Stone Village Church
This Sunday morning I visited Stone Village Church on 2nd Street in Columbus. On their website, Stone Village describes their vision by saying, “we believe that the goal of church is not to make people more religious but to help people be more fully human. Our ultimate goal is to grow in love and understanding of our creator, God, while simultaneously growing in love and understanding of one another.”
I really like that description, the church was neat, but I didn’t pick it because of their vision statement. I picked it using Google. As an experiment, I wanted to visit the church I could find in Columbus that had the highest review when I Googled “churches near me.” What I discovered is, a lot of churches in the area have 5-star reviews (unsurprisingly: not many people want to give God less than 5 stars). So I searched through a few pages until I found what I thought was the church with the most 5 star reviews in my area, which was Stone Village Church, with 18 5-star reviews. Someone on Google named Aaron said “This is an amazing church. The services are intimate and thought provoking.” Vicky said “Whether going for a Sunday service or going for a community event, I always leave feeling grounded and at home. Stone Village is a true blessing!”
I made the decision to attend Stone Village relatively quickly based on these endorsements, but then I had fun scrolling through Google reviews of other churches that weren’t five stars. I wanted to see what could anger a person enough to leave a negative review. Below are some of my favorites (I’ve left the name of the churches they are critiquing out, you can do your own research if you’re curious):
“They have artificial bells that sound every 15 minutes from 8 AM to 9 PM and it is quite obnoxious.” One Star
“Don't get married here! In the contract it specifically says ‘No Photography during ceremony’. Then they'll say, oh sure we allow photography and then on your wedding day they'll only let the photographer shoot from the doorway.” One Star
“I hope this congregation gets what it needs, but I definitely didn't. I have never enjoyed a church service less. Give me some real Bible preaching please.” Two Stars
Anyway, even beyond the Google reviews, Stone Village seemed like an excellent place for me to go based on their website brand. Their worship page says “worship is how we connect with God and with one another as a community. For us, worship is not the pastor performing for the community; rather, we as community, led by the pastor, fully engage in all aspects of worship.” It seems very much like a church built on relationships and community. That being said, I should have been more prepared for what I experienced, which was a VERY INTIMATE church experience. I had only been to two other services alone this year, because I am #blessed to have so many friends and family willing to venture out with me on any given Sunday. But today I went on my own, and when I walked into the church (5 minutes late because of who I am as a person and the parking situation), I was in the worship immediately. The “church” is actually a one room loft area. There is no foyer, no separate hall, as soon as you enter you are in the setting. More jarring was the size of the congregation. I went to the 10:15 service, one of three offered on any Sunday, and there were only about thirty people in the church. So since I entered late, and alone, and was one of thirty people, I was very noticeable. I sat in the “back row” which was still only two rows away from the pastor and tiny praise band. The man next to me welcomed me. I took out my notebook and started trying to take notes but I was so aware of all of the eyes on me that I felt self-conscious. I was distracted for almost the entire service because I felt noticeable and awkward, even though after a few moments the rest of the group probably didn’t pay attention to me.
I didn’t take communion (as always) and it was obvious to everyone that I didn’t because, again, I was one of very few in the room. I honestly panicked and considered taking it even though I usually don’t as a rule just so I would stick out less. I held my resolve and stayed seated during communion, more eyes on me once again. After communion, the pastor invited everyone to greet their neighbor. It was an interesting choice, since I am used to the greeting portion of a service being at the beginning and not the end. In my limited experience, the greeting part is shaking hands and saying “hi” to those around you. Not at Stone Village, at Stone Village you hug. I stood up with my hand out, ready for a few handshakes, and instead I was greeted with a stream of unsolicited hugs.
Everyone wanted to meet me because I was new. A lot of people wanted to hug me. I was terrified, and although I know it was all in the spirit of welcoming, I love and value my personal space. I don’t hug some people I’ve known for years, let alone strangers. So after the first few hugs, I grabbed my coat, threw it on, smiled, waved, and hop-skipped right out of there.
I appreciate what they’re trying to do. If I were a less anxious person, I think the abundant welcome would be sweet. As is, I was very uncomfortable. That isn’t to say I don’t like Stone Village. I think the set up is cool, I liked the sermon (which I don’t think I need to dive into for this post, it was really just more about Christ’s resurrection and accepting Him into our lives daily). I think I would even go back! I just would need to do it differently than I did today. This isn’t a church to pop in and out of. It felt kind of like I crashed someone’s family brunch. I think Stone Village might be aware of this, because they have something called “pint offerings” and on the second and fourth Thursday of each month they hold an open ministry for “beer, faith, and conversation” at a local brewery. They also have a group that meets once per month at the same brewery to discuss non-biblical books, saying “Reading the Bible is great! Reading devotionals and other spiritual texts is also great; however, sometimes you just need to read a great work of fiction.” I think a pint offering sounds so casual, it would be the perfect way to introduce yourself to the community and ask some questions before barging in on Sunday morning.
If I had to leave Stone Village a Google review, it would probably be: “I am intrigued by Stone Village, and a little intimidated by it, but in a good way?” Five stars.