Tapestry of Faith: Building Bridges: A World Religions Program for 8th-9th Grades

Alternate Activity 2: Virtual Engagement

Activity time: 90 minutes

Materials for Activity

  • Computer with Internet access and a large monitor or a digital projector and screen and (optional) extra audio speakers
  • Optional: Bibles

Preparation for Activity

  • Test equipment.
  • Choose an evangelical Christian worship service to view online or as a DVD. Possibilities include:
    • Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, the largest congregation in the United States. The pastor is Joel Osteen. His wife Victoria is also active in the service. Their weekly attendance (five services) tops 43,000. Their annual budget is $70 million. Each Sunday service can be viewed live or watched online during the following week.
    • West Angeles Church of God in Christ, a predominately African American congregation in California. Many celebrities attend, including Denzel Washington, Stevie Wonder, Angela Bassett, and Magic Johnson. The pastor, Charles Blake, Jr. is Bishop of the International Church of God in Christ. Their annual budget is $15 million and weekly attendance averages 20,000. If you wish to view a full service, purchase it in advance from the church's website. You can watch clips on the church website's "media center."
    • Watch clips of both churches' services, to compare and contrast.
  • Optional: Write on newsprint some of the engagement questions in the Description below, and set the newsprint aside. Or, you may wish to create a handout with these questions and make copies for youth to use while they watch the worship service.

Description of Activity

Youth engage with a megachurch by watching worship online.

Go to the website for the congregation you will visit. Tour the website, guiding the youth to explore and answer:

  • What can you tell about connections between the members' faith and their daily lives? What classes or services are offered to the congregation? What notices and announcements are posted?
  • What tools are provided for the virtual community to connect to other online attendees, to the on-site members, or to the ministry of the church at large?
  • Do you think this church is part of a particular Protestant denomination, or is it non-denominational? How can you tell?
  • What can you observe about the membership from the images on the website? Do the images show diversity of ethnicity/race? Gender? Age? Any other diversity noted?
  • What else stands out about the website? Is it engaging? Interactive? Colorful? Attractive?

Tell the group they will watch a service from a megachurch online. Let them know which church and when the service took place. If you have prepared some of the engagement questions, post or distribute them now, and invite participants to review the questions and watch for the answers. If needed, remind participants to watch respectfully.

Engagement Questions

  • How familiar did members seem with the service? Are explanations or instructions offered during worship? Does the entire congregation seem to know the order of service, the words spoken, the tunes sung? Are directions written or spoken in English and/or another language? If another language, which language?
  • What are signs the members respect the service, its leaders, and the space in which it is held? How can you tell which spaces, objects, or moments are most sacred/least sacred for this congregation?
  • What is the role of children in the service?
  • Were the worship leaders as you expected? How so? How not? Did any speaker say anything that surprised you? What? Why was it surprising? Would you say the minister had a powerful presence, as a presenter-that they were charismatic?
  • What did you notice about the appearance of the church? Was there an altar?
  • Was there music? What instruments, if any, were used? Was the music recorded? Was there singing?
  • What kind of special clothing did anyone wear? Why?
  • Did people of different genders behave differently? Different ages?
  • Was there a mix of ethnicities in the congregation? Among the worship leaders?
  • What differences did you observe between worship here and in our congregation?
  • Could the sermon have been delivered from a Unitarian Universalist pulpit? Why, or why not?
  • How was the service like a typical worship service at your congregation? Did you hear anything in the service that resonated with your UU values?
  • What was the message of the sermon? What actions did it ask of the congregants? Did you hear any themes from our workshop? E.g., being born again, accepting Jesus in order to be saved, or the call to share the belief in Jesus as savior with others, including people outside this church?
  • How was the Bible used in the service?
  • How diverse is the congregation in ethnicity/race, gender, and age? How diverse are the presenters?
  • What else stands out about the service?

If you watch clips from both Lakewood and West Angeles, compare and contrast them. Lakewood is non-denominational Christian; West Angeles is C.O.G.I.C. (Church of God in Christ). Offer these facts to help the youth compare:

  • Lakewood posts their weekly services online, free, in their entirety. You have to purchase services from West Angeles, though they are relatively inexpensive at $4.99.
  • Lakewood has a budget of $70 million; West Angeles only $15 million, less than a quarter of Lakewood's budget.
  • Lakewood has 43,000 participants a week, a bit more than double West Angeles.

If you have Internet access, compare the websites of these two "megachurches." What links are featured on the home pages? Note that West Angeles features prominently a link to Save Africa's Children, an organization that provides support and care to orphans and vulnerable children, especially those with HIV.

Guide the group to discuss: Why might these differences exist?