The River Community Church, which meets in a large, brick community center in south Edmonton, Alta., has been engaging its church members – from young to old and in between – with an InterActive church service on the first Sunday of each month since September. This latest focus is the result of two years of experimenting with intergenerational and conversational learning.
“We want to help create connections in the faith journey between all members of our church family and we believe that relationship with one another is essential,” explained children’s ministry director Andrea Anderst.
In November about 90 people, including around 20 children and youth, attended the first of a two-part interactive service series to draw the Old Testament in pictures, retelling “the story of God's redemption plan.” Gathering first for cups of fruit salad, coffee and other beverages, there was a casual feeling with lots of laughter, talking, and congregants greeting each other. The group sat at round tables, with an assortment of colored markers and a 12-page Old Testament Timeline for each person.
Welcoming the gathering, Pastor Dale Melenberg said, “We ask all our members to engage in the whole service for the benefit of learning from one another. We recognize that everyone has something to share and to model about faith matters…We want to learn from each other, and we want to grow ourselves.”
The services this year are based on Our World Belongs to God, a contemporary testimony, or dynamic statement of faith, of the CRC. The November and December InterActive services review the broad themes from Creation, the Fall, the Flood, and leading to Redemption. Melenberg recounted the major events and encouraged everyone to draw representations in their timelines. Along the way, Anderst and children led worshippers in action songs, and Melenberg introduced games and competitions such as which side of the room could laugh the loudest, as Sarai did when she heard from the messenger that she would bear a son (Gen. 18:10-13).
Anderst said, “These services include active experiences to help form connections… We encourage dialogue, questions and sharing because we think that this helps people to contemplate how the words of scripture and the call of Christ actually interact with their daily life.”
The InterActive services “always finish with a potluck to continue opportunities for connection,” Anderst said.
While leadership has been clear about the goals, the InterActive services have received a few criticisms, including concerns about excess noise and one critic who sees the service as more entertainment than church. At the November service, each person who spoke to The Banner spoke positively about the services.
Paige Reid, 19, began attending The River when she was six years old. “This is a place where we can truly have fun being in community,” Reid said, “and also not be scared to be vulnerable. I'm deeply grateful for the loving atmosphere that this community exudes.”
A senior member, Geri Mantel, said she felt a little anxious over the unpredictability of the concept when Pastor Melenberg first explained the plan to have interactive services once a month. After attending all of the InterActive services so far, Mantel said, “Kids bring so much life into the service and it’s good for them and us to know we’re all God’s children together. It didn’t take long for my anxiety to abate and to enjoy experiencing the message in songs, games, listening and creative activities. I look forward to Part 2 of our Old Testament timeline in December.”