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3186: Thriving Life Church, Newtownards, Northern Ireland
Thriving Life, Newtownares, NI
Mystery Worshipper: Mr Paul.
The church: Thriving Life Church, Newtownards, County Down, Northern Ireland.
Denomination: Independent.
The building: A very large purpose built modern building with a large welcoming foyer, several other rooms, a small cafe, and and theatre where services are held.
The church: It has members of all ages but would definitely be young people focused. It is very intentional about its outreach to the local community and seeks to be a church for everyone, especially the imperfect. Indeed, no perfect people are allowed!
The neighbourhood: Newtownards is about 16 kilometres (10 miles) east of Belfast and is basically a commuter town. The site of a monastery as early as AD545, Newtownards is noted today for Scrabo Tower, erected in 1857 as a memorial to Charles Stewart, 3rd Marquess of Londonderry; the tower is opened only occasionally to visitors, as it is considered unsafe to climb. Thriving Life Church is located fairly close to the town and near an estate.
The cast: Gareth Mills, senior pastor.
The date & time: Fathers Day, Sunday, 18 June 2017, 11.00am.

What was the name of the service?
Sunday Service.

How full was the building?
It was fairly full. All the seats I could see were taken and the balcony was also pretty full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes. A large number of people gave me a very warm welcome. A very lovely gentleman named Ronnie guided me to a seat and then spoke to me for a few minutes before resuming his welcoming duties.

Was your pew comfortable?
All single cushioned seats – fairly comfortable and not totally crammed together.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
It was fairly quiet until the last few minutes. The room was quite dark, which perhaps encouraged those who were seated to keep themselves to themselves.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning, Church."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
No books. All lyrics and verses were on projector. No Bible version was identified.

What musical instruments were played?
A full band: acoustic and electric guitars, bass, drums. There were at least seven musicians on stage playing and singing.

Did anything distract you?
The music was a little loud – but then again that's maybe my age showing. I think the darkness of the room distracted me a little, especially as the service was pretty lengthy. It had a very entertaining and engaging opening, where two teams of men (Fathers Day related) did some burpees in preparation for taking down a tent as a starter for the sermon that was to come later.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Very happy clappy, Hillsong-esque. All modern songs, where the young people would come up to the front and sing and jump along. Lots of opportunity for clapping along in the audience, too. During one of the announcements, a guy on stage took a selfie to illustrate the point he was making.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
47 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – The senior pastor was very dynamic and included lots of very good illustrations, both visual and literary. He was easy to listen to.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The sermon was entitled "Who Dares, Wins" and was essentially about courage. It was based around Acts 5, especially how the apostles preached despite the high priest forbidding them to do so. There were also accompanying scriptures from the Old Testament. Courage is not only about the absence of fear – it is about the importance of challenging familiarity and doing what God has commanded. Take one courageous step for God and your faith and walk in joy will grow.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The welcome. First time visitors are offered a tour, and there is a real and genuine desire to help you connect and serve. There are lots of opportunities there for involvement and connection within the church.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The length of the service from start to finish was over an hour and a half! This, for me personally, is something I struggle with. The sermon, although evidently very well prepared and very good, could have been shorter just to keep my attention a little more. The darkness of the room did not help with my attention span either.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The welcoming team were again very friendly. A lady asked if I wanted to come and get tea or coffee, and I was asked if I wanted a free hot dog, which they were serving on the way out.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Lots of people milling about. They also have a proper coffee shop open straight after, if you want something more. There were hot dogs outside as stated above, but I think this was a one-off for Fathers Day.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – I really can't fault this church from first impressions. My only reluctance to go back is personal preference re the length and worship style. I like a mix of modern and old.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. It was great to see the Word of God being shared and people of all ages and backgrounds sharing in it.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The guy taking a selfie from the stage. Very funny.
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