The Local Megachurch

Unlike most other churches in this section, Churches I’ve Visited, I’ve attended NorthRidge Church more than once.  I have visited the church several times during their weekend worship services.  This church even borders on being a Church I’ve Regularly Attended in a way, because there was a period of time where I was at the church weekly, but that was for a specialized set of classes, not regular church, so I include it here in my Churches Visited section.

NorthRidge Church of Plymouth, Michigan, is a megachurch in the Willow Creek style of churches.  (I don’t know if it is actually a Willow Creek church.)  It is noted around here for its huge, professional stage productions in every service.  Some people like that; others find it to be over the top for a church service.  However, enough like it that thousands attend every weekend, filling up a large auditorium for two services on Saturday evening and two on Sunday morning.   In 2009, Northridge planted an additional congregation in the Ann Arbor area, meeting at Saline Middle School.

In the typical style of a Willow Creek church, NorthRidge is a non-charismatic, evangelical church that is targeted to people who either are not familiar with church surroundings or have had experiences earlier in life that turned them off to church. 

My Past Willow Creek Churches

I have regularly attended two churches of this nature before.  In the early 1990s, I attended NewSong Church in the Los Angeles area, a church that at the time met in a school gymnasium and had thousands of attenders at its Saturday evening & Sunday morning services.  Though NewSong was not a Willow Creek church, it was in that style, but very geared toward Generation X.  Interestingly, the founder and lead pastor of the church accepted an invitation to move to Chicago to become a pastor for the Gen-X crowd at the original Willow Creek church in Chicago because they couldn’t seem to be able to reach that age group.

The other one I attended is the now defunct RiverEdge Church in Ann Arbor, which was a church plant of Kensington, a Willow Creek church in metropolitan Detroit, among other places.

Why I Don’t Regularly Attend NorthRidge*

Because of regular attendance at NewSong and RiverEdge, each for several years, I am well familiar with the type of church that NorthRidge is,  so I feel comfortable when going there.  One reason I’ve never attended the church regularly is that I’ve had my fill of that format from NewSong and RiverEdge.  In this format of church, sermons are topical, aiming at themes from everyday life.  This is great for awhile, but after a number of years of this, I grew tired of yet another series on relationships, on money, on success, on emotions (happiness, sadness, loneliness, etc.).  The sermons were always completely Biblical in focus, and what I like about Willow Creek style sermons is that they are accessible to the unchurched while still being deeply spiritually challenging to church veterans like me.  But even though the sermons were sufficiently challenging for spiritual growth, I just got tired of the same topics over and over, as well as the contemporary focus.  I missed just digging into the Bible itself, making the Biblical accounts the focus, rather than some contemporary topic.  Because I got tired of the topical sermons, NorthRidge is not a place I would like to attend regularly, even though every time I go there, the sermons are deeply challenging and meaningful. 

Another reason I have not chosen to attend NorthRidge regularly is that I want a church service with more participation.  This became clear to me in September 2007, when Vineyard Church, where I am a member, dropped its Saturday night service and left me homeless, so to speak.  I could only find three other choices for Saturday night worship (among Protestant churches, anyway; I didn’t check Catholic churches):  NorthRidge Church and two Lutheran churches.   The Lutheran churches were in Ann Arbor, so they were much closer than NorthRidge--that was one factor for my not choosing NorthRidge at that time.  But as I tested NorthRidge during that fall as a potential church, I realized that I wanted something with more direct participation.  At Vineyard, that participation is primarily in the form of extensive singing in worship.  At the Lutheran churches, there is less singing but there are other things, like reciting the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostles’ Creed, taking communion, and some congregational response readings.  (I used to hate those congregational speaking things as a teenager and most of my adult life, but now I’m starting to appreciate them.)  At NorthRidge Church, it’s heavily oriented to the stage production, so it’s more of an observing experience than a participatory experience.  They do have some congregational singing, but usually only about three songs.

*At the time I wrote this, I was not attending Northridge; however, I regularly began attending Northridge in 2010.  I’ll eventually post about that in the Churches I’ve Regularly Attended section, and modify this page at that time.

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The main entrance at NorthRidge Church in Plymouth, Michigan.

After the sermon on Easter weekend 2010, this cross came down and the words to the hymn “Amazing Grace” were projected on it.  This performance was the most beautiful interpretation of “Amazing Grace” I’ve ever heard--a kind of electronica/chill feel to it.

The teaching pastor, Tim Elmore, giving his sermon in December 2007.

Here’s an example of those “topical” sermon themes: Yet another sermon series on relationships is occurring, starting after Easter 2010, with some “culturally relevant” attention grabbing title and icon to promote it.

The Church With The Big Productions

Though NorthRidge is not the kind of place I am inclined to attend regularly, I definitely enjoy attending there from time to time.  The big productions are definitely entertaining.  They use all the elements of professional theater--props coming down from the ceiling, or moving seemingly by themselves on the stage, plus good acting, dancing, and singing.  Usually they have some kind of short play that introduces the topic of the sermon in a humorous but insightful way.

When I went there in 2005 for their Easter service, they had a stage prop of the stone tomb where Jesus had been buried.  When the time in the play came for Jesus to rise from the dead, the stone rolled away with thunder, smoke, and blinding white light, perhaps even strobe lights, if I remember correctly.  And out from the tomb, in blinding light while glorious music is playing, Jesus appears.  Again, some people love this dynamic kind of theatrical presentation; others find it to be over the top.  I like the effect when I’m there, but as I stated above, for a regular church experience, I prefer something simpler.

When I was there in December 2007, they had an ice theme, and at one point during the service, what looked like real snow came down onto the stage while the people were singing--while the giant screens behind them also showed endlessly falling snow.

When I was there on Easter weekend in 2010, the sermon was on the Prodigal Son.  Instead of doing a spoken skit to introduce the sermon, they acted out a song using the tune of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.”  It used amazing effects.   The sermon was part of a series called “Once Upon A Time: More Than Fable, Vol. II” and covered various parables of Jesus.  At the center of the stage for this sermons series was a huge screen that looked like an old storybook, and words and pictures would appear on its pages.


Another example of the big production at NorthRidge is the offering.  At most churches, during the offering there is music playing, or announcements are given.  At NorthRidge church, there are high-speed, high-tech promos on the screen that are like movie trailers or TV commercials.  These are for promoting the activities and events of the church.  So I guess it is their version of announcements, but so much more interesting than the usual, merely spoken, announcements.

Beyond The Worship Services

One of the great advantages of megachurches is their ability to provide services that smaller churches just don't have the resources for.  One of those services is specialized support groups.  Of course, there are specialized support groups available throughout society, but the great thing about a church like NorthRidge offering them is that you get these support services from a Christian perspective and share your troubles with other Christians.  Support groups available include groups for those who need help with things such as depression & anxiety, domestic abuse, sexual abuse, sexual integrity, trauma, grief (such as death of a loved one), post-divorce care (not only for the adults but also for the kids), and relationship boundary issues.  Smaller churches simply cannot have a separate group for every one of these issues which need very specific care, so this is where a megachurch can be of great value; people who regularly attend other churches can still participate in something like this.  I have attended a couple of these groups and found them to be very helpful.

Northridge also offers more typical ministries such as doing car and home repair for people who can't do it themselves or afford to hire someone to do it, assisting with the skills needed to look for a job, helping people in learning to handle their finances, and outright financial assistance when needed.

All of these are practical ways NorthRidge Church is bringing God's Kingdom of healing and love to others.


I have a positive image of NorthRidge Church.  I think they are a well-balanced church that is a light to the community.  I expect to continue to visit the church from time to time.

Here is the stage on Easter weekend 2010 before the service began: the appearance of a forest.

Here is the tree on one side of the stage after the curtains were opened.

When the script was done for the page, it would look like the page was turning.  For the operatic rock song, it began with words on the left page, and the faces of four men singing on the right page.  As the song progressed, they appeared in full body form; three danced along the top of the book, while the fourth was at the bottom.  Then the fourth man, an image on the screen, came out from behind the screen in such a way that it looked like he just came out of the screen from video image into real life.  Cool effect.  Later, when more voices joined in the singing, these people popped out from windows in the book/screen. 

The scene to the left is part of the rock opera song (the Prodigal Son story done to the tune of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”) after the four men started dancing on the screen.  Soon after this, the man in the lower right (the prodigal) would walk out of the screen, so to speak.  Above is the prodigal son asking his father for his inheritance in advance.  The lower left picture shows the people coming out of windows from the screen to sing.  These were the prodigal’s newfound friends.  Soon party streamers would come from everywhere.  Below is a picture of the prodigal having to feed the pigs after his money is gone.

Brad Powell on stage starting the sermon.  (Easter weekend 2010)

The technological edge can even be found during worship time.  Many churches use the screen in front to project the lyrics of the songs.  Some use images behind the words.  My church, Vineyard, even uses moving shapes behind the words that give the words a kind of energy.  But NorthRidge does even more.  The words themselves move and even change size, in sync with the music, according to the emphasis of the words.  We've come a long way from using printed words on a hymnal page.

Lyrics on the screen for worship at NorthRidge Church.  (Easter weekend 2010)

Easter weekend 2010:  On the left and right are the animals that were on the left and right sides of the stage.  Below are pictures from a congregational worship song sung after the sermon; the people in the picture are from the choir.  The butterflies are meaningful here because a point in the pastor’s sermon was that by following God, you will have true freedom, not the illusory freedom that turns to disaster (as with the prodigal son).  Instead of being a caterpillar slave to sin, you’ll fly free as a butterfly.  This was not a still image; the butterflies flew across the screen.

Senior Pastor Brad Powell giving his sermon on Easter weekend 2010.

Directly above is the children’s church check-in center in 2004.  The other three pictures here are the children’s church check-in center in 2010.

Inside the front entrance (December 2007)

The welcome desk just inside the front door (April 2004)

A hallway in NorthRidge Church (April 2004)

The church bookstore (April 2010)

Common Grounds Café inside NorthRidge Church (December 2007)

Inside the Common Grounds Café (April 2010)

Churches I have visited that I have described so far:

  1. Bullet My First Charismatic Church

  2. Bullet The Most Bizarre Church Ever

  3. Bullet The Michigan Megachurch

This page was originally posted on April 4, 2010.  The pictures of the worship service in April 2010 were taken from my seat in the balcony with my Panasonic pocket camera, except for the “I Am Free” and butterfly pictures, which were taken from the side at ground level.

IMPORTANT NOTE: As with all churches in this section, please remember the following points:

1.All descriptions of the churches reflect my own observations and interpretations at the time I attended; these descriptions are not intended to be objective. The main purpose of these writings is to reflect on the effect churches had on my spiritual journey, thus the focus is my experiences at the churches and not an objective reporting of the churches themselves.

2.Keep in mind that churches, like any organizations, change over time. The descriptions I list describe the churches at the time I attended, but the church could have changed immensely since that time, for better or for worse. These writings are not for the purpose of helping one decide whether the church is one they should or should not choose; the church may be completely different by now.

3.Any criticisms put forth in any of my writings on the churches are not meant to be objective criticisms to be answered by the church, but rather, they are merely my opinions of the church at the time I attended there, and how those experiences and my opinions of them shaped my spiritual journey.