Category Archives: 52 Churches

How to Find a New Church

When It Comes Time to Change Churches, Attitude Is Everything

Last week we talked about when not to change churches, instead of looking to find a new church. Too often people treat their church as a commodity and behave as a consumer, switching their loyalty over trivial things. Most of the time, however, the best action is to view your church as a marriage and try to make things work. Seldom should you divorce your church and seek a new one.8 tips to find a new church.

Even so, sometimes we need to find a new church home. Maybe we just moved, or our church closed. Perhaps we do it for the sake of our kids, seeking a church community to encourage them in their faith and support our efforts at home. And sometimes newlyweds decide it’s best to not subject one of them to the other’s home church but to find a new one where they can start their life together with a new church family.

If you find yourself in a situation to change churches, here are some tips to do it wisely and enjoy the best outcome. In doing research for my book 52 Churches and subsequent works, my wife and I visited over a hundred churches. In doing so we learn how to visit churches, both the right things to do and the wrong things.

But before you go church shopping, first ask, “Is changing churches necessary?” If the answer is, “Yes,” then take these steps:

Research Options Online

Look online to learn about the church before you visit. When considering church websites and social media pages, be aware that some are more like dating profiles, showing you what they want you to see, obscuring reality, and ignoring faults. Others are more realistic.

Look for what to expect and how to get the most from your experience there. Note their location and service times. Sometimes it’s worth double-checking this information, as more than once a church’s website gave us wrong information. Then schedule a time for your visit.

But what if the church isn’t online? If a church today doesn’t have an online presence, it’s unlikely they’ll be around tomorrow. Save yourself the grief, and skip them.

Pray Before Hand

In visiting fifty-two churches, my wife and I prayed as we drove to each one. And once we finished visiting churches, we continued this practice each Sunday. These prayers often vary, sometimes focused on our own struggles and other times on our desire to learn what God would have us to learn. Often, we pray we’ll have a positive impact on others, and sometimes we ask for an openness to receive what others would give to us. More than once I’ve had to pray for my attitude. But the key is to pray, and let the Holy Spirit guide those prayers. Prayer makes all the difference.

Look for the Positive and Expect Good Things to Happen

If you visit a church looking for what’s negative, you’ll find it. If you seek things to criticize, you’ll uncover plenty. The key is to arrive with God-honoring expectation. Every church has something positive to offer, just as every church has its struggles. No church, just as no person, is perfect. Look for the good and celebrate it.

Arrive Early and Be Prepared to Stay Afterwards

It’s hard to connect with people at church during the service. And even those churches that allow for connection time as part of their service, often fail to do it well. Instead, plan to arrive early so you can interact with people before the service begins. And don’t schedule anything afterward, so you can stay as long as you want without the pressure of time. Sometimes my wife and I would hang out for five or ten minutes after the service and leave because we weren’t able to talk with anyone. But other times we’d be there for an hour or two after the final “Amen,” enjoying rich Christian community. Often this involves food, which is in added benefit.

Finding Christian community is the main reason we should not give up meeting together (Hebrews 10:25), which most people think means going to church. If you can connect with the church community, it makes all the difference.

Adapt to Their Practices

Visiting a church is like visiting someone’s home. You want to respect their practices. This means if you’re a raise-your-hands or jump-up-and-down type of person, but the church isn’t, follow their practice. Don’t stand out in a bad way. This distracts from your experience, as well as their worship. However, if their style is more exuberant than you’re comfortable with; feel free to be yourself.

Look for Ways to Contribute

Whether you’re visiting once, making a follow-up appearance, or attending as a regular, look for ways to give back to the church. This might mean offering encouragement, looking to pray for people (either out loud or silently), or being a positive influence anyway you can. Though my wife and I didn’t contribute monetarily to the churches we visited, you may feel differently. In which case you can also give financially.

Make Repeat Visits

Visiting a church once makes an initial first impression. This may be accurate, but it might not. One church encouraged us to come back twelve times before deciding. Of course, they knew anyone who came back that often, would form a habit and stick around after the three months was over.

I’m not sure if you need to visit twelve times, but certainly more than once is needed. When my wife and I moved, we faced finding a new church home. For those churches that we revisited, our first experience often differed from our second. Sometimes it was better, and other times it was lacking. Regardless, one visit isn’t enough.

Get Involved

As we talked about in “3 Keys to Successful Church Involvement,” it’s important to push aside a passive perspective when visiting a church. This means avoiding notions of consuming, attending, and criticizing—which are all too common at most churches.

Instead the goal is to be engaged on Sunday morning. This requires that we be active, adopting three alternate perspectives: we need to give instead of consume, we need to be active not an attendee, and we must be a disciple and not a critic. This simple change in attitude will alter everything we experience at church. If you find yourself needing to switch churches, follow these tips to get the most from the experience and home in on your new church community. Click To Tweet

If you find yourself needing to switch churches, follow these tips to get the most from the experience and home in on your new church community.

When Not to Change Churches

When We Go Church Shopping We Behave as Consumers and Don’t Honor God

In today’s practice of retail religion, we pursue faith has a consumer and miss the purpose of church. We’re quick to change churches over the smallest of issues. Yet, usually the best action to take is no action: Don’t change churches. Often we should stay where we are and not go church shopping.Don't change churches. Think twice before changing churches.

Yes, there’s a right time and a wrong time to change churches. We need to discern between the two and act accordingly. Here are some reasons not to change churches.

Don’t Change Churches If You’re Angry

Did your church do something to hurt you? Are you angry over something that someone did or said? Though the impulse to change churches is understandable, this is the wrong time to do it. Don’t leave mad because you’ll hurt others in the process. And don’t leave hurt, because you’ll carry baggage to your new church. Instead, seek reconciliation with your church and its people. Then you can switch with a clear conscience, but if you patch things up, why not stick around?

Don’t Change Churches If You’re Not Being Fed

It sounds spiritual to say you’re switching churches because you’re “just not being fed.” This sounds virtuous, but it’s really a sign of laziness. It’s not church’s job to feed us spiritually. This is the wrong expectation. Yes, church aids in spiritual growth, but they shouldn’t be the primary provider of our faith nourishment.

Spiritual growth is our responsibility. We need to feed ourselves and not expect a minister to do our job for us. Changing churches so we can be fed only masks the real problem.

Don’t Change Churches If You’re Not Getting Anything Out of It

In today’s culture, too many people view church participation as a transaction. They put in their time expecting something in return. They donate their money and look for a return on their investment. This, however, reduces church to a commodity that we shop for. This is the epitome of retail religion, and it misses the point.

The truth is, we only get out of church what we put into it. So, if you’re not getting anything out of church, the problem falls on you and not church.

Don’t Change Churches If You Fear Heresy

Another spiritually-sounding complaint about church is heresy. Yet disagreement over theology is why we have 43,000 denominations in our world today and not the one, unified church that Jesus prayed for. When we charge our minister with heresy, the implication is that we know what is correct and they don’t. We need to embrace the possibility that we might be wrong.

Instead, we squabble over things that don’t matter and leave the church. What does matter? Jesus. Everything else is secondary. We need to acknowledge that we can have differences of opinion over matters of faith and still get along.

Don’t Change Churches If You Don’t Like the Music or the Message

Another side effect of retail religion is changing churches because we don’t like the worship service or the sermon. Again, this is consumerism infiltrating church.

All music can praise and worship God. Just because we don’t like the tone or tempo—or volume—it isn’t worth changing churches. Instead, seek to worship God regardless of the musical style or the performers’ ability. Remember, we’re not there as consumers seeking entertainment; we’re there as followers of Jesus to worship God in spirit and truth (John 4:24).

The same applies to the message. Yes, some speakers are gifted, and others aren’t; some presenters are entertaining, and others are boring. But every message has something we can learn from it, if we’re willing to listen and look for it.

Don’t Change Churches If You Have No Friends

If your church lacks community or you have no friends there, who’s fault is that? Yes, some people are easier to connect with then others, but that’s no excuse to give up. In fact, the problem might be in us. If we have no friends at church it might be because we’re not approachable or don’t make ourselves available. The best time to make friends at church is before the service starts and after it ends, but too many people miss these opportunities by arriving at the last moment and leaving as soon as possible. If you have no friends at church, seek to change that. There are many reasons to change churches, but most of these are selfish, shortsighted, and reflect a consumer is a mindset that displeases God and serves to divide his church. Click To Tweet

There are many reasons to change churches, but most of these are selfish, shortsighted, and reflect a consumer mindset. This displeases God and serves to divide his church. If you don’t like your church, the better approach is to stick around and be a catalyst for change. Seek to make the church where you’re at become a better one and don’t take your problems someplace else.

Do We Need to Listen to a Lecture Each Sunday at Church?

Can you have a church service without hearing a preacher speak? Will you try?

Do We Need to Listen to a Lecture Each Sunday at Church?My wife and I recently visited a church. Though we didn’t know it before we walked in, their service would be different that week. There was no sermon. They used the normal sermon time to talk about the missionaries their church supported. They explained each missionary’s focus and updated us on their status. They shared the joys and concerns of their missionaries. People on the mission’s committee prayed. Then the service ended. The lead pastor didn’t say a word.

Several people apologized for there being no sermon and invited us back to hear their minister speak.

I shook my head. “Don’t apologize. This was better than a sermon.”

But they didn’t get it.

From my perspective it was a profound, meaningful service. We need more like this.

As I understand it, the Reformation removed the communion table (The Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion, the Eucharist) as the focus of the Sunday service and replaced it with the sermon. I get why they did it, but it was a mistake – a grave one.

Frankly I see more biblical support for celebrating communion every Sunday than I do for giving a lecture (that is, delivering a sermon) as part of our Sunday meetings. Though the New Testament does talk about giving messages to local congregations, I think it is always a traveling missionary who speaks on his way through town. I don’t recall an instance in the New Testament where a local pastor (an elder) gives a talk every Sunday. And I can’t remember any commands to preach a sermon to the believers during each weekly meeting.Most people expect to listen to a sermon each Sunday as they sit in their pew. They are wrong. Click To Tweet

Yet we view sermons today with the conviction that it must happen. We select ministers for their public speaking ability. And we expect to listen to a lecture each Sunday as we sit passively in our pews. Most people feel cheated if they go to church and don’t hear a sermon. (Never mind that few can remember it by the time they reach home.)

This fixation on the sermon is wrong.

Though instruction has its place, teaching doesn’t facilitate community. It doesn’t allow us to minister to one another (as we should), and it doesn’t serve the world around us (as we ought). While listening to an overly educated person detail the minutia of scripture every week may have intellectual appeal, it does little in a practical sense to deepen our community and advance our faith in action.

Let us dare to envision a church service without a sermon. Let us reimagine our weekly gatherings as a place to foster spiritual community and promote the love of Jesus to those outside the church.

It starts when we kill the sermon. Will you dare to do it?

How would you react if you went to church and there was no sermon? Can you think of a New Testament passage that talks about a local minister preaching a sermon every week?

Are Visitors Welcome at Your Church?

For the past several months, a roadside sign at a church proclaims “Visitors Welcome.” This amuses me. Isn’t that assumed? Doesn’t every church want to grow? I’ve never been to a church that had a “no visitors” policy. Why does this church need to advertise their desire for visitors?

My first thought is that their sign is a poor attempt at marketing. My second is that they may be trying to overcome a negative reputation. Another idea is that they want people to notice their church because the building is set off the road a bit.

Other churches have signs that talk about how friendly they are. They should let their actions speak for them. If they feel a need to claim that they’re friendly, they probably aren’t. Friends once visited a church that maintained, “You will never find a friendlier church.” They didn’t go back. Marketers know not to make such statements; it’s called an “unsubstantiated claim.” I call it lying.

Are Visitors Welcome at Your Church?To all these churches: Stop talking about how welcoming and friendly you are. Start acting like it. In doing research for my books, my wife and I visited over eighty churches. None of them said, “You’re not welcome here,” but too many acted that way.

We’ve been to churches where no one talked to us, no one greeted us at the door, no one even smiled or nodded. It’s as if we didn’t exist; we were invisible. Other places had only one or two welcoming folks out of hundreds, but sometimes one nice person is enough to make a difference.

Other churches excelled in their welcome. They greeted us before the service, affirmed us during it, and embraced us afterwards. Sometimes we stuck around for an hour or more after its conclusion because they were such gracious folks who received us so well.

Church is about community. If it wasn’t, we could stay home and worship God in our recliner. Great churches provide a welcoming, friendly atmosphere. They are winsome and inviting. Visitors are welcome – and the church’s actions remove the need to talk about it.

Are visitors truly welcomed at your church? What can you do to make your church more friendly?

Can You Be Evangelical and Charismatic?

My wife and I recently visited a church near our home. Their website said they were a charismatic church. This would make them a refreshing anomaly in an area filled with mainline churches and a sprinkling of evangelical ones. I anticipated what we would find.

Can You Be Evangelical and Charismatic?However, when we arrived, I was dismayed to read their bulletin, which proclaimed them as an evangelical church. Which was right, their online presence or their printed material? Were they charismatic or evangelical? Soon I would find out.

As the service unfolded, they were clearly evangelical. Though their worship was a bit more exuberant than typical for fundamental churches, there were no indications of the Holy Spirit’s presence or of the supernatural. Despite what their website claimed, their bulletin was correct. By their actions and their worship, they were, without a doubt, an evangelical congregation.

Having anticipated a charismatic experience, I was disappointed. Still I enjoyed my time there and lobbied for a return trip, but my wife felt that once was enough.

My wife was unaware of the inconsistency between their website and bulletin. When I shared my frustration over the mixed message, she shook her head in confusion. “Can’t they be both evangelical and charismatic?”

“Of course they can,” I answered, “but few churches are. They tend to be one or the other but not both.” (A third option is mainline/liberal.) She disagreed with me, but I’m having trouble thinking of an example. However, assuming they embrace the good parts of both perspectives, I’d love to find such a place. I’d feel right at home.

What do you think? Can a church be evangelical and charismatic? Can a person be both?

An Epic Fail in Church Promotion

Easter this year was a few weeks ago, on April 5. A week and a half later, on April 15, I received a postcard inviting me to attend a church’s Easter service. Aside from arriving too late to do any good, the church wasn’t even nearby; it was an hour’s drive away. What were they thinking? Obviously they weren’t. The problems didn’t stop there. The postcard gave the address of one location and a map to another, which aren’t even close to one another. Where do they meet, anyway?

The postcard also included social media info for Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Each one was for their parent church in California, with no reference to this (nearly) local congregation they wanted me to visit at an indeterminate location ten days too late. Only HQ’s website made any mention of the church in question, but it was minimal. To further frustrate matters, they provided no phone number or email address. Their epic marketing fail still confounds me.

Too, often, this is how we invite people to church: haphazardly and without thinking things through.

What we need to do is make our invitation timely, personal, and relevant. What could be easier? Go out and try it.

[I wanted to visit this church for 52 Churches, but they moved before I could. Now I don’t care.]

What’s Next for 52 Churches?

Our journey of visiting 52 Churches in a year is over. I shared my recap and my reflections on our pilgrimage. It was a great experience.

What’s next?

Quite a bit, actually. 52 Churches is now a book, seeking publication.

I only posted a fraction of what is in the book. Plus the book includes my summary and conclusions. If you want me to notify you when it is available, just email me.

But who says we need to stop at fifty-two? In the months since Church #52,a couple dozen and counting—continuing to explore how the various branches of Jesus’ church worship and serve him. Look for more posts about more churches in the future, perhaps one a month.

In many ways, 52 Churches isn’t over; it’s just beginning.

Reflecting on Church #52: Misrepresented Services

With our journey of visiting fifty-two churches over, I can reflect more on the complete experience. Today, I’ll add to my thoughts about Church #52.

This church offers two services. They call the first one blended, combining traditional and contemporary elements, whereas the second one is promoted as contemporary. Both are mislabeled.

Church #4 successfully combined traditional and contemporary elements into their service. Though this church makes the same claim for their first service, it comes off more as a traditional service with a contemporary element awkwardly tacked on the end. For me it was too little, too late.

I also found their second service mislabeled. It was less contemporary and more so “safe.” A friend who attends this church flinched at my description of safe. She also knew I was right. I suspect what we saw was not so much an effort to provide a contemporary service, but an effort to connect with unchurched visitors while not offending members clinging to the past.

To be correct, they need to either relabel their two services – calling the first one traditional and the second one blended, would be more accurate – or they need to do a major overhaul of each. Change is in order, with the first option likely appeasing members, whereas the second option would be more effective at connecting with the unchurched.

[See my reflections about Church #51 or start at the beginning of our journey.]

Reflecting on Church #51: Come Back Twelve Times and See How Your Faith Grows

With our journey of visiting fifty-two churches over, I can reflect more on the complete experience. Today, I’ll add to my thoughts about Church #51.

This mega church does so many things right. Though I don’t want to go to a large church, this one really draws me. Of all the churches we’ve visited, this one appeals to me far more than any other. If I were searching for a new church to attend, I’d give this one serious consideration.

This church also has a Sunday evening meeting, which allows for more intentional connections, as well as small groups. These two options offer to counteract my reluctance to go to a large church.

However, I won’t come back twelve times to see how my faith grows, as our tour guide suggested. If I did, I’m sure I’d just keep coming, having formed a comfortable habit after three months.

This would be an easy church for me to slide into. I’d feel comfortable, and surely my faith would grow. But I know that with so many people who attend this church it would be hard to consistently see the same people each week. That would make it hard to form friendships.

[See my reflections about Church #50 and Church #52 or start with Church #1.]

Reflecting on Church #50: Best in Class

With our journey of visiting fifty-two churches over, I can reflect more on the complete experience. Today, I’ll add to my thoughts about Church #50.

This church holds five services each weekend, and we attended the first one. I was disappointed over the lack of college students present, despite its proximity to campus. I doubt many students would attend the two Sunday morning services either, but I wonder about the two Sunday evening ones. I suspect a different demographic shows up then. Maybe I’ll make a return visit but on a Sunday evening, hoping to meet some college students. Would those services be different or are all five the same?

Of the three Roman Catholic churches we attended, this one interests me the most. The people were more friendly, the structure less formal, and the message more accessible than my other two experiences. Even so, they still have a way to go to match some of the more engaging Protestant churches we’ve attended.

If I wanted a Catholic experience, this would be my go-to church. Yet I also know a steady diet of it wouldn’t be good for me. It’s a nice place to visit, but finding true community there would be a challenge.

[See my reflections about Church #49 and Church #51 or start at the beginning of our journey.]