I Recommend Substance Church in the Twin Cities

If you live in the Twin Cities, consider attending a Substance Church service sometime. I went there with a family I am close to yesterday — my first time visiting a church in years, and the first one I’ve visited since the Christ claimed me. It was an awesome experience. Let me walk you thought it as honestly as I can.

I walked into the lobby and got some free coffee and a doughnut from the friendly volunteers. Right away I could see the the congregation is young, averaging mid-twenties, and solidly multi-ethnic. A beautiful crowd. The dress code is Come As You Are, which often translates to Hip and Fonky. People wished me good morning at every turn. A positive vibe all around.

I walked into the auditorium and was instantly dazzled. It was obvious this is a “mega-church”. The place was well attended. Two humongous video monitors flanked the stage, which was set with full rock band instrumentation. Recorded worship music on the venue system instantly put me in a good mood.

“Good bass,” my friend commented. He and his sister and father and I found four available seats to stand in front of just moments before the service began in earnest. Church announcements were presented via the video monitors. Church goings-on were detailed, many of which focused on youth activities, some of which addressed all age groups. There’s a triathlon coming up to raise money for displaced peoples in Africa. We were encouraged to join a “sub-group”. “Church doesn’t start until the service is over” is the Substance motto.

The band kicked up and we all sang along to some very good rock worship music. I found it easy to pick up the lyrics and melodies, which were broadcast on the monitors. I also found it easy to get into the spirit of things, raising my arms and whatnot to fully immerse myself in worship. I have never done that in my life. I milked it for all it was worth, singing my heart out. I believed in the lyrics. I was moved. I surrendered to God in the music.

The sermon was telecast from a video recorded the previous day. At first I didn’t like that. It felt like the substitute teacher wheeling in the A/V rig. But two minutes into it, the illusion set in and it felt “live”. Substance has multiple “campuses” and so the featured preacher may not always be at your campus in person. The preacher in this case was Peter Haas, the director of the church and author of the book Pharisectomy: How to Joyfully Remove Your Inner Pharisee and Other Religiously Transmitted Diseases. By that title alone, you should now be aware this is not a typical church, but it makes a point to emphasize that the messaging is 100% bible-centered.

The topic of the sermon was “Change Before You Have To”, the third in a weekly series. The main message of this sermon was, “Your ability to delay satisfaction is based on the trust you have for that person.” In other words, trusting in God is a prerequisite for obeying his commands, and in fact trusting God makes it very easy to follow him. Haas highlighted scientific studies and biblical passages to make his point. He’s got great stage presence and is very eloquent on multiple levels. Haas, who long ago used to be a non-Christ-following club DJ, uses youthful slang and embraces casual language, reflecting a conscious effort to speak with young audiences. While this can at first seem a touch contrived, I have grown endeared to it through listening to Haas’ recorded sermons online, and I found many occasions to raise my eyebrows and say “Amen!” in moments of enlightenment. Humor was a recurring element. I lawled.

Haas does a good job of addressing the camera to achieve the aforementioned illusion of fleshly presence. For me, sitting among a few hundred fellow worshipers had a magnifying effect on the overall sensation of presence and in-the-moment-ness the Substance media team seems to aim for.

The in-person emcee, Rob Champion, another fantastic Substance preacher (please do yourself a favor and listen to this powerful 50-minute sermon), led us into another round of worship music. He had the band keep the last song going for a few more minutes, saying, “This is my favorite song.” I was glad he did that; I didn’t want it to end.

I went up to get a prayer after the service. I referenced Jesus’ parable of the seed sower and requested that they make me “good soil” for Christ’s word. Three men placed hands on my shoulders and prayed for my new walk with Christ. One placed two fingertips on my chest over my heart as they prayed. They were warm, gracious, and respectful, and they invited me to their Thursday men’s groups, which I do plan to try out.

I spoke with Champion in the lobby. He’s a great outreach representative and seems sincerely committed to making Substance the best it can be, eliciting my thoughts and letting me talk. I regaled him with a review and told him a clipped version of the story of how Christ claimed me against my will just over three weeks ago. I felt my words were chaotic, being that I felt chemically pumped up by the experience of the past hour or two. I signed up to get hooked into the Substance community, writing that I’d like to help out in whatever way I can, and got a free copy of Pharisectomy in return.

I couldn’t stop thinking and talking with my friends about the service for hours afterward. I wanted to stay and worship (party, more like) all day long. It was so much input. It’s good to fellowship, it’s good to worship, and it’s good to get lost in the whistles and bells and the production and pomp and circumstance of this hip, young, biblically committed church. And the messaging, as I said, was intellectually stimulating and spiritually informative.

In a way, in my heart of hearts, I found the Substance service to be too much input. I couldn’t help but notice I found it difficult to hear the quiet voice of God for the rest of the day. Let this be a piece of advice for anyone who attends a flashy church like Substance: Unwind afterward. Regroup. Meditate. Pray. The service took place at 9:30 a.m., but it wasn’t until I turned off my lights in my bedroom twelve hours later that I could finally close my eyes and talk with God and really hear him and have an uninterrupted back-and-forth. He and I had a lovely discussion for a few minutes about the question of my life’s mission before I dropped off to sleep.

Overall impression? Go to Substance Church. Check it out. They really have their stuff together. They know how to make Christ accessible. The audience they seem to be addressing is the uncertain, somewhat agnostic, somewhat contrarian contingent of Christians and curious people — the seekers, the strugglers, the ones who live in an information-saturated world in which grasping someone’s attention amounts to a mathematically Herculean endeavor to mediate myriad communications variables. All that input, wonderful as it is, must absolutely be balanced with your own, individual, quiet, meditative conversations with God in moments when you are totally alone with him, lest your brain overflow with information and displace Spirit itself.

Go with a joyous heart. Immerse yourself in the experience. Worship. Praise. Lose yourself. Magnify your joy and get your heart’s fill. Extend your joy to the others in attendance. Receive the gift of your fellow followers.

And then let it all go, and go with God.

Says the new Christ follower who, if he is to be honest with himself, really doesn’t know jack squat about life or anything.

14 thoughts on “I Recommend Substance Church in the Twin Cities

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  2. so wonderfully written! i, like Nate B, have been a Substance attendee for several years and it’s easy for me to forget what it’s like walking through those doors for the first time. your experience is a huge encouragement to me, and i’m sure to others as well!

    • Thank you so much, Phyllis! I’m really glad my review could be of some use to those who have been walking the path of Christ with Substance Church for far longer than I have. I’m coming from a place of newness for sure, and in that newness is a lot of naivete and I know I will probably sound a bit daft from time to time. All we can do is give it all we’ve got, right? :) In the meantime I’m just soaking up everything you veterans have been sharing with me, and I’m grateful to be a part of the Substance movement with you.

  3. My husband and I visited Substance about a month ago and experienced the friendly hellos at every turn as well. We belong to another church (River Valley Church, home of Pastor Rob Ketterling, author of “Change Before You Have To”), but have visited a few others this year just to get some variety. Being from another “mega church” we were used to the technology, video sermons, etc., so it wasn’t a big leap for us.

    All of that being said, we wouldn’t hesitate to visit Substance again. I’m glad you had a wonderful experience there and congratulations on accepting Jesus into your life!

    • Thank you, Heather! He is good to us, our Jesus. It seems to me, judging from what little I’ve heard, our two churches share many close personal ties. I heard a Substance recording of your pastor doing a guest sermon a few weeks ago and I gotta say: Wow! He is powerful. Really gets the blood pumping. You of course know you are fortunate to have Rob Ketterling as your pastor, but for anyone reading this who hasn’t yet heard him give a sermon, here is the recording I’m talking about. Check it out, y’all.

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  5. I’ve been at Substance for like 3-4 years now. I’m totally bought in. I’m glad you enjoyed it and met God there. I especially love your insight about quieting yourself afterwards. Have you ever read Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline? He has an excellent chapter on the discipline of solitude (silence). Sounds like you’d love it. I also appreciated your critical perspective and honesty. Much more helpful than a simple “I liked it” or “I didn’t like it.”


    • Blessings received and appreciated, Nathan, and blessings to you! Glad to make your acquaintance; I hope we’ll get to meet IRL at some point.

      Thanks for dropping this feedback; it’s been gratifying these past few days for me to hear back about this post from people such as yourself who have been at Substance for years. I did indeed try to make this review as honest as possible and avoid simplistic summaries. No human institution is 100% good or 100% bad; there are always subtleties, always multiple aspects.

      I’ve not read the Foster book you mentioned. I’ll throw it on my Goodreads to-read shelf for future reference.

  6. Pingback: How dare I speak for God and attribute foul language to him? Here’s how. | The Cynic Testifies

  7. I’m glad you shared about your experience. I was hoping to hear your thoughts on it. By the sounds of it, there were a lot of great positives for you. Relationships are always going to be one of the key factors for church. Did you feel loved, welcomed, accepted, cared for, etc.? I remember when I was away at college and attempted to find a church. My college was in a very small, rural town so there weren’t many places to choose from. I made my rounds and left each one feeling very ALONE and very uncomfortable. That’s not how people should leave church feeling. I remember praying in the middle of the services that God would give me the grace to even hear him in that place in the midst of my feelings.

    It was moving to hear your heart about the worship time. That you could go “all in” as the saying goes. :) It’s lovely to be lost in the presence of God and to be a vessel that can lavish him with love and adoration that He deserves.

    I’ll be interested to hear how Thursday night goes for you. I was just talking to my friend about the idea of Bible studies. Goff (the author of Love Does) was sharing in one of his chapters how he no longer attends bible studies, but bible doings. :) Basically, he was sharing the importance of intimacy with Jesus and in turn actually following His words. He was explaining how many Christians have turned into “creepers”. Knowing the Word, and things about Jesus (an outsiders perspective essentially) and how we need to interact with HIM. You can know a lot about a person from watching them from afar– the things they like, the team they cheer for, the restaurants they frequent, their alma mater, etc. but knowing a persons heart takes conversing and interaction. And when you talked about unwinding and regrouping– and conversing with God– it was the reminder of the need for that type of intimacy. There’s no doubt that you are a man who has a living relationship.

    From a fellow follower who also knows jack….Thank you.

    • I did indeed feel a sense of love, welcoming, acceptance, and care. There are so many people at the church, but there seems to be a very big emphasis on making newcomers feel at home. Certainly that’s partially due to the evangelistic mission of the church, but I would ask any cynics (besides myself) who are reading this to consider that perhaps the evangelism is not based on a desire to get into heaven, but to welcome others into the light of the Christ. I tend to believe that no love comes from humans, that all of it comes from God, and therefore love is merely our duty, not our inborn nature. When I adopt this attitude, there’s a sense of gratitude for people, not because people are people, but because they are precious creations of God’s. This to me is a huge paradigm shift in the way I have always thought about love. In a way, part of me doesn’t want to give up the idea that people themselves are naturally loving and lovable — and hey, maybe I’m wrong and people really can be an ultimate source of love, rather than just channelers — but if I’m right about the ultimate source of love, then I must learn to derive my appreciation for humans from a top-down angle, rather than a face-to-face angle. When I do that — and combine it with the idea of a personal God — then I can more fully immerse myself in love.

      It follows, then, that if I were to find myself in a church where I am not surrounded by love, then it is my duty, not necessarily my instant gratification, to call on God and ask him to make me an instrument of love. I try to remember that Christians are Christians not because they are well, but because they are sick. It’s my duty, then, to be as Doctor Christ’s support staff — a nurse, if you will.

      All this, of course, is not to speak of my experiences, necessarily — as I am not a perfect nurse, and often I forget to be supportive and instead focus on seeking support from my fellow sick humans. But in theory, when we feel unloved, it would seem the proper response is to channel some of Christ’s love — to help upset the love deficit and bring Christ into the world.

      • You made a valid point. One I have forgotten or overlooked for a long time. All love comes from God, because God is love. And because we are made in His image we get love from Him. (This brings up the topic of our sin nature and how that WAS our default setting, but I believe once we accept His atoning work that He accomplished on the Cross that old nature or old man was crucified there and ALL things are made new) Like traits passed on from a Father to a son/daughter. Or as you stated, we are conduits of His love. Allowing Him to flow through us because every good thing comes from Him. In the end it boils down to just that, no matter how it comes its source is always HIM.

        This Sunday, my dad mentioned this profound thought about forgiveness (and I think you could substitute the concept of love as well)– He was saying how one of the reasons we have a difficult time forgiving people is because we forget how much we were forgiven. Comparatively speaking, my sins against God were much “bigger” than any “sin” man could bring against me. And in the same way, we struggle with loving others because we forget how much we are loved DESPITE our stupidness (is that a word?).

        I would love more, if I grasped how much I was loved. Not that that’s an excuse not to love, but just one more area that I need God to illuminate for me. God, reveal to me the depth, the height, the width, the length of your love and in doing so show me that same love you have directed towards me is also directed to others.

        I loved the picture of the nurse– even more so the idea of “support staff”. I’m here carrying out the will of the Doctor. We are sick indeed and because of it we need to give grace to the other sickie. Another area, where it truly breaks down for me. But good to think about and mull over.

          • I’m so glad I get to be a part of it. That I get to dialogue with you. Learn from you. Learn with you. It’s humbling to be allowed into another person’s life and I try not and take that lightly. It’s a gift. Precious indeed.

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