As part of the research for my book, I’ve been visiting churches all over the country over the past year—a tour of “America’s hippest churches,” you might say. The goal is to gain a good bit of qualitative data on the subject I’m writing about and to understand firsthand how various church bodies are fitting in to this whole thing. I have stopped at dozens of churches in many states and talked with countless people, and every now and then on my blog I will describe in depth my various observations about these churches.
The first stop on my tour was Jacob’s Well in Kansas City. Read about that here.
The second stop was Mars Hill Church in Seattle. Click here for that one.
Stop three was Life on the Vine, a “Christian community” in the suburbs of Chicago.
And next up is Mosaic, a local favorite for Christian hipsters here in the Southland. Enjoy!
Church Name: Mosaic
Location: Los Angeles, California
Head Pastor: Erwin McManus
Summary: The multi-site Mosaic Church—led by Erwin McManus—is one of the world’s most looked-to evangelical church bodies. Constantly churning out books, sponsoring conferences and seminars, McManus and company are leading figures in the various movements du jour (“emerging,” “missional,” etc). Mosaic itself is a lively congregation with seven locations and an average Sunday attendance of over 3,000. But what does the name Mosaic mean? When I spoke with executive pastor Eric Bryant, he described Mosaic as “a metaphor for describing the broken and fragmented lives that God brings together to form a beautiful picture,” and the church’s website beckons seekers “regardless of where they are in their spiritual journey” to come to Mosaic “and discover how all the pieces can fit together!” The church is committed to “re-branding” Christianity in fresh and innovative language to bring in the unchurched and burned-by-the-church folks who can’t relate to old school Christianity anymore. Mosaic’s unique branding is evidenced by their “core values/metaphors/environments” which include Wind (commission), Water (community), Wood (connection), Fire (communion), and Earth (character). Though it may sound suspiciously new agey or pantheistic, the theological core of Mosaic is actually solidly in line with the Southern Baptist denomination.
Building: Mosaic has campuses all over Southern California and even one in Berkeley, but the original location at The Mayan nightclub in downtown L.A. remains the most iconic. Originally built in 1927 as a theater for Gershwin-type musicals, The Mayan was remodeled in the early 90s and is now one of downtown L.A.’s most popular nightclubs. It’s trademark pre Columbian style features hand carved walls, vibrant colors, and a richly decorous “old Los Angeles” vibe. Worshipping in a venue like this—sweaty, dark, with a faint smell of alcohol—can be jarring, but I think that’s the point.
Congregation: The crowd of about 800 at the Mayan service is predictably young (average age about 21). The typical assortment of hipsters, yuppies, surfers and well-dressed Southern California young people populate the service, with all the stylish SoCal accoutrements you’d expect to see: trucker hats, big glasses, v-necks, Element shirts, beards, messenger bags, tank tops and flip flops. In terms of ethnic diversity, it’s above average (at least by evangelical Baptist stands).
Music: On the most recent Sunday I attended, the music at Mosaic consisted of a DJ who—appropriate to the nightclub setting—spun throbbing club music as the congregation filtered in, as well as a traditional five piece band (all guys) who performed about four worship songs throughout the service. On all of my visits to Mosaic I never recognized any of the songs played by the band, so I suspect they write their own music (as is trendy to do these days, if churches are able). In any case, the music was in a pretty standard evangelical rock worship style (i.e. U2 anthemic), with prodigious accompanying light effects and high-tech lyric projection.
Arts: The arts are huge at Mosaic. There is an arts ministry called Artisans that encompasses music, drama, dance, visual arts, poetry, spoken word, film, stage design, and live production, and each service incorporates one or more of these elements. At various points I’ve seen live painting, dancing and dramas performed during a Mosaic service. As part of Artisan, Mosaic also sponsors an annual artists retreat called Terra Nova described on the website as “an explosion of art and creativity that will inspire your soul to create and dream the life that God has uniquely designed you to live.”
Technology: Mosaic is a high-tech church. The service at The Mayan is slickly produced with all the latest in audio visual technology, including three huge screens, rock concert lights, smoke machines, etc. The Mosaic website is remarkably stylish and well-designed—a product, according to Eric Bryant, of the donated services of Mosaic’s talented congregation of tech-savvy designers. There are podcasts, twitter updates, and pastor blogs. Interestingly, however, Mosaic does not employ the popular “video venue” method in its various satellite campuses but opts instead for physically present preaching at each location.
Neighborhood: The Mayan campus is located in downtown Los Angeles, in a mostly abandoned part of town that makes it almost entirely a commuter church. Skid Row is a few blocks to the east, Staples Center and the new L.A. Live development are a few blocks west, along with a smattering of trendy bars and loft areas. The church is big on connecting to the larger soul of L.A., playing up the ethnic diversity, culture making and general idiosyncratic identity of the City of Angels.
Preaching: The preaching at Mosaic is dynamic and frequently incorporates interactive audience participation. Erwin McManus doesn’t preach every Sunday, but when he does he is quite engaging. On the last Sunday I visited Mosaic, the sermon series was “Dear L.A.” and the topic was “diversity,” one of the four aspects of Los Angeles covered in the monthlong series (the others being “creativity,” “influence,” and “uniqueness”). Marcus “Goodie” Goodlow, who pastors the West L.A. and South Bay gatherings, spoke at The Mayan on diversity day. Preaching out of Jonah 1, Goodlow’s sermon argued that if Christians are to advance the conversation of racial diversity we’ve got to redefine it as a verb, not an inert, immovable noun.
Quote from pulpit: “Courage is not the absence of fear. It’s the absence of self.”
Quote from website: “We cannot wait for change to happen – we must enact it. We cannot simply imagine a new world, we must also labor to see change happen ‘on Earth as it is in Heaven.’ We cannot simply attempt to enact change through our vote – we must enact it through our lives and talents, our generosity and sacrifices.”