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Visiting Churches

The Postcard Church

The Allure of Something Fresh

After a year or so of attending The Nonconventional Church, we receive a series of captivating postcards about a new church that will soon launch in our community. I soon call them the Postcard Church.

I’m intrigued and want to learn more. My wife doesn’t.

Shopping for Church: Searching for Christian Community, a Memoir

Though they’re part of a denomination, I’m willing to overlook that fact if they deliver what they promise. But their denominational affiliation is a sticking point for Candy. I get that.

So, we continue to attend The Nonconventional Church. I like everything about it and what they do—except for their music and their message. Neither draws me. Yet the allure of post-service community calls me.

I especially like the monthly potluck. I most anticipate sharing a meal with other believers and sharing life with them around the table. It’s the highlight of my month. Seriously.

Yet the food prep falls to my bride, and she wearies of it, which I comprehend. When she complains, I offer to handle it, but we both know that’s a bad idea. It’s her kitchen, and I need to stay out of it when she’s around.

Though I ably make meals when she isn’t present, the outcome is never good if she’s there to watch what I do. And the only time I could prepare for our Sunday potluck is when she’s home.

So, she continues to handle it, but it becomes a growing point of contention. The part I like best about our church is the part she likes the least.

Change in Plans

One week our daughter-in-law says she wants to visit The Postcard Church. She invites us to go with them. I know how hard it is to visit a new church, and I sense she’s looking for some support on their first visit.

With the pressures of work, life, and a growing family, their church attendance has become sporadic. Though they call The Rural Church their church home, they seldom go anymore. I think it’s been months.

The Postcard Church is in our community, meeting in the local middle school. Based entirely on their marketing materials, I’m excited to see what we’ll encounter.

Our daughter-in-law’s invitation is an excuse to visit this church and an opportunity for us to encourage our kids to plug back into a faith community. We gladly take a one-week break from our church to help our kids find a spiritual place where they can belong.

Interestingly, The Postcard Church is a site plant of the parent church behind The Multisite Church. This is another location.

This is also the church that approached The Traditional Denominational Church seeking to work with them to expand their outreach to the community. In the end, that church turned them down, opting to continue pursuing their own path.

The Postcard Church is three-quarters of a mile from our home. Though we could walk, we opt to drive. We’ll meet our children and grandchildren there.

The church is a satellite location of an established church in the area. Unlike most satellite churches, they offer the music and message live. Their parent church provides centralized governance and financial oversight.

They meet at the local middle school, an arrangement I applaud.

Instead of investing money in a building that’s only fully used a few hours each week and only fractionally used during business hours, they free up money to invest in outreach and ministry.

Though they pay a rental fee, that’s much less than the cost to own and maintain a building. Besides the cost element, this arrangement provides flexibility if they outgrow the space.

As we drive up, the church’s trailer sits alongside the driveway, smartly doubling as a sign for the church and signaling the proper entrance. Renting space from a school means they need to set up and tear down each Sunday.

The large trailer doubles as a transportation unit on Sunday and storage space throughout the week for their equipment and supplies.

We drive past the trailer. A large vertical welcome banner shows us where to park and which entrance to use, staffed with two smiling greeters.

We talk a bit. Once inside there’s no question about where to go.

A portable sign tells us to turn right for the service, though the nursery and some children’s programs are to the left. We veer right and find ourselves in a large open space, with people mingling about.

As we move forward, two men interrupt their conversation to talk to us, something I seldom witness at the churches we visit.

They share their names, and we give ours, connecting with them as we do. After a while we thank them for their time and move into the worship space, a typical middle school gym.

In the middle are folding chairs set in three sections, with one hundred chairs per section. We sit as we wait for the rest of our family to arrive, which they soon do.

With the overhead lights off, we rely on indirect lighting. The subdued ambiance pleases but makes it hard to read the literature they gave us.

People and excitement fill the space. All age groups show up, but most are younger than us. It’s likely many of the tweens and younger teenagers also attend this school during the week, while their younger siblings will in a few years.

As we wait, soft music plays in the background. People talk with friends. The atmosphere strikes a pleasing balance between churches whose members sit in stoic silence waiting for the service to start and those where frenzied activity overwhelms.

A worship team of five gathers in front. There is a drummer, two on guitars, one on keys, and one backup vocalist. They have no one for bass. The keyboardist doubles as the worship leader.

Four-fifths of their ensemble fit within the millennial generation, with a lone baby boomer.

After the first song, the teaching pastor welcomes us and gives announcements. One is a chance to get to know others in the church.

The idea is simple: three individuals or families get together three times over three months around a shared meal, dessert, or coffee.

This helps people get to know others and form connections. It’s a short-term commitment with a long-term benefit.

The pastor moves us into the greeting time. I interact with four people, but no one else makes any effort. I fidget, longing for this time to end. As church greetings go, this one is neither memorable nor haunting.

Our space is now over half full, which is good for a holiday weekend. We sing some more. I don’t know any of the songs, but I pick up the chorus on most and the verses on a few.

Next is the offering. There’s an information card to fill out and drop in the offering basket, but Candy’s still working on it when the offering gets to us. We’ll turn it in later.

After the collection they slide smoothly into a final song before the sermon.

Despite some empty spaces in the front, they’ve stealthily added more chairs in the back, which are now mostly full. I suspect the attendance pushes three hundred, with a hundred or more kids and their leaders elsewhere in the facility.

Belong, Believe, Become

It’s week three of a three-part series: “Belong, Believe, Become.” Today is about becoming. As I contemplate his teaching, I jot down a profound phrase: “Know your community.”

This makes sense. If we’re going to reach our neighbors, we need to better understand them.

He gives us a simple three-point process to engage people: Step one is to talk to them. Step two is to ask them a question. Step three is to invite them for a meal, an outing, or a service opportunity. Most people are open to an invitation to do something.

He concludes with an encouragement to build church where we are.

The service ends. Many people pick up their chair, collapse it, and stow it on a nearby rack. Others come up to us to talk. We enjoy these conversations, which are friendly and engaging.

 After doing my part to pick up our family’s chairs, we move back into the lobby. There we turn in our information cards to the visitor center and enjoy an extended time of conversation with a most engaging woman.

She tells us about the church. I ask how next Sunday’s service will compare to this holiday weekend experience. The woman says the service will be the same format, but there will be many more people. I wonder how many more.

We could return next week to find out. In two weeks, they’ll have an after-church event for people who want to learn more about their gathering. This church has much to offer, but we’ll miss it since we’ll be back at The Nonconventional Church.

I long to go to church in my community and attend with my neighbors. This church meets the first criteria, but I don’t spot any neighbors.

The four of us debrief at lunch. We all had a positive experience at the Postcard Church.

Our grandson, however, struggled in nursery, with the director of children’s programming holding him the entire time. The two of them bonded, which so touched his mother’s heart.

“We’re coming back next week,” she announces. “Do you want to come with us?”

We agree.

Takeaway

Giving first-time visitors a positive experience is key to having them come back.


Read the full story in Peter DeHaan’s new book Shopping for Church.

Travel along with Peter and his wife as they search for a new Christian community in his latest book, Shopping for Church, part of the Visiting Churches Series.

This book picks up the mantle from 52 Churches, their 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.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

Categories
Visiting Churches

A Church That Meets in a Public School Gym

Excitement Prevails

I removed every church from my list that was part of a denomination. At best they would merely offer variations of what we’ve already experienced—and rejected.

Left are three churches with intriguing implications. Perhaps one will click with Candy. We’ll visit them the next three Sundays. This church meets in a public school gym.

Shopping for Church: Searching for Christian Community, a Memoir

Meets in a Public School Building

The first church meets in a public school building, which automatically increases my affinity with them.

By renting space, they save themselves from the financial obligation of a mortgage and the maintenance stress of owning a building, one largely unused 97 percent of the time. I see them as wise stewards.

Their mission is to “glorify God by making disciples.” Their vision is “to become an Acts 2 church.”

Though the passage begins and ends with worthy intents, the middle part may not work in our materialistic society with its consumerism mindset: holding “everything in common” and selling their possessions “to give to anyone who had need” (Acts 2:44–45, NIV).

I wonder how closely they follow this example. Supporting this, they have five pillars: prayer, worship, instruction, community, and outreach.

A Bit Lost

Their service begins at ten and we plan our schedule accordingly. I’m glad for a little more pre-church time for my Sunday morning routine than what I have most Sundays.

As we head down the road, my prayer for our time there is fresh, as I’m able to avoid some phrases I fear I repeat too often. The sunny day further boosts my spirits. My expectations are high.

A black pickup truck driving next to us seems lost, making random lane changes, slowing down, and speeding up. They pass us and then we pass them. When I turn toward the school, they turn too.

“Maybe we’re both visiting the same place,” I tell Candy with a grin.

I turn again and they follow. I drive to the specified location, but there’s no sign of a church. There are no cars and no people. But I spot cars in another lot, and I go around the block to get there. So does the pickup.

“I hope they’re not following us, because we’re as lost as they are.”

I pull into the parking lot with the cars. But there are no signs to confirm a church meeting will happen. Though I see people, no one is close enough to ask. A couple gets out of the black pickup.

The guy looks familiar. We say “Hi” and confirm we’re both looking for the same church. However, we can’t verify we’ve found the right one until we go inside and ask.

We head to the gym where the service will be, but the other couple heads in a different direction.

Excitement Abounds

Inside the gym we meet another person, who also welcomes us—the third one to do so. We talk at length. Excitement permeates the place. A low, portable stage flanks one side of the gym. Stackable chairs, arrayed in three sections, will seat over two hundred.

Most people are younger than us and very few are older. It’s great to see young families in church, with lots of kids and teens. Aside from seniors, the only other group who might be missing is the college crowd, but there are no colleges nearby.

We sit midway up in the center section. The chairs are functional, neither comfortable nor uncomfortable.

Five vertical floor-mounted banners stand next to the stage, reminding us of their five pillars. Before the service starts, more people welcome us, including our son and daughter-in-law’s neighbors—the ones who told us about this church.

Even though we’re visitors, it’s great when people recognize us.

Polished Worship Music

A worship team of ten gathers on stage to begin the service, leading us in an opening song. It’s upbeat like The Church with Good Music, perhaps more polished but without as much edge.

Two guys play guitar, with a third on bass. A drummer and keyboardist round out the instrumentalists, with five more on vocals, ably led by their pastor.

After this solitary song comes a welcome, opening prayer, and greeting time. A women’s quartet sings to an accompaniment track during the offering. Then we sing several more contemporary songs, all energetic and inviting.

There’s another prayer, and the kids leave the gym for their own activities. Though all the common elements of a church service are present, today they feel fresh, full of meaning, and exuding life.

This is church as it should be—at least for me.

Living and Leaving a Legacy

For his message, the pastor roams the stage, with an iPad strapped to his palm as an extension of himself. He glances at it periodically as he scrolls through his notes. After a while I forget it’s there.

They’re in the middle of a series, “Living and Leaving a Legacy: Lessons from Malachi.”

He runs through a lengthy list of stats about the significantly higher risks children face when they come from fatherless homes. It’s dramatic, sadly sobering.

Even more so is the reality that half of all children live in homes without their biological dads. How much better our world would be if men would stick around to live with the kids they fathered. Though a few have no choice, most do.

With this as an introduction, he pauses and prays again before reading today’s text from Malachi 2:10–16. The priests in Malachi’s day lead the people astray through their poor example.

They divorce their wives and marry foreign women, both prohibited by the Law of Moses. In doing so they commit idolatry and adultery. This is point one: “They profane the covenant of marriage.”

Though there is much more to his message, neither of us catch any more points. Perhaps we’ll need to come back next week to hear point two.

Regardless, he has much more to share. To leave a legacy, we need to produce godly offspring. This starts with parents and includes the Word of God. We also need to get involved in church.

He sums up his message with the encouragement, “It is most rewarding to see our kids grow up to follow God.” This is our chief legacy.

Wrapping Up

He concludes by giving the congregation a set of challenges applicable to each life situation: parents, dads, married couples, and single adults.

As he runs through announcements, the kids return to join their parents. Today the church talks in depth about child sponsorship through Compassion International.

A few members share their experiences sponsoring kids in developing countries.

People can learn more after the service, even select a child to support. After an hour and a half, the service ends with a request for everyone to help pick up chairs.

More people welcome us, and we enjoy meaningful conversations with several. After a while, I walk across the now chairless gym to talk with the visitors who arrived with us.

I learn they normally go to The Rural Church—the fourth one we visited and which I called “country fresh.”

“We visited there last fall,” I tell the man. “That must be why you look familiar.” He nods but seems doubtful.

But as we continue to share our stories, he remembers me. We had an extended conversation when we visited his church six months ago.

“Your church is one of our top choices. We really liked it. We’ll probably revisit it in a few months.” I hope we’ll see him when we do.

Final Words

It’s been an hour since the service ended, and the crowd has thinned, but twenty or thirty people linger to hang out. The pastor remains at the exit of the gym, talking with an attendee.

We walk up and he tells us more about their church, including how they bring on new members. He isn’t being presumptuous, just helpful. I appreciate the information.

I also realize this church is one of my top choices, perhaps even moving into first place. As we discuss our experience, my bride confirms the music was good.

Though she stops short of my level of enthusiasm, she doesn’t dismiss them either. I suspect we’ll return. I hope we do.

We have two more churches to visit. Then we will narrow down our options, and Candy will decide. Part of me wishes I had never promised her she could pick our next church.

Nevertheless, I’m excited about visiting the next two churches, revisiting our top picks, and finally settling down.

Takeaway

Doing church in new ways—like a church that meets in a public school gym and forgoing usual expectations—can bring in a freshness and vitality that today’s seekers want.

[Read about the next church, or start at the beginning of Shopping for Church.]


Read the full story in Peter DeHaan’s new book Shopping for Church.

Travel along with Peter and his wife as they search for a new Christian community in his latest book, Shopping for Church, part of the Visiting Churches Series.

This book picks up the mantle from 52 Churches, their 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.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

Categories
Visiting Churches

Discussion Questions for the Satellite Church: Church #67

We’re off to visit another church, this time with family, the first visit for everyone. When they opened two years ago, they conducted a smart direct-mail campaign to the community. They’re a portable church that meets at a nearby middle school.

Consider these discussion questions about Church 67.

1. The church is three-quarters of a mile away. We could walk but talk ourselves out of it.

Are we willing to attend a church near our home? Are we willing to walk there?

2. They are a satellite location of an established church. Each site has a teaching pastor and worship team, with centralized governance and financial control.

How willing are we to try new ways to reach more people for Jesus?

3. As we move inside the facility, two men interrupt their conversation to welcome us.

Are we willing to stop talking with people we know to meet those we don’t?

4. People chat with friends before the service begins. Soft music plays in the background. The atmosphere strikes a pleasing balance between sitting in stoic silence and an overwhelming rush of activity.

How can we best prepare to worship God?

5. As we wait for the service, the interlude is pleasant. Though worshipful, the subdued ambience of the indirect lighting makes it hard to read the literature they gave us.

How can we best set the right mood for worship? 

6. The space fills. All age groups show up, but the demographics skew younger, with many families present.

What does the makeup of our church say about us? What does it foreshadow about our church’s future?

7. We learn about Breaking Bread, where three individuals or families meet three times in three months around a shared meal. This helps people get to know others and form connections.

What can we do to better connect with others?

8. During the message, I jot down a soundbite: “Know your community.” This makes sense. If we’re going to reach our neighbors, we must understand them.

How can we better know the people in our community?

9. The pastor provides a three-step process to engage people: 1) talk to them, 2) ask them a question, 3) invite them to do something (a meal, outing, or service opportunity).

What can we do to engage people?

10. The service ends, and two things happen. Most people pick up their chair, collapse it, and stow it on a nearby rack. Others come up to talk.

What happens at our church when the service ends?

11. I long to go to church in my community and attend with my neighbors, instead of driving several minutes to church in someone else’s neighborhood and worshiping with other commuters.

How important is making spiritual connections where we live?

[Read about Church 67 or start at the beginning of our journey.]

If you feel it’s time to move from the sidelines and get into the game, The More Than 52 Churches Workbook provides the plan to get you there.

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.

Categories
Visiting Churches

Church #67: Satellite Church

I’m not sure why it works out this way, but it’s another holiday weekend, and we’re off to visit another church. This one is three-quarters of a mile from our home. We could walk to it, and consider doing so, but we talk ourselves out of it.

Part of the issue is that I don’t know how long it will take to walk there. I think ten minutes will do it, but what if it’s twenty? Instead, we opt to drive. 

We’re meeting family there, visiting this church together, the first time for all of us. I’ve been curious about this church since it launched two years ago. This is the first time Candy expressed a willingness to go.

A Satalite Location

This isn’t a new church, not really. It’s a satellite location of an established church. Unlike many satellite churches, however, this one offers its music and message live. There’s no remote feed from the main location. 

Their model is straightforward. The parent church, one of the larger ones in the area, has been launching satellite sites for several years. I believe this marks their fifth. Each location has a teaching pastor and its own worship team, with centralized governance and financial control. 

I’ve heard of this arrangement before and know of two churches that attempted it. In both cases, things didn’t work out as planned. Early in the process the launch team at both sites decided they didn’t want to be a satellite location.

Instead they wanted independence and to form their own congregation. What started as a satellite location turned into a church plant. This church has avoided this problem and seems to have fine-tuned the art of opening satellite locations.

When they launched this site, they coupled it with a smart direct-mail campaign to people in the surrounding area. That’s how we learned about them, and that’s why I longed to visit. Today we will.

Meeting at a Middle School

They meet at the local middle school, an arrangement I find most attractive. Instead of investing money in a building that’s only fully used a few hours each week and is only a fraction occupied during business hours, they free up money to invest in outreach and ministry.

Yes, they do have the expense of rent, but that’s much less than what it would cost to own and maintain a building. In addition, if they outgrow this facility, they can simply rent a different one.

However, if you outgrow a building you own, you have limited options. So in addition to the cost factor, I appreciate this arrangement for its flexibility.

As we approach the entrance to the middle school, the church’s trailer sits alongside the driveway, smartly doubling as a sign for the church and signaling the proper entrance. Renting space from a school means they need to set up and tear down each Sunday.

The large trailer doubles as a transportation unit on Sunday and storage space throughout the week for their needed equipment and supplies. 

We pull in and drive past the trailer. There are two lots, with cars parked in both. I wonder which one to head to, accompanied by the question of which building entrance to use. My deliberation is short-lived.

Welcome Banners and Welcoming People

A large vertical welcome banner waves by both entrances off both parking lots. Apparently each entrance works equally well. I pull into the first lot and park our car. We head to the closest entrance, staffed with two smiling greeters. 

We walk up and engage in easy small talk. I feel free to linger because there are no people behind us waiting to get in. It’s nice not to feel rushed, even though we didn’t leave home as early as I wanted. The drive took less than two minutes, and we arrived twelve minutes early.

Entering, we walk down the short hallway. There’s no question about where to go. Another portable sign tells us to turn right for the church service, though the nursery and some children’s programs are to the left.

We veer right and find ourselves in a large open space, with people mingling about. 

As we move forward, two men interrupt their conversation to talk to us, something I seldom witness at the churches we visit. They share their names, and we give ours, making a connection with them as we do. They’re both involved in the worship team, but one has the summer off.

The other will play today. He’s on drums. After a few minutes, he excuses himself to join the rest of the worship team. We talk with the other man a little longer. He’s not outgoing, but he’s friendly and easy enough to talk to.

Meeting in the Gym

We thank him for his attention and move into the worship space, a typical middle school gymnasium.

It’s large enough for two basketball courts running left to right, or one running the other direction, with retractable bleachers to provide a nice-sized viewing area. Thankfully, we will not be sitting in the bleachers. 

In the middle of the gymnasium are folding chairs set in three sections, with one hundred chairs per section. We sit down as we wait for the rest of our family to arrive and for the service to begin, wondering which will happen first. As it turns out, both occur at the same time.

The overhead lights are off. What light we do have comes from indirect lighting. The subdued ambiance in the room makes it hard to read the literature they gave us when we walked in. 

The space begins to fill. All age groups show up, but the demographics skew younger, with many families present. It’s likely that most of the tweens and younger teenagers here today also attend this school during the week, and their younger siblings will go here in a few years.

As we wait for the service to start, the interlude is agreeable. Soft music plays in the background. People talk with friends before the service begins.

The atmosphere strikes a pleasing middle ground between churches whose members sit in stoic silence for their service to start and those where an excess of activity overwhelms.

Time to Worship

A worship team of five gathers up front. In addition to our new friend, the drummer, there are two on guitars, one on keys, and one backup vocalist. They have no one for bass. The keyboardist doubles as the worship leader.

All are male. I wonder if that’s intentional or how things worked out today. Also, four-fifths of their ensemble fit within the millennial generation, with one lone baby boomer. 

They launch into their first song, which, thankfully, is familiar to me. The Bible tells us to sing a new song to God (Psalm 96:1), but encountering only unfamiliar tunes and hard-to-sing lyrics is off-putting when visiting churches.

The worship team’s leading in song is quite effective, though they lack an accomplished edge to separate them from the typical worship team at a midsize church. Since it’s a holiday weekend, we may not have their A-team leading us.

Regardless, their sincerity in what they do is evident. Their hearts seem in the right place.

After the first song, the teaching pastor welcomes us. He’s been on a sabbatical this summer, and this is his first Sunday back. He’s glad to return and gives some announcements. One is something they call “Breaking Bread.”

It’s a chance to get to know others in the church. The idea is simple: three individuals or families agree to get together three times in the next three months around a shared meal, dessert, or coffee. Interested families sign up, and the church assigns the groups.

This helps people get to know others and form connections. It’s a short-term commitment with a long-term benefit.

Greeting and Offering

Then the pastor moves us into the greeting time. I interact with four people, two young boys who play along with the ritual and two adults. The boys offer wide smiles and immature handshakes. I appreciate their effort.

One adult keeps her interaction with me to a minimum, while the other one takes time to share her name and ask mine. 

And yet after these four, no one else makes any effort to offer a greeting. I fidget a bit, longing for this time to end. Fortunately, I don’t need to wait long. As church greetings go, this one is neither memorable nor haunting. I survived it.

Our space is now over half full. We launch into more singing, a five-song set. I don’t know any of the songs, but I’m able to pick up the chorus on most of them and the verses on a few others.

Next is the offering. I wasn’t listening, but I don’t believe there was any mention that visitors need not participate. Not that I would have felt any obligation, but it’s a nice gesture, especially given that a common complaint against churches is, “They’re only after your money.” 

There’s an information card to fill out and drop in the offering baskets as they pass by, but Candy’s still working on it when the offering gets to us. We’ll turn the card in after the service.

The offering wraps up, and they slide smoothly into one more song before the sermon begins. They’ve added more chairs in the back, which are now mostly occupied. I suspect the sanctuary attendance is now pushing three hundred.

Sermon Part 3 of 3

In addition, I guess a hundred or more kids and their leaders are off doing their own activities.

After his break from preaching, the teaching pastor is more than ready to deliver our message. It looks like it’s week three of a three-part series. He doesn’t recap weeks one and two, but I surmise the key points from the series title: “Belong, Believe, Become.”

I’ve heard these three words strung together at other churches, so I have a good idea of what the prior two sermons covered. Today is about becoming. Yet if there’s a title for today’s message, I missed it.

Our scripture text is from Matthew 16:13–18. He says this is one of his favorite chapters in the Bible and is glad to speak on it.

The passage is about Jesus and his disciples traveling to Caesarea Philippi, a corrupt place far different than the less appalling environments he and his disciples typically frequent. 

What might the disciples have thought as they traveled to this place, a destination that good Jewish boys avoid? When they arrive, Jesus asks them, “Who do people say I am?” After various answers, Peter says, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.”

That’s when Jesus says to Peter, which means rock, “On this rock I will build my church.” I’ve heard sermons on this passage. People debate the meaning of this last phrase. Some say Peter is the rock on which God will build his church.

Others assert that Peter’s confession, that Jesus is the Messiah, is the foundational statement which will support the church. A third understanding looks at the setting—which ties in with the image of a rock— and the depraved behavior of the people in this area.

This may be the rock on which Jesus will build his church. Why else would Jesus take them twenty miles to ask them a question he could have asked at any other time? 

The point I derive from this is to take the good news of Jesus to the people who most need it. As I contemplate the implication of this, I jot down a soundbite from the minister.

Know Your Community

He says, “Know your community.” This makes sense. If we’re going to reach our neighbors, we should understand them better.

He talks about two kinds of community. One is the church’s internal community, and the other is the community around us. He gives us a simple three-point process to engage people: Step one is to talk to them. Step two is to ask them a question.

Finally, step three is to invite them for a meal, an outing, or a service opportunity. Most people, both those within and outside the church, are open to an invitation to do something. 

He concludes with an encouragement to build church where we are.

Post Church Interaction

The service ends, and two things happen at once. One is that most people pick up their chair, collapse it, and stow it on a nearby rack. The other is that people come up to us to talk.

Some recognize Candy from her involvement in the community, and others are strangers, extending gracious welcomes. We enjoy these conversations, which are friendly and engaging.

 After doing my part to pick up our family’s chairs, we move back into the lobby. There we turn in our visitor cards, and they offer us a gift. I suspect it will be a coffee mug or travel cup, and I also know Candy will pass.

We already have a cabinet stuffed full of them. She declines the offer with grace, and we enjoy an extended time of conversation at the visitor center, with a most engaging woman. 

She tells us about their church, and we ask her questions. Many thoughts bombard my mind, but the one question I do ask is how next Sunday’s service will compare to this holiday weekend experience.

With a knowing nod, the woman affirms the service will be the same format. The only difference will be the number of people present. 

I wonder how many more people but don’t ask. We could return next week to find out. In two weeks, they’ll have an after-church event for people who want to learn more about their gathering. It may be worth coming back for that too. This church has much to offer.

I long to go to church in my community and attend with my neighbors. This church meets the first criteria, but I don’t spot any neighbors. Perhaps if we come back on a regular Sunday, I might see some of them here. It’s a hopeful thought.

[See the discussion questions for Church 67, read about Church 66 or Church 68, or start at the beginning of our journey.]

Get your copy of More Than 52 Churches 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 Church on Every Corner: Discussing Church #62

It’s a nondenominational church plant, with the sending congregation residing several states away. It’s curious that an out-of-state church would launch a ministry in an area noted for its religious reputation, with “a church on every corner.” 

Consider these seven discussion questions about Church #62, in an area that seems to have a church on every corner.

1. They meet in a school building, providing a more approachable, less intimidating environment for unchurched people.

What is our perspective for having church in a traditional space? How open are we for a more visitor-friendly alternative?

2. When we arrive, a man standing at the parking lot’s edge greets us with enthusiasm. What a wonderful welcome.

How aware are we that creating a good first impression occurs before people walk inside?

3. Another man greets us, opening the door with a gracious flourish. The friendly reception of these two men is infectious. I can’t wait to experience church here.

What can we do to build anticipation for our church services?

4. To start the service they welcome everyone, asking first-time visitors to raise their hands. Many do. Normally I hate this practice, but with many visitors, I don’t feel singled out.

How can we celebrate visitors without making them squirm? 

5. When the associate pastor announces the offering, he stresses it’s only for regulars, not visitors. This helps counter the common criticism that churches only want our money.

Which example does our church follow? 

6. “We need to attack the lie that you can have it all,” the teaching pastor says. “It’s not possible. Something needs to give.”

How can we find God-honoring contentment? How can we encourage others to do the same?

7. Despite the many churches in the area, the evident excitement and impressive attendance at this church suggests there’s room for one more.

Should we associate church attendance and growth rates with God’s approval? Or might size be our perspective?

[Read about Church #62 or start at the beginning of our journey.]

If you feel it’s time to move from the sidelines and get into the game, The More Than 52 Churches Workbook provides the plan to get you there.

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.

Categories
Visiting Churches

Church #62: Off to a Great Start

I notice a church sign in front of a school. It’s not been there before. I’m quite sure. I’m partial to churches that meet in nontraditional spaces. They are more likely to be nontraditional in their approach to God, being spiritually invigorating and providing a breath of freshness.

As a bonus, they don’t have the hassle of a building to distract them or the expense of a monthly mortgage payment to weigh down their budget. I have high expectations. Church is at 10 a.m.

It’s a new church, a nondenominational church plant, with the congregation that sent them residing several states away. It’s curious that an out-of-state church would plant one in an area noted for its religious reputation, with “a church on every corner.” Even so, they did just that.

First Impressions

The day is mild and sunny. A light breeze presents the perfect combination of weather, belying the norm for an August day in southwest Michigan. We arrive ten minutes early. The parking lot is about half full.

A man stands along the walk at the parking lot’s edge. He doesn’t need to direct us to the entrance because there is only one set of doors. A most gregarious fellow, he is there to greet us.

What a wonderful welcome to church. With his broad smile and easy banter, we immediately feel at ease. His laidback embrace lets me know our experience here will be a good one.

At the door stands another man. He sports a red T-shirt, asking the question: “How can I serve you?” With an engaging smile, he welcomes us, opening the door with a gracious flourish. The friendly reception of these two men is infectious. I can’t wait to experience church here.

Our greeting isn’t over. Just inside stand a couple, also wearing red T-shirts. They further welcome us. We exchange names and they repeat ours, making a pointed effort to remember them.

Excited to see us, we talk a bit. Among other things, they tell us about the coffee and snacks that await us inside. Having never received such a grand welcome when visiting a church, we move into the meeting space.

Meeting Space

The room is curious, more resembling a church than a school. It is a modern space, about square, with a permanent stage in one corner. The flat floor hints that this is an all-purpose room, albeit now nicely carpeted and smartly finished.

An out-of-place scoreboard hangs high on one wall, but there’s no hint that the space would work for a sporting event.

Chairs, arrayed in three sections, face the stage, offering enough room for about two hundred. A music video plays, providing background sound and a nice visual on the screen overhead. After a couple of minutes, the video stops and a countdown timer appears, starting at five minutes.

My excitement mounts. With only seconds remaining in the countdown, the worship team scrambles to the stage.

The guitar player barely makes it in time, but to their credit, they launch into song when the timer hits zero. The worship leader plays keyboard, flanked by a guitarist and backup vocalist. The drummer sits behind them, along with a bass guitarist.

With a rock sound, we sing two songs in the opening set.

The associate pastor comes up and welcomes us. He asks first-time visitors to raise their hands. Quite a few do, including the couple sitting next to us.

With few empty seats, attendance must approach two hundred, quite remarkable for a new church during the month of August. I suspect a huge jump in the fall.

He tells us to greet those around us. This period of welcome is neither stellar nor lame, but it is pleasant, despite a lack of time for meaningful connection.

Then he announces the offering, stressing that it’s only for regular attendees, not visitors. They don’t use offering plates but velvet bags with wooden handles. They are awkward for me to pass. As the offering bags work their way down the rows and across the aisles, the associate pastor gives some announcements. 

The church is only four months old, having launched on Easter. In a few weeks they will have a “gathering with the pastors” for new people who want to learn more about the church.

He also plugs small groups, “E-3 Groups,” which stands for Encounter, Embrace, and Engage. Taking August off, the groups will resume in September. After a few other announcements, he reads selected passages from Psalms.

After this respite, the worship team leads us in four more songs. All are contemporary, but none are familiar. The senior pastor, who is taking a break from teaching in the month of August, dismisses the children for their own activities. Then he introduces today’s guest speaker. 

Guest Speaker

He is the founding pastor from the church that sent this team to plant a church. He opens by giving some background. When they decided to plant a church, they considered several possibilities across the United States but kept coming back to this region, even though there didn’t seem to be a need. 

Despite the many churches in the vicinity, this area is “over-Bibled and under-Jesused.” Given this church’s rapid numeric growth and the excitement surrounding their gathering, I think they’re right in their assessment of a need to plant a church in this locale.

Today he will speak from Philippians chapter three. Ushers pass out Bibles to anyone who doesn’t have one and would like one. I’m not sure if this is just for the service or to keep. The Bibles are English Standard Version (ESV).

In a bit of irony, however, the pastor uses the more popular NIV for his discourse. 

“We need to attack the lie that you can have it all,” he says. “It’s not possible. Something needs to give.” Although most engaging, I struggle to catch all the nuances in his rapid-fire delivery. 

The apostle Paul was willing to lose everything so he could gain Jesus. “What are you willing to lose?” He reminds us of the parables of the hidden treasure and the pearl in Matthew 13:44–46, where a man and a merchant are both willing to give up everything for one great treasure.

Then he quotes Socrates: “An unexamined life is not worth living.”

He concludes his message with a prayer, followed by a time of introspection, reminiscent of an altar call, sans “with every head bowed” and an invitation to come forward. “Is Jesus the point in your life?” he asks.

The worship band comes up for a closing number and then the associate pastor dismisses us with a benediction. The staff is available up front for anyone who wants prayer.

After Church Interaction

Before I can talk to the visitors sitting next to me, they scoot out. During the greeting time, I learned the guy behind me shares my first name. I’d like to talk more to my namesake, but he is already engaged in another conversation, as are the folks who sat in front of us.

With no one to talk to, we make our way out.

In the lobby stand the couple who greeted us when we arrived. They remember our names and conversation. They wish us a good day and invite us back.

This church is off to a great start. They are already making a difference in the community and poised to make an even greater impact in the future. Their numeric growth is obvious and the potential for spiritual growth is present.

They are meeting an unmet need in what some would call an already over-churched area.

[See the discussion questions for Church 62, read about Church 61 or start at the beginning of our journey.]

Get your copy of More Than 52 Churches 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.

Categories
Visiting Churches

Something’s Missing at This Church

Discussing Church 16

This nondenominational church meets in a public school auditorium.

The 52 Churches Workbook, by Peter DeHaan

Consider these four discussion questions about Church #16

1. Renting space saves the church from purchasing and maintaining a facility. 

Whether you own your building or rent space, how can you maximize your outreach and better impact your community?

2. They use more technology than we’ve seen so far. When not displaying song lyrics, Bible verses, or clips, they project the pastor’s video on a large screen behind him. 

How much technology does your church use during your services? Does it add to or detract from the experience?

3. Aside from a greeter and the two pastors saying “Hi,” no one talks to us. We learn that people wearing green nametags are available to answer questions. After the service I spot a man with a green nametag, but he rushes by. 

Are you and other people at your church so preoccupied or busy that you overlook and ignore people?

4. The leadership at this nondenominational church does the right things to foster spiritual connection, but the people aren’t following. They’re passive, coming to church, doing church, and then leaving. 

Is it the paid staff’s job to welcome visitors, or yours? What needs to change?

[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.

Categories
Visiting Churches

A Fresh Sunday Experience (Visiting Church #38)

The church meets in the all-purpose room of a local school. The atmosphere is casual, with people milling about, talking, sipping coffee, and munching snacks. With all ages represented, we see many kids present. Jeans and t-shirts abound.

The church meets in the all-purpose room of a local school. The atmosphere is casual, with people milling about, talking, sipping coffee, and munching snacks. With all ages represented, we see many kids present. Jeans and t-shirts abound.

52 Churches: A Yearlong Journey Encountering God, His Church, and Our Common Faith

A team of four (guitar, bass, drums, and vocals) lead the singing. As a special treat, three members of a ballet company worship with us in dance. Ballet and guitars strike me as a disparate pairing, but the result is beautiful, as they worship God with movement.

Though some may disagree, dance belongs in church. It adds depth to our praise of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

For the past several weeks, we’ve seen traditionally dressed ministers give traditionally sounding sermons; I yearn for something fresh. Today’s pastor and message accomplish that, offering a much-appreciated reprieve from the tired routine.

The pastor doesn’t stand on the stage behind a pulpit, but is on our level using a music stand. His style is accessible and calm. I feel at peace.

“Isn’t the story of Jesus’ birth absurd?” he dares to ask. This isn’t a rhetorical device or a rational denial, but a challenge to deeply consider all the Bible offers and the ramifications of its narrative.

Instead of focusing on the familiar and skipping the confusing, he digs into the perplexing passages of the Bible – and encourages us to do the same. At the touch of his iPad, he displays the verses for us to read on the screen stationed to his right.

The kingdom of God starts now, today. He encourages us to ask tough questions about the Bible and God, inviting us to journey with them towards Jesus.

Afterwards we stay to talk about family and faith.

God provided what I needed today; he refreshed my soul.

[Read about Church #37 and Church #39, start at the beginning of our journey, or learn more about Church #38.]

My wife and I visited a different Christian Church every Sunday for a year. This is our story. Get your copy of 52 Churches today, available in ebook, paperback, hardcover, and audiobook.

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.

Categories
Visiting Churches

Who Needs a Church Building? (Visiting Church #25)

The church for this Sunday meets in a school, just like church #16. They don’t have their own church building. Their service time is later than most, starting at eleven, likely to allow time for setup.

We arrive at the school and see a temporary church sign by the road, confirming we’re at the right place. However, once we park, there’s no indication of which door to enter. After making a wrong assumption, someone redirects us to the right entrance.

52 Churches: A Yearlong Journey Encountering God, His Church, and Our Common Faith

Inside is a team of greeters; they are most welcoming, taking time for conversation with us. People are milling about and many interact with us. Eventually someone announces, “We’re about ready to begin,” and we move to find our seats.

A couple we know invites us to sit with them. This is a welcoming gesture. Despite knowing people at the majority of the two dozen churches we’ve visited, having someone ask us to sit with them is a first.

Though we’re used to sitting alone as we visit churches and don’t need this hospitable act to put us at ease, a typical visitor would likely find it most comforting.

After the service’s official conclusion, there’s time to hang out. We linger and talk. Eventually things are dismantled and stowed, returning the facility for use as a school on Monday. They’re fortunate to have a place to store their gear on site, eliminating the need to haul it away each week.

Even so, there is much to do, and despite many hands helping, it takes some time to complete.

Though renting space to have church at a school requires extra effort on Sunday, they save the expense of a mortgage and hassle of church building maintenance. This allows for more investment in community outreach and engagement.

[Read about Church #24 and Church #26, start at the beginning of our journey, or learn more about Church #25.]

My wife and I visited a different Christian Church every Sunday for a year. This is our story. Get your copy of 52 Churches today, available in ebook, paperback, hardcover, and audiobook.

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.

Categories
Visiting Churches

A Different Venue (Visiting Church #16)

The church we visited this Sunday is a nondenominational gathering that meets in a public school auditorium. In some parts of the United States it’s unheard of for a church to meet in a government building, but in our area, it is not.

Though some would overreach, citing a need for “separation of church and state,” I see this as a wise way to increase the use of public buildings, generate revenue for the school, and save the church from needing to purchase and maintain a facility.

52 Churches: A Yearlong Journey Encountering God, His Church, and Our Common Faith

It’s an older building but with an updated auditorium complete with theater seating, movable armrests, and cup holders—beverages and snacks are a prominent part of their gathering. The auditorium has a sloped floor for easy viewing.

The main level seats about 225 and is mostly full; I’m not sure about the balcony.

Casually dressed, people of all ages fill the place. The worship team is much like what we’ve seen at other contemporary services, as is the “teaching,” though it’s more informal. The pastor sits on a stool while speaking, weaves pop culture into his message, and banters a bit with some people in the front.

There’s more AV technology in play than we’ve seen so far. They use cameras to project the pastor’s image on the large screen behind him. If song lyrics or Bible verses aren’t being displayed, a shot of the pastor is.

Three stationary cameras mounted on the front face of the balcony provide views from different angles. Though they lack the ability to pan or zoom, the cameras are a nice addition and I suspect provide a welcomed alternate view from the balcony.

There are many things I like about this church, the service, the pastor, and the message, but I’m most impressed with their use of technology and especially their venue.

[Read about Church #15 and Church #17, start at the beginning of our journey, or learn more about Church #16.]

My wife and I visited a different Christian Church every Sunday for a year. This is our story. Get your copy of 52 Churches today, available in ebook, paperback, hardcover, and audiobook.

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.