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“We Accept Anyone No Matter What,” Local Evangelical Says About Xperience Church

pastor kyle brownlee

I live in rural northwest Ohio, an area dominated by Evangelical Christianity. Even local mainline churches tend to skew to the right theologically and socially. The last church I attended before leaving Christianity was a United Methodist church in Ney. This church’s pastor was every bit as Evangelical as I was back in the day. I know of only one church that openly accepts LGBTQ people into their membership — St. John United Church of Christ in Defiance. (Please see Open and Affirming: St John United Church of Christ, Defiance, Ohio.)

Living in such a religious monoculture can be difficult for someone such as I. I love country living, so I have learned to adapt to my environment, even when I want to, at times, cuss, scream, and bang my head on the wall. All of my children and grandchildren live within twenty minutes of my home. Every time I write a letter to the editor of the Defiance Crescent-News, I pause for a moment to contemplate how my words might affect my progeny. I don’t want to cause them harm, yet, at the same time, I can’t and won’t be silent. If I don’t speak up for atheism, reason, and liberal politics, who will? For several years, it seemed like I was the atheist lone ranger, alone in my challenges to local Evangelicalism. Recent years have brought a handful of new voices to the editorial page of the Crescent-News. Not all of them are unbelievers, but we do share a common view of Evangelical Christianity and its negative, harmful influence on our local communities.

Today’s post is another opportunity to challenge the local Evangelical status-quo. Several years ago, I was checking out a local Facebook group and I came upon a discussion about starting a countywide youth group. The woman who suggested this surely had good intentions: let’s all work together for the common good. Several people suggested that there was no need for such a group. “We have the YMCA, and several churches have established youth groups,” they said. One person mentioned Xperience Church in Defiance. “Are they accepting of LGBTQ youth?” one commenter asked. A member of Xperience Church replied, “We accept anyone no matter what.”

Xperience Church is the latest in a long string of local cool hipster Evangelical churches. Xperience currently meets in million-dollar plus digs at the Northtowne Mall — a facility that will seat 825 people.  The following video features Experience Church pastor Kyle Brownlee giving his “vision” for the future. Please try to listen for two or three minutes, if you dare. After that, you may need a barf bag.

Video Link

After listening to Brownlee’s “vision,” you know what I wanted to do? Run! The Evangelicals are Coming! The Evangelicals are Coming! Run for Your Life!

Imagine for a moment, that you are a member of Xperience Church, and week after week you listen to Brownlee’s peppy, inspiring sermons. Imagine hearing over and over Brownlee’s “vision” for Defiance and the surrounding communities. You might conclude that Xperience Church really does “accept anyone no matter what.” However, as I will show below, Xperience Church — beneath all the loud music and relational sermons — is, belief-wise, a garden-variety Evangelical church; not any different from dozens of other churches in rural northwest Ohio. (Xperience Church is affiliated with the Association of Relational Churches.)

Brownlee and Xperience Church believe, and I quote:

We believe that the Bible is God’s Word. It is accurate, authoritative and applicable to our everyday lives.

We believe in one eternal God who is the Creator of all things. He exists in three persons: God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. He is totally loving and completely holy. We believe that sin has separated each of us from God and His purpose for our lives.

We believe that the Lord Jesus Christ as both God and man is the only One who can reconcile us to God. He lived a sinless and exemplary life, died on the cross in our place, and rose again to prove His victory and empower us for life.

We believe that in order to receive forgiveness and the ‘new birth’ we must repent of our sins, believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and submit to His will for our lives. We believe that in order to live the holy and fruitful lives that God intends for us, we need to be baptized in water and be filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit enables us to use spiritual gifts.

We believe in the power and significance of the church and the necessity of believers to meet regularly together for fellowship, prayer and growing in our faith.

We believe that God has individually equipped us so that we can successfully achieve His purpose for our lives which is to worship God, fulfill our role in the church and serve the community in which we live.

We believe that God wants to heal, set us free, and transform us so that we can live healthy and blessed lives in order to help others more effectively.

We believe that our eternal destination of either Heaven or Hell is determined by our response to the Lord Jesus Christ. We believe that the Lord Jesus Christ is coming back again as He promised.

The church’s Our Values page used to say:

We will be authentic in order to reach people who don’t know Christ.
To reach people no one is reaching, we’ll have to be real with where we’ve been and what God’s done to transform us. We’re not a group of perfect people, we are a group of people being perfected.

….

We believe the local church is the hope of the world.
We believe church is amazing. The church is God’s rescue plan for humanity and a place to introduce them to Jesus. Around here, we have a heart for building God’s House.

Now it says:

We will lead the way with irrational generosity.
We truly believe it is more blessed to give than to receive.

We always bring our best.
Excellence honors God and inspires people.

We are faith-filled, big thinking, risk takers.
We’ll never insult God with small thinking and safe living. There is no cost too high, no price too great. We will stop at nothing to see our city reached with the love and grace of God.

We are committed to staying relevant even if it means changing at times.
Blessed are the flexible for they shall not snap.

We are committed to providing opportunities for relationship building.
We know life change occurs best in a small group of people doing life together.

We will be authentic in order to reach people who don’t know Christ.
To reach people no one is reaching, we’ll have to be real with where we’ve been and what God’s done to transform us. We’re not a group of perfect people, we are a group of people being perfected.

We are spiritual contributors not spiritual consumers.
The church does not exist for us. We are the church and we exist for the world.

It’s all about Jesus.
It always has been and always will be.

We believe the local church is the hope of the world.
We believe church is amazing. The church is God’s rescue plan for humanity and a place to introduce them to Jesus. Around here, we have a heart for building God’s House.

Having read these official statements of belief and philosophy, does anyone really think that Xperience Church would “accept anyone no matter what?” Of course not. This is nothing more than classic Evangelical subterfuge. (Please see Just Remember, Evangelicals Always Have an Agenda and The Bait and Switch Evangelistic Methods of Evangelicals.) Yes, anyone is welcome to walk in the doors of Xperience Church and attend their services. Whosoever will let them come, right? However, is Xperience Church really “accepting of LGBTQ youth?”  Again, sure, as long as you don’t think about the question too hard. I am sure local LGBTQ students are welcome to attend the monthly youth meeting and weekly Sunday services. However, are the same students free to date other same-sex students? Are they free to speak openly and positively about their sexuality? If I attended Xperience Church, would I be permitted to preach the gospel of humanism and pass out Bart Ehrman’s books? Knowing what you know about Evangelical social beliefs, does anyone think Xperience Church truly has an open-door, live-as-you-want, be-true-to-self, policy? Of course not.

What the church member should have said is this: “We accept anyone no matter what, but thanks to Jesus and his awesome redeeming grace, we expect that unbelievers will be saved and become dutiful members of Xperience Church. We expect that the “anyones” will be transformed by the power of the Holy Ghost; that their addictions, perversions, and sins will be washed away by the mighty blood of Jesus Christ.” In other words, “Yes, you are free to visit Xperience Church, but we will not leave you alone until you see things our, oops, I mean God’s way!”

I know people who attend Xperience Church, including family members, so I am not suggesting the church and its hipster pastor are evil. I do not doubt that they have good intentions. However, it is evident, at least to me, that Xperience Church is NOT open and accepting in the same way as St. John United Church of Christ.

I was part of the Christian church for fifty years. I spent twenty-five years pastoring Evangelical churches. I understand Brownlee’s “vision” quite well. Been there, done that, thinking that God had tasked me alone to reach local sinners with the gospel. There are over 300 Christian churches in rural northwest Ohio. Did Defiance really need another church? Of course not. But, Brownlee and his wife believe God speaks to them. (Please see Do Evangelical Christians “Know” the Mind of God? Hearing the Still Small Voice of the Evangelical God, Hearing the “Voice of God.) The Brownlees are certain that big things await them as God uses Xperience Church to advance and expand the Kingdom of God. Never mind the fact that the bulk of Xperience church members have been pilfered from other churches. (Please see IFB Church Planting and How Church Planters Convinces Themselves Their Churches are “Special”, The Elevate City Church Con Job, and What Should I Do? There’s No Church in My Town that Teaches the “Truth”.) Sure, Xperience Church is adding new converts to their numbers, but everyone in Defiance is already a Christian — just ask them — so most of their numerical increase comes from transfer growth. (Please see Most Evangelicals Don’t Choose to Become Christians.)

Look, I don’t care what people do on Sundays. If people want to spend their Sunday mornings worshipping a mythical deity, fine. However, when it comes to going after unbelievers whom Evangelicals deem sick, broken, sinful, and in need of fixing, you can expect me to object. I am more than happy to share the same terra firma as worshippers of Jesus. All I ask is that they keep their beliefs to themselves. Now who is delusional, right? Confrontational Evangelism is part of Evangelicalism’s DNA. Brownlee makes that clear in his “vision” video. When you believe your family, friends, and neighbors are vile enemies of God in need of salvation, it stands to reason you would do whatever is necessary to reach these lost heathens for Jesus. What remains to be seen is whether Brownlee and his church will stay “on-fire” for Jesus as time goes along. Or will Xperience Church become just like every other institutionalized, incestuous Evangelical church? My money is on the latter. ‘Tis the nature of Evangelical churches. Time and reality take the wind out of the best of “vision” statements. Once local churches have been raided and sinful locals harassed until they get saved, what’s left for “cool” churches to do? I mean, isn’t church really all about who has the best worship band or the best preacher? What will happen when Xperience Church and its pastors become boring? Why, God will lead yet another church planter to static, dying Defiance County to establish a new church.

Just what we need, another hamburger joint.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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12 Comments

  1. Avatar
    przxqgl

    i visited a “christian” church, years ago, which had a “come as you are, we accept anyone” sign in front of the church. i had recently cut my hair in the style known as a “sikha” — the characteristic haircut of “hare krishna” devotees — and i wanted to see if they REALLY accepted anyone. i walked into the church, and, immediately, i discovered a large space between me and the people around me. they all looked at me as though i had a huge horn growing out of my forehead, and nobody wanted to get close enough to find out if i was real or not. i sat through the service, and at the end, everybody got up and shook hands with their neighbours… except for me… one lady came over and, hesitantly, “welcomed” me to the church, and gave me a bunch of chick tracts, and then a man came over and asked if i was a “former buddha”, to which i giggled, and said no, if i had been a buddha, i would still be one… but the large space between me and the other members of the congregation continued until i left. nobody wanted to be the first one to make friends with the freak.

    having had experience with chick tracts in the past, i went home, which was a few houses down from the church, and went out into my back yard, which shared an alley with the church, and burned the tracts. i suppose it didn’t help matters much that people from the church walked home down the alley, and saw me burning the tracts.

    oh well…

  2. Avatar
    GeoffT

    What people believe and what they should believe can be very different things, as this post demonstrates. Personally, I’ve liked the idea for sometime that Jesus as a person never actually existed. Richard Carrier first exposed me to the concept some years ago and I was pretty convinced by his arguments. Then I began reading Bart Ehrman and I realised that I was almost certainly wrong, Carrier too. I much prefer the idea that Jesus never existed at all because it makes discussions on the subject must simpler, but I have to concede that the evidence that he existed is compelling. Of course, taking this approach means that I can easily reject almost everything else surrounding Jesus, from the Nativity story(ies) to the miracles, to the resurrection (I do accept that he was probably crucified).

    With that said, pretty well everything this church says it stands for is plainly untrue. They say they are committed to remaining relevant; this can only be true if they accept reality, but of course that would cause them to cease to exist. They claim that they take ‘big risks’. What! I don’t think so, else they’d be advertising that they welcomed LGBT and pro-choice congregants. In reality it’s just ‘we believe…we believe…we believe’ in exactly the same way I’d like to say I don’t believe Jesus ever existed. But I’d be wrong. And this church is wrong.

  3. Avatar
    John S.

    There is also the subtle exhort ions that should be a red flag to any new visitor- you will be expected to do more than just come to worship on Sunday and donate to help keep the lights on, or help whatever charity we participate in (things that I think are not unreasonable for a church to ask for from its members). No, you will be expected to devote your time and life to everything the Pastor says- including social time, etc. These churches seek to make members orient their life around the church, and use subtle messaging to criticize those like myself who go to church (mass actually) once a week and then live the rest of my life taking care of my personal needs (family time, work, relaxation, etc). If you want to do more, great but just looking at their mission statement shows what will be expected from you once you walk into their building. They will get your information and probably be very coffee house hipster welcoming. Things will be really cool, dude. Then the “conversations” will begin- “what do you think of topic —?” “You should come to our men’s/women’s group on Tuesday evening. Oh we need help with the fog lamps for Sundays super duper rock service. Can you take care of that?
    I am not in any way criticizing volunteering but in churches like this it becomes part of the indoctrination process. I’m sure someone like me (a Catholic) would immediately become someone’s project to pull away from the “Whore of Babylon”. That’s why I say “no thanks” up front to any invitation to this type of church. Like Amway, the goal is to pull in new people and then get them to pull in all their family and friends. And of course donate all their time and money. So who you know becomes part of the “conversations” you have. It’s how cults get started. It’s cringey to an introvert like myself-I grew up in a church that became this way, and you almost feel like the character in the book “1984”, where you have to slink in the corner to journal any private thoughts that Big Pastor might not like.

  4. Avatar
    Harvey

    I think, in theory, sinners of all types will see the error of their ways and become the type of Christian that that church believes in. All are welcome, but the point is to change.

    In reality, birds of a feather flock together. This describes humans very well. We’re comfortable with people like ourselves, whether IFB, gay, liberal, conservative, middle-class, well-educated, etc.

    Anyway, a street preacher is more honest, for sure: he yells at you, tells you you’re wrong and must change, no sugar-coating it!

  5. Avatar
    MJ Lisbeth

    The funny thing is that I distrust “welcoming “ Christian churches for exactly the same reason I distrust White* liberals: They start with the premise that the people they “welcome” or “accept” are broken, defective and in need of fixing .In other words, they have a colonial mentality toward the objects (which is how they see them) of their “good” intentions.

    *—Full disclosure: I am White and, politico, to the left of 98 percent of Americans.

    • Avatar
      John S.

      Good post, MJ. Ironically the “white liberals” of which you speak have a lot in common with fundamentalist Christians- they don’t really know why they’re far left liberals except that it seems “cool” and all their friends are. And they want to bring salvation to the unsaved masses. Also a lot of groupthink, and intolerance for any opinions other than their own. Most of these folks are also big virtue signalers, just waiting for that right outrage moment so they can look (and feel) “activist”. Kind of like a secular version of the Uber cool and relevant hipster church in this post.
      This as a opposed to someone who has truly arrived at their beliefs through their life experience (like say Bruce), and because of where they have been, can work and talk with folks that may not share all of their views but do respect them as persons. Someone who has basic compassion for another even if they may not “deserve” it, but is not going to enable someone with “idiot compassion” either. When I think of someone who is a real liberal, this is who I think of.

  6. Avatar
    ObstacleChick

    I see a church that wants to be the hippest, coolest, most emotionally-charged church around to bring in those offerings, I mean, souls!

    I couldn’t get through more than about 5 minutes of this video, but what I did see was that they try to create a community/social club of like-minddd people, and they provide emotion-filled shows and feel-good activities to keep them there. I doubt if they are open and affirming of LGBTQ people though. They’re probably OK with LGBTQ people keeping quiet in the background, but not being themselves.

  7. Avatar
    George

    Bruce, This guy is EXACTLY like our nearby 800+ member church with its multimillion dollar building. Only thing I can guess is that they are following a paid plan that some church growth company sold them. They’re just too cookie cutter to be otherwise. They’re a religio-corporate business designed to bring in the big bucks.

    • Avatar
      JohnV

      Having been part of a church plant in the late 00s, I can confirm there was church plant partners and programs we utilized. There were companies that sold literally what was called, “church in a box”, that was all the equipment (and storage) to setup in spaces like Elementary Schools, with churches hoping to grow until they can afford their own building. After I left the church I would constantly get fliers for new start up churches. Like you said, they were all perfect clones of each other. Led by two young (and probably very charismatic) men, one the pastor and one the music director with the guitar. One thing I noticed for sure, they all use the same software for their church websites. That makes sense I guess, no reason to reinvent the wheel and secular small businesses will also purchase premade software. Every time I got a flier for a new launch, I was always a bit curious to go and observe. But I don’t want to be a bad faith actor, nor do I want to be honest and tell them my story, and there is zero chance I wouldn’t be approached, so I never actually went.

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Bruce Gerencser