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Visiting Churches

When Visiting Churches We Must Keep Our Focus on God

For 52 Churches, my wife and I spent one year visiting a different Christian church every week. What we learned was amazing. Still, I knew the journey wasn’t over. We had more to do and visited more churches. I shared these new experiences in More Than 52 Churches.

Consider these three discussion questions as we dig deeper into visiting churches.

Visiting churches wore us down. Visitors to our churches may share a similar perspective. What can we do to help weary visitors experience God and enjoy community?

Each church’s worship practices varied, and their theology diverged, but the God behind them stands constant. How can we keep our focus on God and not on our church service and theology?

A slight majority of the population are introverts who may struggle more in visiting churches. Regardless of where we are on the introvert-extrovert scale, what can we do to personally embrace church visitors?

[Read more or start at the beginning of our journey.]

Get your copy of More Than 52 Churches and The More Than 52 Churches Workbook today, available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover.

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.

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Visiting Churches

Wasn’t 52 Churches Enough?

For 52 Churches, my wife and I spent one year visiting a different Christian church every Sunday. It was an amazing journey that allowed us to experience the vast scope of Jesus’s church.

The experience expanded our faith as we celebrated God in various local branches of his church. Yes, the worship practices varied and theology diverged, but the God behind these churches stood constant. It was good. So good.

We wrapped up the year in awe of God, appreciative of the diversity of his church, and grateful for the impact of the people we met along the way. We also felt relief (though mixed with a degree of sadness) as our journey concluded, and we celebrated a return to our home church on Easter.

In truth, visiting different churches week after week was exhausting. It wore us down. Even though our journey started as a fun adventure, toward the end it took more effort to walk into an unfamiliar church each Sunday with open eyes and fresh enthusiasm.

Yes, we learned so much and met so many amazing people, both leaders and laity, but it was good to reclaim the regular routine of going to our home church every Sunday.

Still, I knew the journey wasn’t over. We had more to do.

Yes, the fifty-two churches we visited were a diverse group. But by design, they were all within ten miles of our house. Expanding our journey will unveil greater diversity, new insights, and more to celebrate. Therefore, we’ll look for more churches to visit, but we can’t—we won’t—do this every Sunday.

Instead, we’ll plan our visits sporadically, as our schedule allows, while maintaining a firm connection with our home church. This time, however, instead of methodically selecting churches based on their distance from our house, we’ll strategically choose them to realize the greatest range of experiences. This will maximize the scope of our journey and magnify our lessons.

But first, I’d like to share a couple of personal notes. As I mentioned in 52 Churches, I’m an introvert—as is slightly more than half the population. Navigating new social settings challenges me. This includes visiting churches.

Even though I never got past my apprehension of walking into a new church each Sunday, it did become easier as the year progressed, since visiting churches became our new Sunday norm.

This time, I expect visiting to not be as easy. Since these church visits will unfold at irregular intervals, my Sunday norm will be going to our home church. Visiting a church will be an anomaly.

Therefore, despite having done so over fifty times, I anticipate walking into these churches to be more difficult, not less. I’ll simply be out of practice and will encounter more—not less—emotionally laden moments.

Also, I want to affirm Candy, my wife and accomplice, for these visits. I couldn’t have asked for more. Having her at my side for each of the first fifty-two churches made a huge difference. Throughout, she was a perfect partner on our journey.

Each week she would contact the church we planned to visit, verifying key details. And each week she went without complaint, offering her full support to me and our adventure. This became our normal Sunday practice for a whole year, and her support was essential.

This time, however, lacking a specific plan and schedule, we’ll need to discuss where we’re going and when. I anticipate some give-and-take that each marriage—each partnership of two people—encounters from time to time.

Nonetheless, I know her support will shine just as brightly this time as last. Having covered this, now I’m ready to start, but before we resume our church visitations, let’s revisit our return to our home church, Church #53. We’ll start with a condensed version of what I shared in 52 Churches.

Get your copy of More Than 52 Churches and The More Than 52 Churches Workbook today, available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover.

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.

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Visiting Churches

Church Improvement Tips

We witnessed more than a few oversights, errors, and blunders that could turn people away. Sadly, many occurred in more than one church. Here are some pointers, some church improvement tips, to consider so you don’t scare away guests.

Consider these four discussion questions: 

1. Realtors stress curb appeal. So should churches. 

What can you do to make the outside of your building inviting? How can you ensure the inside continues the positive experience?

2. Having an online presence is critical to attract new people. Short of a personal invitation, most people won’t visit a church that lacks an inviting online presence. 

What steps can you take to invite people to your church?

3. People attend a church for the service. Make it easy for everyone to participate. 

What can you personally do to help newcomers better understand and take part in your service?

4. To remain viable for the long term, a church needs to look outside themselves. Too many churches have an internal focus. 

What outward-looking initiatives could you pursue?

Consider these church improvement tips and pick one to focus on. Then move to the next one.

[See the prior set of questions, the next post in this series, or start at the beginning.]

Get your copy of 52 Churches and The 52 Churches Workbook today, available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover.

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.

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Visiting Churches

Generalizations from 52 Churches

Stating generalities is risky, but it is a way of processing information. 

Here are two areas to discuss:

1. In our experiences, churches with older congregations and traditional services tended to be friendlier than contemporary services with younger people. 

Does your church match this observation or break from it? What must change?

2. I’m dismayed that we witnessed dogmatic, closed-minded, and exclusive attitudes at some churches

If your church produces division, what can you do to promote unity?

Seek ways to be friendly and promote unity at your church.

[See the prior set of questions or start at the beginning.]

Get your copy of 52 Churches and The 52 Churches Workbook today, available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover.

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.

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Visiting Churches

A Second Perspective on Visiting 52 Churches

My wife went with me to every church we visited. “What an adventure!” she said. “We had the honor of worshipping with friends, old and new.” 

Here are two key considerations to discuss: 

1. The most important thing she learned from this trek was how to—and how not to—make someone feel welcome. 

How can you better reach out to visitors and those you don’t recognize?

2. The church is the body of Christ, not a single congregation or just one denomination. We have a huge spiritual family, with varied practices. 

How should you adjust your understanding of church and Christianity to better embrace its vastness and diversity?

Learn how to make someone feel welcome when the visit your church. Embrace the fact that we are a huge spiritual family, with varied practices.

[See the prior set of questions, the next set, or start at the beginning.]

Get your copy of 52 Churches and The 52 Churches Workbook today, available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover.

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.

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Visiting Churches

Church Format and Size Matters

In general, we found smaller churches offered more opportunity to make connections. We also discovered that most liturgical churches weren’t very friendly.

Consider these two discussion questions about church format and size: 

1. Churches have characteristics that often relate to their size. 

How can you tap the strengths of your church’s size and counter its weaknesses to better connect with others?

2. Regarding church format, the format of a church’s service and the practices of members also impact the likelihood of embracing visitors. 

Given your church’s characteristics in these areas, what changes should you embrace to better welcome guests?

[See the prior set of questions, the next set, or start at the beginning.]

Get your copy of 52 Churches and The 52 Churches Workbook today, available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover.

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.

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Visiting Churches

Greeting Well at Church or Not at All

Too often one person made the difference between us feeling welcomed or ignored, forming our perceptions of the church. Greeting well occurs at three times: before, during, and after the service.

Consider these two discussion questions:

1. The pre-service greeting forms a first impression, while a post-service greeting provides the impression people leave with. 

How can you better engage with visitors before and after your service?

2. With interaction during the service it’s critical to address people you don’t know. Then introduce them to your friends. 

How can you interact with visitors more effectively during the service to help them feel welcomed?

[See the prior set of questions, the next set, or start at the beginning.]

Get your copy of 52 Churches and The 52 Churches Workbook today, available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover.

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.

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Visiting Churches

Reflection Questions on 52 Churches

Our journey of visiting fifty-two churches is over, though the memories will last forever. Here are some of my church reflections from this year-long adventure.

Consider these two discussion questions about our journey of visiting churches:

1. I hope the questions have spurred a lot of great ideas. But without action, great ideas amount to nothing. 

What are the top three things you want to start doing differently?

2. In visiting churches, one person (and it was seldom the minister) often made the difference between us feeling accepted and rejected. This is one of my key church reflections.

How can you make a difference to the people who visit your church? In addition to changes you want to make in your own interactions with visitors, how can you encourage others to follow your example?

[See the prior set of questions, the next set, or start at the beginning.]

Get your copy of 52 Churches and The 52 Churches Workbook today, available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover.

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.

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Bible Insights

Do Our Meetings Do More Harm Than Good?

We Must Examine Our Church Meetings to Make Sure They Are Truly Beneficial

In Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth, he talks about worshiping God and then he talks about celebrating the Lord’s Supper. In between these two topics he slips in a condemning one-liner. He says that their meetings are more likely to cause harm than to do good.

Some Bibles attach a subheading just before this verse that references the Lord’s Supper. However, someone later inserted this information, and it wasn’t part of Paul’s original letter.

Disregarding this added text, leaves us to wonder if this condemning warning is a reference to worship or to the Lord’s Supper. It might apply to both.

Therefore, we should consider both our worship services and our communion practices. Do they do harm or do good?

Do Our Worship Services Cause Harm or Do Good?

Have you ever left a church service feeling empty, spiritually drained, or emotionally beat up? This could be the result of the Holy Spirit at work in your life, but it may be more likely that the church service itself caused you harm.

I’ve been to services like this.

Sometimes they are void of spiritual significance. They may have provided an entertaining concert or a saccharine lecture full of humorous one-liners or tweetable sound bites, but was God at work? Do we leave feeling rested and refreshed or bruised and broken?

Some church services mistake loud worship music for Holy Spirit power. I’m not against loud music. I grew up on rock and roll. Some music needs to be listened to loudly to appreciate it. But when the volume level detracts from our worship experience, something is wrong.

Despite having been to church services with music that was too loud, and painfully so, it’s never produced a headache in me. However, the volume level of some pulpit-pounding preachers has given me a headache, their content notwithstanding.

Other services come across as self-congratulatory, not celebrating what God has done but boasting about the accomplishments of the church and its leaders. And still other services have agendas that have little to do with God and much to do about some human objective.

And don’t get me started on pleas for money, with an offering or two; an altar call that drags on, even though no one responds, and everyone is bored; or announcements that take up time but offer no meaning.

What about long prayers that aren’t talking with God as much as trying to impress the congregation?

Some church services have sucked the life out of me. They have done more harm than good. My soul would have been better off had I stayed home.

Does How We Take the Lord’s Supper Cause Harm or Do Good?

Often, taking communion is part of a church service. The frequency may vary anywhere from weekly, to monthly, to quarterly. These are usually solemn affairs, steeped with reverence and ritual. There’s nothing wrong with this, but shouldn’t the Lord’s Supper be a celebration?

What is the purpose of the Lord’s Supper? It’s something we do out of obedience to remember what Jesus did for us. Yes, he died. But more importantly, he overcame death by rising from the grave. His victory can be our victory, and it’s worthy of a party.

Each Sunday when I go to church, may my involvement do good and not cause harm. Click To Tweet

When I take communion at church I try to focus on the why, but I often struggle. The process distracts me, especially if I’m visiting a church.

I become so focused on how that church practices communion and not embarrassing myself should I deviate from their tradition, that I often forget that Jesus is the reason we’re doing it in the first place.

Though I have expectations that celebrating the Lord’s Supper will produce a highly spiritual experience for me, I’m often disappointed. At most churches, most of the time, communion causes me more harm than good.

It’s not until I go home, that I can shake the negativity from my soul and rightly reorient my focus on God.

Make Our Meetings Do Good

Despite these many concerns, I still go to one of today’s church services every Sunday. I still partake in communion every chance I get. Some meetings are good, and I appreciate them.

Though I’m not currently in a leadership position at church and can’t influence the overall structure of the service, I can do my part to help make them be good and not cause harm.

This is through each interaction I have with people before the service, after the service, and to a lesser extent even during the service. I can offer encouragement. I can pray for them. I can listen to them. Sometimes merely acknowledging someone’s presence, produces a smile that the service failed to do.

Each Sunday when I go to church, may my involvement do good and not cause harm.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is 1 Corinthians 11-13, and today’s post is on 1 Corinthians 11:17.]

Read more in Peter’s book, Love is Patient (book 7 in the Dear Theophilus series).

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.

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Visiting Churches

Key Questions from Churches 45 through 53

To wrap up our adventure, we picked churches to provide the most varied experiences. For this phase my thoughts center on church size, coupled with my desire for community with other believers.

We’ve completed the final phase of our adventure. Even though most of these churches in this group are medium to large in size, consider these two discussion questions that address smaller churches: 

1. Community is easier at smaller churches, yet I don’t go to one. Curious. 

Regardless of the size of your church, how can you better connect people in community?

2. Smaller churches are usually older congregations. They often have traditional services, don’t embrace newer methods, and are mostly composed of aging parishioners. I’m not against older people, but I am against complacency. 

How can you guard against complacency?

[See the prior set of questions, the prior post, or start at the beginning.]

Get your copy of 52 Churches and The 52 Churches Workbook today, available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover.

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.

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