Yesenia and I were greeted warmly upon arrival by a trove of black-clad employees. Two particularly young and cheerful ushers led us to the VIP section of the historic theater in downtown Barcelona.
We didn’t get the memo about wearing dark colors. No one seemed to care, except maybe that is why our seats were as far to the side as possible in the last row of reserved seating.
Cables ran across the stage. Musicians tuned their instruments. A stagehand tapped on microphones as the sound guy adjusted dials. Camera persons took positions around the periphery.
Soon, conversations came to an abrupt close, cell phones went dark, and the screen above the stage counted the final seconds before dozens of singers filled the stage, belting out the opening number amidst swirling spotlights and colored fog.
The audience rose to their feet in delight. Some sang along. Some danced. Others simply took it all in. Everyone moved to the music.
Sunday service had begun.
For sure, the worship experience at this Hillsong Church was unlike anything we had ever experienced.
The pastor and worship leaders were animated, to say the least, as they delivered emotional messages of God’s love to the hundreds of persons in the theater, and thousands more across Spain.
Hillsong’s Barcelona theater service is transmitted live to other worship sites in Madrid, Valencia, and other parts of Spain.
Yesenia and I have enjoyed services that were recorded and even televised before. We were at the dedication service of the Casa de Dios’ church that featured Christian singers from around the world, including Kari Jobe from the USA.
Over 11,000 people, including the president of Guatemala, enjoyed that show with us. I once joined 25,000 folks at a Joyce Meyers event and stood among 50,000 at a “Night of Miracles” in Yankee Stadium.
But the Hillsong experience was different. It was crisp. It was professional. It was polished.
I liked it anyway, which kind of surprised me since I usually rale against “productions” versus worship opportunities.
My preference remains in small congregations. We travel to different churches regularly, but our home church in Guatemala boasts only about 50 members.
Our church goes to the opposite extreme when it comes to crispness and polish. But it allows worshipers to get to know each other. It is our extended family.
I find testimonies, events, and even worship more personal and meaningful. When we pray for a member, we really know that person.
While we were in Spain, we participated in some small-group, home-based events. I loved them because a connection between participants was unavoidable.
But I was also captivated by the vibrant theater service as I sat among hundreds of singing and clapping strangers. Which made me think...
Anybody who ever spoke to me about churches probably heard about the Casa de Dios celebration. If you’d like, I can probably quote the message from the Yankee Stadium event.
I remember feeling comfortable sitting in a packed cathedral-style church years ago. My Presbyterian home is a classic “Olde New England” style brick building with a wooden steeple and pews.
Our Guatemalan home is an auditorium with folding chairs. The theater was fun. And there’s nothing like an intimate home service.
Gee. Do I even know what I like any more?
When I think of churches I’ve attended over the years- conservative and liberal, old and new, big and small, formal and informal- I can’t say I didn’t like a single one.
Maybe it's because the Book that brought me into each of them makes me feel Love.
The Bible is the only common denominator in all my church experiences.
Whether it was shared in monotonous tones by an imperfect reader or blasted in harmony by a professional worship band, the Word is Love.
And I don’t care how, where, or by whom we do it, but we have to introduce more folks to this Love Story.
Bells and whistles don’t change the Word. The size of the crowd doesn’t diminish its impact. No building can contain it. No light show or sound system can top it.
But if more people come to hear it because of those things, who am I to question it?
Yesenia and I are hitting the road in a few weeks to spread that Love Story some more. We’ll use toys, gifts, music, tamales, and candy canes to draw our crowd and tell everyone we can how Jesus loves them.
We would appreciate your prayers that our bells and whistles help folks find Jesus!
Thanks for reading this! For more info on what we’re doing in Guatemala, check out the rest of our website: www.MCUGuatemala.org!