How to Go to Church
When going to church—whether as a visitor or a regular attendee—there are three keys to having a successful, meaningful, and spirit-filled experience. These are attitude, prayer, and expectation.
Without addressing these critical elements, many church services will fall short of expectations. Following these three essential steps, however, can make most any church experience—despite its shortcomings—positive, even beneficial, and, dare I say, memorable.
Yes, it is true. In visiting all these churches, I’ve experienced both positive and negative outcomes. And most of these outcomes hinged on attitude, prayer, and expectation.
1. Attitude Is Everything
If we go to church with a bad attitude, we shouldn’t expect to enjoy our time there. It’s foolish to assume a positive outcome from church if we go there with a surly disposition.
When we approach church with positive anticipation of what will occur, our attention will focus on the positive elements of the service and give us the ability to extend grace to the negative aspects. Our attention will celebrate the noteworthy and give us the ability to overlook the not-so-great.
And remember, every church, congregation, and service will possess both positive and negative elements. No church is perfect in every way, just as no church is completely flawed. Our attitude determines which of those two aspects we focus on.
I approached most all the churches we visited with a positive perspective. Most of the time this came naturally. A few times, however, I needed to work on adjusting my attitude. Seeking a positive attitude means my overall approach to the church was positive. Even so, that doesn’t mean I noted only positive elements. In visiting churches, I sought to share both positive and negative, celebrating the good that I witnessed and attempting to learn from the not-so-good that I encountered.
This is the reason I opted not to visit Church #69 (“Suffering from a Bad Rap”). From what people told me about their experience with this church and how the people who went there treated them, I formed a highly negative impression. Based completely on this secondhand information, I developed a bad attitude about this church and suspected my experience would confirm what I anticipated.
Since I had such a bad perspective, I saw no point in visiting them until I could turn my mindset from negative to positive. I tried unsuccessfully for a couple of years to adjust my attitude, but I never could. Therefore, I felt a visit would unfold as a futile encounter and produce no valuable insight or significant spiritual interaction.
I now realize—albeit too late—that I never prayed about this. I never sought the Holy Spirit’s intervention to correct my flagging attitude. Through prayer, I’m quite confident God would have turned my attitude around. Unfortunately, I didn’t think to seek him in this.
This brings us to the next point: prayer.
2. Prayer Is Essential
When Candy and I embarked on our 52 Churches adventure, we committed ourselves to a pre-church prayer each week. Initially this was before we left our house, but later it occurred during our drive to church. Our intent was to seek God’s blessing for our time with that church and to request a positive outcome. We only forgot to do this a couple of times, with our lack of prayer serving to diminish what we encountered at those churches.
So significant were the benefits of our pre-church prayer that we continued this practice when we weren’t visiting a new church but instead were attending our home church. Most of the time I would pray, and Candy would add her addendum as she felt led. Other times I asked her to pray.
After a few weeks, I realized our pre-church prayer could easily slip into a rut, with us repeating the same phrases week after week. To avoid falling into a vain repetition (see Matthew 6:7 in the KJV), I would seek Holy Spirit insight on what specific things to pray for during our drive to church each Sunday.
As a way of example, and not to imply something for you to copy, here are parts of some of our pre-church prayers:
- “Thank you, God, for the opportunity to go to church today. Please teach us what you would have us learn.”
- “Papa, at church today may we receive what you want us to receive and give to others what you want us to give.”
- “May we worship you today in spirit and truth” (see John 4:23–24).
- “Holy Spirit, direct us to divine encounters with the people at this church so that we may encourage them, and they may encourage us, as needed.”
- “Please give us positive attitudes so that we may see what you want us to see.” (I prayed this prayer a few times, but Candy clarified that she already had a good attitude. It was mine that needed adjustment. She was right.)
- “We thank you, Jesus, for who you are and what you’ve done for us. May we celebrate you today at church.”
- “God, please speak to us through the sermon today.”
As we returned to our home church, these types of prayers continued, though some new ones were a bit more pointed, as in:
- “Please direct us, Holy Spirit, to someone to minister to today at church.”
- “May you give us opportunities to pray for others before and after the church service.”
- “Father, today at church, may we see others through your eyes and encourage them in Jesus’s name.”
Use these examples to form your own pre-church prayers. But regardless of the words you say, know that prayer is essential when you head off to church. These prayers don’t need to be fancy, but they should be heartfelt and Holy Spirit driven.
Prayer establishes the groundwork for what happens next.
3. Expectations Form Experience
The foundation formed by prayer prepares us for the church service. It serves to shape our expectations, which will drive our experience. Most of the time, positive expectations result in positive outcomes, while negative expectations prompt negative results.
With prayer establishing the basis to move forward, we should easily slide into a mindset of positive expectation. This is how we put our faith into action. We say our pre-church prayer in faith, and we prove it from the actions that spring forth from our expectations.
When we expect great things to happen at church, we will see the positive most every time. If we expect disappointment, we will surely encounter it.
As I said before, we will never experience a 100 percent perfect service, nor will we ever experience a 100 percent horrible one. Church experiences exist on a continuum from good to bad, positive to negative. And yet, when we walk in with positive expectations, our experience will skew toward the positive.
For most Sundays, our pre-church prayer did exactly that. Yet, on a few occasions, I needed to breathe a booster prayer as we pulled into the church parking lot, walked through the doors, or encountered some initial disappointment. These prayers sometimes came forth as little more than a groan, but God granted my plea every time.
How to Go to Church Summary
Whether visiting a new church or attending our home church, we should follow a wise strategy, remembering that attitude is everything, prayer is essential, and expectations form experience.
May we receive God’s blessing when we go to church, and while we’re there, may we be a blessing to others.
May it be so.
Go to church with the right attitude, covered with prayer, and with high expectations.
[This is an excerpt from Peter’s book More Than 52 Churches.]
Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.