27 February 2006 ~ 1 Comment

OHANA at saddleback

My current class that I’m attending for this five week period at Vanguard in "Research Methods for the Study of Christian Organizations." As part of our homework in qualitative research this week, we were to be a participant observer at a church service or meeting unfamiliar to us. Since I am taking this class to study the multisite movement in the church (which I’ll definitely share more about in the weeks to come) I wanted to try going to one for this assignment. I actually hope to visit several in the weeks to come, just to learn, and I’ll update y’all as it comes.

Being that I couldn’t do a Sunday, I decided to visit Saddleback’s onsite service called Ohana – "Get away to the islands for a time of worship, complete with hula and island-style music." As is the case with many mutisite venues, the message is video cast to the room and the worship is live.

Unfortunately, Rachel and I were about 25 minutes late after taking the wrong freeway, turning around, finding that the connection to our other freeway was closed and taking the detour, stopping to pay the toll we didn’t know we would pass through, taking the wrong exit, turning around and getting back on the freeway (and paying the toll again in the process) and then finally getting there. Here are some of the good and bad that I noticed once we got there:

It was a bit hard to park with no direction, but that is kinda understandable considering how late we arrived. This was my first time at the Saddleback campus – WOW! It’s pretty amazing. Huge campus, very clean, well lit, sweet architecture. My favorite building was definitely the Children’s ministry building complete with multiple saltwater fish tanks. Very cool!

It was very hard to find the service we were attending. There was one sign we saw that publicized it along with all their other services, but there was no signage to get us there. We aasked some youth who directed us to some mobile buildings off to the side. Once we entered, there was some fun stuff inside. It was decorated with a Hawaiian flare – grass on the lights, thatch style signs that said Ohana, etc.

The worship team all wore matching Hawaiian shirts. It was made up of 2 ukuleles, 2 acoustic guitars, a bass, congas, a djimbe and 2 additional singers. I love Ukes! I enjoyed the feel of the laid back music, but the people in the service didn’t seem into worship at all. Only a few people were singing, and the rest just kinda sat and watched.

Once the band finished they sat down on the stage and up came Rick Warren on the side walls where the lyrics had been. I have often wondered about this aspect of a multisite church. How can people really "connect" with a pastor that isn’t even there? Isn’t it weird to just watch a screen the whole time? Oddly enough, this seemed to be the most enjoyable part for the people there. They were very engaged in the message and laugh, clapped, and responded, as if he were in the room.


The message took a little over an hour with a song in the middle. I’m pretty sure the song we sang was different than the main service, and it didn’t seem to connect at all. All of a sudden the video turned off the band stepped up and sang, and back on came Rick. After the message there was one final worship song along with some hula dancers. That was actually pretty cool. Finally there were some announcements and the service was over.


At the end of the service, I probably spent 15 minutes standing there looking lost and no one acknowledged me at all. I was pretty surprised by this. Being a mega church some might expect that, but this particular service only had about 65 people in the room with the worship team included! They seemed to be a friendly community among each other, though. Many people stayed and talked and complimented the worship team and the dancers. As we walked out the door, there were two people standing right there who began talking to each other as we approached. Bummer.

So that was my first trip to Saddleback and my first trip to a multisite venue. It was a fun experience, but probably not a service I would want to attend regularly. The funny part is, none of the negatives for me had anything to do with the multisite part, ie. the video cast message. That part actually worked out better than I imagined it would. I look forward to seeing a few other examples in addition to reading some articles and doing some more research.

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