We went to Austin this weekend [Nov. 1999] to visit son Jeremy and daughter-in-law Kristy, and on Sunday morning we accompanied them to Hill Country Bible Church (HCBC) which they regularly attend. This congregation began in 1985 with 17 people, and now sees its $6 million worship center fill twice each Sunday morning with what appeared to be 700-1200 worshipers at the service we attended. A bulletin note indicated that offerings run $50,000 per week. I dug out these statistics after the fact — nobody mentioned them during the service.
The worship in song was both celebrative and meditative in turn, led by a dozen singers, two congregational directors and a small praise band and orchestra. Contemporary songs and instrumentation contrasted not only with the unaccompanied vocal music at my home church, but also with traditional hymns and piano-or-organ in most denominations. It reminded me that I am part of the older generation, like it or not, in a sea-change of worship style that is sweeping across Christian churches in America regardless of the label over the door. I was glad when they sang a contemporary song I knew (“You are beautiful beyond description”), and one classical hymn (“A Mighty Fortress is our God”). No doubt, contemporary packs in the people — and all the classics once too were new. I still vote for a balanced repertoire, if anyone is polling.
When sermon time arrived, this Bible church definitely lived up to its name. Senior Pastor Tim Hawks preached a fine practical sermon from Joshua chapter 4 about building memorials to God’s great deeds — and it appeared to me that 80% of the people were following in their own Bibles as he spoke. HCBC is governed by seven elders, which is biblically based. Sunday’s service began with the immersion of four new believers — which struck a strong biblical chord with this Church of Christ observer. Hill Country Bible Church officially holds to dispensational theology regarding Last Things, a point of view which I personally do not consider to be biblical. However, these are not salvation issues and the church insists that one does not have to share its position on them in order to join. My own preferences also include weekly Communion — unlike HCBC and most other churches — but I cannot claim that the Bible requires any particular frequency.
A sign near the front of the worship center proclaimed the church’s desire to cultivate believers who are R-E-A-L: Reproducing other disciples (Matt. 28:18-20); Esteeming God above all (Mark 12:30); Announcing the good news (Luke 24:46-47); and Living for others (Mark 10:45). That, I reflected as we left, is a goal concerning which all Christians may enthusiastically agree.