? Jesus, this really is Christianity.

Finally, I’ll mention a few other handy features of the website. They actually do have a movie review section under the “elements of culture” pulldown, offering reviews “from a Christian perspective,” with the latest feature being “Star Trek,” which the appropriately named Grace really, really loved. They also have their own version of Facebook, which is not Facebook at all but does contain some pretty gnarly faces (see below, especially Eagerly Oral Guy in first row, Angry Toothy Guy in second row and Methed-Up Mohawk Guy in third row).

With Christians like these, who needs heathens?

With Christians like these, who needs heathens?

And ending on a serious note, there are the “elements of element,” not to be confused with the core values, beliefs, standards, morals, ethics, ideals, principles or tenets. Element is non-denominational yet effectively partnering with neighbor churches, they are focused on the local community yet invest across the country, they are team-led and, perhaps most importantly, they are located at 9110 Kings Parade Boulevard, just across from Fintastic Fish, with worship services starting each Sunday at 10:30 a.m., and don’t be late unless you want your eternal soul damned to see “Bruno” again.


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3 Responses to “Website Review:”

  1. Phillip Donnelly Says:

    Wickedly funny, this one.
    Perhaps Davis W should set up His own online church: there’s plenty of space on the margins of His entries for divine drop-downs. It could be called the W Church, or the WC.

  2. fakename2 Says:

    Oh, this so reminds me of my one and only experience with the Unity Church on New Year’s Eve of 2005. I was pleased to find that believing in God and Jesus was recommended, though not strictly enforced. I was even more pleased that the church was not struck by lightning despite my presence. I would have hated starting New Year’s Day, 2006, with all those crispy burned bodies on my conscience. I will say that I have not set foot inside a church since then, not wanting to push my luck.

  3. thirdcoast61 Says:

    Personally, I think the idea of drink holders in church would be a good thing, but popcorn gives me gas. Great writing D.

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