To the homeless man who complained about our church service, I said, “It sounds like you wanted a Baptist experience.” When he continued his rant, I became more direct: “If you want a Baptist experience, you need to go to a Baptist church.”
I later told my wife, “It’s like he went to a rock concert and was upset they didn’t play country western.” Indeed, he went with expectations formed by his experiences and was disappointed when he didn’t see what he was used to.
We all do this; we look for a church based on our experiences, be it directly or indirectly. When people move they evaluate a new church through the lens of their former church; they search for a new one that’s just like the old one they loved.
Even when people leave a church disillusioned and seek one that’s different, they still expect certain key elements to remain the same. Some people even switch churches for something new and then try to make the new church more like their old one.
Not only do our expectations usually yield disappointment, they often lack biblical support. Consider some of the things people expect at church: a certain music style, an alter call, Sunday school, dressing up or not dressing up, small groups, a three-point sermon or expository message, using the KJV versus some other version, a choir, a children’s message, and so on. None of these are biblical. They may match our experiences, but they don’t conform to what the Bible teaches.
One of the key things I learned from visiting 52 churches was that the best way to experience church was to rid myself of expectation. While it’s impossible to not evaluate a church through the lens of experience, I did need to remove my expectations; I needed to open my mind to new experiences, to see God in new ways, to encounter him afresh.
The next time you’re in church, leave your expectations and experiences at home; open your heart and let God in – using whatever means he wishes.
That’s what I hope to do today.