New Approaches for an Old Denomination
It’s a holiday weekend. Our son and daughter-in-law are out of town, so we’re free agents. A return trip to the Megachurch is in order, but our daughter invites us to go to a church she and her husband have visited the past couple of weeks. A friend from college invited her.
The Megachurch can wait.
This church, part of an old traditional denomination, has two services: 9:15 and 11:00. We’ll go to the first one. I check their website and am encouraged to read the bold proclamation: “Making passionate followers of Jesus.” This must be their vision.
Their mission statement likewise impresses me, using the phrases “community of faith,” “renewed by the Holy Spirit,” “transformation of lives and community,” and “for God’s glory.”
Besides typical church components such as student ministries and community service opportunities, they also offer Alpha classes and small groups.
What’s unusual is they have a recovery program for people struggling with life issues. From what I see online, this is a big emphasis of this church.
I learn that the church is 7.2 miles away and the drive will take eleven minutes. We plan to leave twenty-five minutes early, but it ends up being more like fifteen. As I drive, my wife, Candy, prays for our time there.
Along the way, we pass several churches. As we wonder about them, the names become jumbled, and we forget the name of where we’re headed. I should have written it down, along with the address.
All I remember is the cross streets it’s near. I hope there’s only one church at that intersection.
But we find the church easily enough.
Larger Than Expected
The facility is much larger than I expect. As we head toward the entrance, our daughter texts us they’re running late.
A young couple notices us, and the wife greets us. It’s our daughter’s friend from college. I’ve only seen her twice, with the last time being about three years ago, but she recognizes us right away.
We chat as we stroll into the building. They invite us to sit with them—if we’d like. We appreciate this friendly gesture and gladly accept, as they find seats for us and two more for the rest of our family.
I estimate the sanctuary—which is a newer building with a trendy minimalist church design—seats four to five hundred. It’s over half full, which isn’t bad for a Labor Day weekend.
The service starts a few minutes late, but not before our kids arrive and slide in next to Candy. Soon the worship team—consisting of guitars, drums, and keyboard—plays an instrumental piece to signal that the service is about to begin.
Their style is smartly contemporary, without being edgy. I assume Candy will appreciate their professional sound, while I’d prefer a bit more edge. We stand to sing for the opening set.
Afterward is a series of announcements, previewing the fall kickoff of various programs and reviewing the upcoming schedule.
With all age groups present, we learn the average age at the church is twenty-seven. However, this isn’t a church dominated by millennials, but more so one with a slew of kids and their Gen X parents.
They have a typical time for greeting. Though the people are nice as we shake hands, it’s cursory, consisting of pleasant smiles and lacking connection. Aside from our family and hosts, this is the only time all morning we interact with anyone else.
A clipboard moves down the row for us to leave our contact information. Candy enters our data, and I pass it to our friends.
An Outlier Church for Their Denomination
For this denomination, this one is quite progressive, an outlier congregation. But based on my overall church experiences it’s more middle-of-the-road. It’s certainly not traditional, but it still retains hints of traditional elements.
Today is the final message of the sermon series, “Letters to the Angels,” taken from Revelation 2 and 3. But before that, we’re treated to a skit, a takeoff on Jimmy Fallon’s thank-you notes routine, performed by their worship leader.
It’s done well, with relevant church humor, such as “Thank you, small group leaders, for doing work the staff doesn’t want to do” and “Thank you, church volunteers, for essentially being unpaid employees.”
In handing the service to the minister, the worship leader jokes that he’s thankful for only working one day a week.
The Church in Laodicea
The seventh letter, written to the angel of the church in Laodicea, is in Revelation 3:14–22. Whenever I’ve studied this passage, I’ve focused on the church being lukewarm and God’s rejection of them as a result.
Though the minister addresses this, his focus is on their smug self-complacency, which is also a pervasive issue in society today. We, like the church in Laodicea, need to “repent of being in control.”
Their problem—as with today’s culture, says the pastor—is their greed. “It’s not all about me,” he quips, decrying their self-focus. To their shame, they act as they do, relying on God’s grace to get them into heaven.
“He who has ears,” concludes the pastor, as he quotes from the text, “let him hear.”
When the service ends, most people head out, but we linger to talk with our family and friends. Though I thought the service was well attended, they say it was far below normal. I wonder about attendance at the second service.
I notice a Celtic cross on the side of the sanctuary and ask about its significance, but no one knows. As I recall, the circle that surrounds the intersection of the cross’s two arms represents unity or eternity, two concepts I embrace: unity while on earth, followed by eternity in heaven.
Later, I talk with my son-in-law about the church. He likes it but wants something more contemporary, more like the church we went to before we moved. I agree with him and then wonder aloud if this might be the closest we’ll find in this more traditional area.
Based on my experiences with this denomination, they’re contemporary compared to others in their denomination, an outlier. But they fall short of that compared to other churches.
The next day we talk about our experience when our son and daughter-in-law return home. They visited this church once and liked it but aren’t sure why they never went back.
When I say, “No one else talked to us,” they recall the same experience.
I tell Candy I could see myself going back.
She doesn’t. “I have no interest in returning.”
“We’ll see,” I say. “This may be the closest match we’ll find in the area.”
She snorts. “I sure hope not.”
Invite visitors to sit with you. And if you see someone you don’t know, reach out to them. You might be the only person to talk to them.
Read the full story in Peter DeHaan’s new book Shopping for Church.
This book picks up the mantle from 52 Churches, our year-long sabbatical of visiting churches.
Here’s what happens:
My wife and I move. Now we need to find a new church. It’s not as easy as it sounds. She wants two things; I seek three others.
But this time the stakes are higher. I’ll write about the churches we visit, and my wife will pick which one we’ll call home. It sounds simple. What could possibly go wrong?
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.