For the past 19 weeks my bride and I have been visiting different churches to expand our understanding of how others worship and understand God. We call this initiative “52 Churches” and I blog about the experience each Monday morning.
However, friends frequently ask for more: “What are you learning,” “Is your journey changing,” or “Have you found any churches you want to revisit?” The short answers are 1) we’re learning a great deal, 2) the vision for our sojourn is unchanged, and 3) there are several churches we’d like to revisit.
A key realization at this point is that it’s not about the teaching or the music; it’s about the community.
We’ve heard messages from gifted speakers and not so gifted. We’ve been taught by the formally trained and the self-trained. We’ve been presented with deep thoughts and entertaining anecdotes. In all cases we’ve received a worthwhile word from God. I suspect as long as we’re open to hear and expectantly pray for that to happen, it will.
Similarly, we’ve sung traditional hymns, contemporary songs, and modern praise choruses. We’ve been led by accomplished vocalists and struggling crooners. There have been worship bands, pipe organs and pianos, accompaniment tracks, and even a capella. In all cases, as long as we’re willing to focus on the words, God is there.
Message and music, I’m sad to report, are not important.
The big variable is community. Community is that time of interaction with others (aside from that awkward official greeting time). This is when connections are made and God is shared. God seems more present in these informal interactions before and after the service, than in the planned and carefully prepped moments during the service.
In a few churches there is no community. People come, people sit, and people leave, with nary a word exchanged.
Fortunately, most churches have community and some excel at it. These are the churches I want to return to; these are the experiences that excite me; these are the moments when God is most powerfully present.
Community is church at its best.