COMMENTARY | Meredith Flynn
A 16-page church bulletin leaves little to the imagination. At Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., worship attenders know exactly what they’re getting into from the time they walk into the split-level, high-ceilinged sanctuary, less than a mile from the U.S. Capitol.
The order of service, printed neatly on the inside cover page, lists every hymn, prayer, and Scripture reading. Every song is there in entirety – not just lyrics, but actual music.
Even the Nicene Creed gets its own page, with three paragraphs of explanation about where it came from and why we recite it. (“I said this in church for 28 years,” said one visitor, “and nobody ever explained it to me.”)
Your first impression is that this church is good at welcoming new people. They remember well that not everyone who walks in the door has been here before, and maybe they’ve never been in any church before. But it’s more than that. There’s a shrewdness here (in the nicest sense of the word), and an attention to detail that may be best matched just down the street under the Capitol Dome.
Capitol Hill Baptist Church is a church for its very unique city.
What’s most interesting is that there are Millennials here – that elusive generation that’s giving churches fits around the country. A variety of ages are represented at Capitol Hill, but the congregation skews young. A few families sat in “bulkhead” seating at the back of the sanctuary, with a little extra leg room to accommodate a fidgety toddler. The rest of us were packed into crowded pews – between 900 and 1,000 are here for worship on Sunday mornings.
Capitol Hill isn’t doing what most churches do to try to reach Millennials. Lately, the normal prescription is a relaxed dress code, coffee bar in the lobby, and maybe a violinist in the worship band. But here in Washington, what’s reaching Millennials is orderliness. And 5-minute prayers (four of them). And a 55-minute sermon based on one chapter of Psalms.
“You will be bored if you don’t open your Bible and leave it open,” Pastor Mark Dever said before his message on Psalm 143. “All I’m gonna do is talk about what’s in the Bible.”
The service lasted more than two hours, but people still stuck around to chat afterward. Some milled around the small bookstore tucked into a corner of the overflow room just off the main sanctuary. Coffee and cookies and conversation were had downstairs.
There are few surprises at Capitol Hill, besides the fact that this church on a quiet tree-lined street is ministering effectively in a difficult place, using methods that you never would have thought would work. Combined with age-old truth.
“You may have come in here as an adversary of God’s, an enemy,” Dever said at the end of his sermon. “But there’s no reason you have to leave that way.”
Meredith Flynn is managing editor of the Illinois Baptist newspaper.