Visiting Churches

The Church with a Fresh Spin

Breathing Life into Old Practices

The three churches nearest to us—The Closest Church, The Traditional Denominational Church, and The Church with the Fundamental Vibe—all have traditional-sounding names, meet in traditional-looking buildings, and have traditional-style services.

I want a church with a fresh spin.

A Denominational Connection

This church, only 1.8 miles away and just past The Fundamental Church, boasts a nontraditional name. Though their building still looks like a church, it’s not as typical. I wonder if their service will likewise break from status quo religion.

They are from the same denomination as The Outlier Congregation and The Traditional Denominational Church. I wonder which one they’ll be more like. At last, we can find out.

On a corner, I’m not sure where their drive is. Candy points straight ahead, but I turn the corner. Only then do we see a drive off each street. A small church bus drops off riders under the awning that shelters the main entrance.

I wheel around and park in a nearby space, eager to get inside. Candy is in less of a hurry.

A Warm Welcome

Greeted at the door, the man knows we’re visitors and welcomes us warmly. Inside, many more acknowledge our presence with a nod, a wave, or a handshake.

No one asks if we’re visiting. They all know. What several ask is if we’re new to the area, while a few cautiously inquire if we’re looking for a church.

We move into the sanctuary, which is the shape of a gymnasium.

A high open ceiling, painted black, and dark walls provide a spartan feel, while the well-lit, laid-back atmosphere draws me in. Round tables, circled with chairs, fill the back and partway up the sides, while rows of folding chairs line the front.

The pastor, in casual attire and with an unassuming persona, welcomes us. He shares his first name but doesn’t reveal his title. I’m so pleased to meet a minister who doesn’t need to tie his identity with what he does or his credentials. This is a fresh spin.

This man possesses both the confidence and the humility to be Gene, a person just like me, without any label to erect an unbiblical distinction between us. I immediately like him.

The tables are inviting, but I don’t want to sit on the periphery. I yearn to be closer to the action. We move toward the middle of the room, sliding into a center row.

As Candy reads the bulletin, I check out the space. It’s accessible and comfortable, feeling as much like a pleasant place to hang out as it does a church.

Unlike last week, with its predominance of seniors, there are few here today. What I see is a nice range of ages and many kids. Judging by their smiles and laughter, the congregation is excited to be here, eager for the service to begin.

Anticipation permeates the room.

Getting Started

The worship team gathers on stage, elevated by three short steps. Forming a tight circle, they bow their heads in a posture of intercession.

Their example reminds me of what I neglected to do. In anticipation of my visit, I forgot to pray on our way here. Candy didn’t suggest it either. I now bow my head.

The seven people on stage scatter to their positions. A tall man straps on a guitar and opens the service. Around him are a trumpet player, a keyboardist on an electric organ, a drummer, and three female vocalists.

Their sound is upbeat and inviting, something quite different from last week. They lead us in singing contemporary choruses and one updated hymn.

After the opening song set is the official greeting time. This is not the typical moment of rote interaction but an extended period that allows real connections to occur. Then we sing some more.

The Pastor’s Part

The pastor publicly appears for the first time, asking for people to come forward to pray for him and the service. Two people do. I’m pleased to see the laity pray for the congregation and their minister as part of the service. What a fine example they set.

Behind the stage hangs some remarkable artwork, which guides their Lenten services. Reminiscent of the “Stations of the Cross,” an eight-panel mosaic shows Jesus’s journey toward his sacrificial death and ultimate resurrection.

Today is panel four, “Gethsemane.” Referring to Mark 14:32–42, a three-part sermon emerges about reaffirmation, restoration, and revelation.

The pastor, we learn, meets each Thursday morning with a group of guys. There he previews the text for Sunday’s service. He goes there as a participant, not a leader or teacher.

His goal is to listen to their discussion. Some of the men’s insights end up in his message. This is yet another fresh spin on how they do things at this church.

This is just one of the many small tweaks this church makes from the norm of status quo Sunday services. Collectively, these changes add up to provide a fresh experience for me.

Open Mic Time

He ends his message with a prayer and what I think is the closing song. Then they take an offering, during which is an “open mic” time. I cringe a bit, as I’ve often seen these go terribly wrong.

Invariably someone, either well-intentioned or with an agenda, hijacks the mic and subjects the congregation to a barely coherent story or a passionate rant about something few others care about.

Still, I like their bravery to try it, knowing that when this works, it works extremely well. It’s just one more for their efforts to put a fresh spin on their practices.

A young man comes forward, sharing what turns out to be a lengthy set of announcements about the youth group, which seems connected with Young Life. I like them tapping an available resource and not trying to reproduce what already exists.

Another man follows him to talk about a recent short-term mission trip he was on, but I think his real goal is to recruit more people for future trips. Then the pastor prays for things mentioned by both people.

But the service isn’t over.

The minister asks for “prayer servants” to come forward. This may have been the same term he used when soliciting prayer before his message. Two people stand.

Two others rove the audience with handheld mics as people share their needs and joys. After each person speaks, one of the prayer servants intercedes.

As the people reveal what’s on their hearts, I pray silently for them too. Eight people seek prayer. This is a caring, praying congregation that puts biblical faith into action. I so like that.

More Interaction

Now the service is officially over, but the interaction isn’t. Although people prepare to leave, few hurry off. Many tarry to talk, some interacting with us. Most of these conversations are short, but a couple are more intentional, and one is in depth.

Though part of a traditional denomination, this congregation has made several intentional adjustments in their practices to put a fresh spin on old customs, departing from the status quo in enough areas to entice me.

Although I desire an experience that breaks completely with the routines of today’s church culture to reclaim the mindset of the early church, I realize I may not find such a group.

I want to come back.

My wife sees only this church’s connections with their stodgy denomination and can’t move past it. It could be her insight is more accurate than mine. Unlike me, she has no interest in returning. Once was enough.

She makes her pronouncement with enough finality that I know we won’t return.


Look for ways to put a fresh spin on old customs to be more relevant for today’s visitors.

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?

Christian Living

Learning from Jesus’s First Words

When Christ Speaks, We Should Be Ready to Listen

What Jesus says is important to us as his followers. The passages in the Bible that we need to pay the most attention to are the words of Jesus. Some Bibles even highlight Jesus’s words by putting them in red.

We call these red-letter editions. People often focus on the final words of Jesus. But what about Jesus’s first words?

Let’s look at what the Bible records as Jesus’s first words. This doesn’t occur when he first learns to talk, and it’s not the first words he speaks when he begins his ministry. Jesus’s first words recorded in the Bible happen between these two times.

Twelve-Year-Old Jesus

Jesus’s first recorded words occur when he’s twelve, and it’s the only story the Bible gives us about Jesus’s youth. In this account we see the balance between his divine side and his human side.

Jesus goes with his parents to celebrate the Passover in Jerusalem. When the festival ends, his parents head home, traveling with a group of others headed in that direction. They assume Jesus is with the caravan. He isn’t. He stays behind without their knowledge.

After traveling all day, Mary and Joseph discover that Jesus is missing. They’ve lost their son, one of a parent’s most dreaded nightmares. Yet for them it’s even worse. They also lost the Son of God.

Panicked they head back to Jerusalem. They search. And they search. After three days they finally find him.

He’s in the temple having a deep spiritual conversation with the religious teachers. He listens to what they say and asks insightful questions. The twelve-year-old amazes everyone with his depth of understanding.

His parents are astonished too. Yet they’re also irritated with him for causing them needless worry.

Jesus’s First Words

Young Jesus responds incredulously. “Why were you searching for me?” he asks. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49, NIV).

These are the first recorded words of Jesus.

From the perspective of tween Jesus, his parents shouldn’t have spent three days looking for him. The temple should have been their first stop. In his mind, it was a given. In their mind, it was the last place they expected to find their twelve-year-old son.

Jesus doesn’t address the fact that he didn’t head home with them and caused them untold worry for three days. Like many who aren’t yet fully mature, he knew he was safe, so there was nothing for anyone to worry about.

The human side of Jesus missed spending time with his Father, Father God. The temple may have been where he best felt he could make a spiritual connection with Papa.

It was also an ideal place to find other like-minded Jews who could teach him about Scripture and guide him forward on his spiritual journey.

But Jesus’s parents don’t understand what he means. Regardless Jesus obediently returns home with them. He grows in wisdom and stature, enjoying the favor of both God and men. This prepares him for ministry, which he’ll start in eighteen years, when he’s thirty years old.

Where do we go to best connect with God and spend time with other like-minded believers? When our friends look for us, where will they find us?

Celebrate Christmas in a fresh way with The Advent of Jesus. It’s a forty-day devotional that prepares our hearts to celebrate the arrival of Jesus in an engaging read. Begin your Advent journey now and gain a greater sense of wonder for the season.

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.

Visiting Churches

The Closest Church

Warm Inside

Despite my encouragement, Candy has provided little input on the churches we visit. Though she recommended The Church with the Fundamental Vibe and The Nonconventional Church, I compiled the rest of the list. Today we’ll visit the closest church.

Originally containing thirty-five names, I’ve now cut my list in half. While it might be interesting to spend nine months visiting area churches, I lack the patience.

As we move forward, I wonder if we’ll add other congregations to our lists of contenders or if visiting more churches will merely delay her selection. I promised that she could pick our next church. I wonder if she already has and is keeping it from me.

The Importance of Christian Community

Not being part of a specific Christian community gnaws at my soul. Though I maintain my personal spiritual practices of Bible reading and study, prayer, fasting, and writing, my faith flounders.

I need, desperately so, to be part of a faith community to provide support and encouragement. I need to receive it, and I long to give it. Without this vital element of spiritual camaraderie, I’m less of a follower of Jesus.

“No man is an island,” said John Donne. Now I understand. This realization, however, takes too long for me to recognize, but when I finally do, the need is imperative.

While I don’t expect church to fill this void, I expect it to stop my downward slide into religious dejection.

Having at last moved into our house, we decide to visit nearby churches. First up is a church a scant six tenths of a mile away.

For years I’ve longed to attend a church in my community where we can gather with our neighbors. Though this church is the closest to us, ideally meeting my first desire, I’m not aware of any neighbors who go there.

Cold Outside

Today is unseasonably cold, the coldest day of the winter so far, at -6 °F (-21 °C). The biting wind makes it feel even worse. Though some churches canceled because of the cold, this one did not.

It’s the closest church to our home. In the two minutes it takes to drive there, I forget to pray. Feeling guilty, I mumble a quick petition after I park the car.

The parking lot is vast. With every inch plowed, massive snowbanks line its perimeter. With 90 percent of the lot empty, I chuckle at the futility of clearing the entire space when they need only a small section.

Of course, with today’s cold weather, some folks will surely stay home. This will make attendance even more sparse.

With the frigid temperature and a much lower wind chill of up to -30 °F (-34 °C), we walk briskly and take shallow breaths so we don’t freeze our lungs. The cloudless sky treats us to a bright sunshine, trying to trick us into thinking the day is more pleasant than it is.

A Warm Welcome

Two men greet us just inside the door. Though I don’t think they’re greeters per se, I do think they’re intentional about meeting new people. “Are you new to the area or visiting?”

“We are new to the area, and we are visiting,” I say.

They welcome us to the neighborhood and to their church. I don’t offer my name because I’m waiting to see if they offer theirs. They don’t. We make small talk. It’s an affable conversation, but they share no information about their church.

Pleasant but superficial best describes our encounter. When the conversation wanes, I excuse myself and move further inside the building.

I scan the large narthex. Most everyone appears younger than us, with many thirtysomething couples and their kids. I’m encouraged.

People mill about but no one else seems interested in talking to us. A few folks, however, do smile and give us a welcoming nod. With nothing else to do, we head toward the sanctuary.

At the auditorium entrance, a man hands us a bulletin and an information brochure. I thank him with a smile and a downward tip of my head.

With few people sitting, we have our choice of seats. I walk halfway down the center aisle, turn left, and slide midway down the padded pew in the first section.

The area is essentially cube-shaped, with white walls. It reminds us of some of the United Methodist churches we’ve visited in the past. Here, offsetting the plain white walls, is too much stained wood trim and some gold-colored embellishments, which strike me as pretentious.

Windows abound, letting in much natural light and taking full advantage of today’s glorious sunshine. The high cathedral ceiling accentuates the open feel.

A few of the windows in the upper front are stained glass, not of the traditional variety, but a more subtle contemporary design. However, a large screen, ready to display elements of the service, blocks our full view of them.

The floor slopes toward the front, with the pews arranged in four sections, allowing room for several hundred people. At about 25 percent full, I wonder how much the weather affected attendance.

Overall, this is a cautiously modern setting, with traditional elements mixed in. I’m not sure how to react to this dichotomy, which is exacerbated by the nontraditional musical instruments on stage.

Worship Time and More

With a nod to the winter weather, the worship leader welcomes us to start the service. The worship team plays three or four numbers in the opening set. As they move from song to song, the worship leader alternates between guitar and piano.

When he moves, the pianist switches over to a keyboard. There’s also a drummer and a backup guitarist, who plays various stringed instruments. A trio of background vocalists round out their light pop sound as we sing contemporary songs and choruses.

Next is the children’s message. I’m surprised at the number of kids who flood forward, perhaps twenty-five or thirty.

In a church service, the kids are never easy to spot when scanning the crowd, but when they get up for a children’s message or to leave for their own activities, their numbers become apparent, often surprising me. Today is such a day.

The minister addresses the kids at their level, while also providing value to the rest of the congregation. He verbally interacts with them, physically involves them, and provides a demonstration for us all.

This is not a brief, obligatory activity to check off and move on. It’s packed with intention. By the time he dismisses them, we already know the theme of his message and his main point.

The Message

The minister has a slight accent, Dutch I assume. At first, I need to focus to catch what he says, but after a few minutes, I no longer notice. This is because of the easy flow of his words, his engaging nature, and the value in what he shares. I immediately like him.

Following the children’s message, he promotes a new sermon series for Lent, which he’ll start next week, after wrapping up his abbreviated five-week series on the Apostles’ Creed today.

Next Sunday will feature Holy Communion. He reads a preparatory text to focus our thoughts on that event and the meaning behind it. Then we have a responsive reading of the Ten Commandments, followed by reciting the Apostles’ Creed in unison.

From his brief introduction, I assume on week one of the series he summarized the creed, followed by a week for each part of the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

For a denomination that has historically glossed over the work of the Holy Spirit, I’m pleasantly surprised at his inclusion today, being mentioned from the pulpit and in our singing. I wonder if this is normal for them. I hope it is.

Today’s message addresses a line in the creed that is often misunderstood and a cause of concern for many: “I believe in the holy catholic Church.”

This is not a specific nod to the Roman Catholic Church, but instead an acknowledgment to the universal Christian church (which includes Roman Catholicism, along with all of Protestantism).

The key to this delineation is big C Catholic versus small c catholic. The distinction is huge, but it requires explanation for most all who hear this statement of belief from the creed for the first time.

Church, he says, is not a building, a congregation, or a denomination. From the Greek word Ekklesia, which is translated church, we comprehend it to mean “an assembly of people called out of the world to become part of God’s family.”

Key Points

There are two keys to this understanding.

First, we must be united (Matthew 16:18). Second, we must be holy (1 Peter 2:9), The minister defines holy as “set apart” and “associated with God”. I appreciate this definition of holy, as it helps me perceive it as something I can grasp as opposed to something unattainable.

To realize being a universal church, we must be united; we must be one. He hearkens back to his key text for today, Ephesians 4:1–6, which highlights this with the use of one seven times.

His message is brilliant and resonates with me, yet, out of necessity, he stops too soon. If we are to truly be a universal church, to be united, to be one, then there is no room for the division caused by our thousands of denominations.

Yet he and this church are part of a denomination. The ultimate conclusion in a push for unity is removing denominational distinctions. He doesn’t make that statement.

In fact, he even attempts to justify denominations. But I don’t grasp his explanation. Despite this, he gave a powerful message that I appreciate.

He concludes the service with a short congregational prayer and a lengthy list of announcements. Then he excuses the children for Sunday school. The service ends by taking the offering.

Connection Time

Afterward, coffee and cookies wait for the adults and in fifteen minutes there will be a discussion about the sermon. The opportunity for discussion beckons, but I decide not to.

I fear I might blurt out something inappropriate, such as “denominations are the antithesis of church unity.” I am their guest, and it’s best to keep that thought to myself.

Though the greeting time during the service was one of obligatory routine, afterward people welcome us and talk. They share their names, and we reciprocate. They ask about us and tell us about their church.

I’m pleasantly surprised to spot a neighbor and we talk at length. For years they attended another church, one quite different from this one, but have been coming here for the past few months. He also points out another one of our neighbors I haven’t yet met.

As we continue to talk, he makes a vague reference to a likely future change for this church, assuming that is why we are here today. When I shake my head, he explains.

The gist is them joining with another large area church to form something new at this location. The result will be hundreds more people and multiple services, two things that turn me off.

“Why?” I ask.

He shrugs.

Our time together is great, really great. His wife comes up, and we talk as well. Though I want our interaction to continue, their kids grow antsy. I suspect Mom and Dad are ready to leave. I thank them for our conversation and wish them a great rest of the day.

We talk to a few more folks as we head to our car. My expectations for this church were low, but I’m pleased with what I see.

For years I’ve longed to attend church in my neighborhood with my neighbors, to share Christian community in my community. This church, our closest church, offers that. Coupled with a great sermon, I add this congregation to my list of contenders.

My wife, however, isn’t as enamored. I don’t think she’s willing to consider them further.

I wonder why she agrees to visit the churches I suggest if she’s not interested. Why did we go here today?

I fear she’s just patiently waiting for me to work through our list of churches, so that once it’s completed she can announce the church she’s already picked. Am I merely delaying her decision?

Midweek, the pastor emails us, offering to talk or meet if we have questions or would like to learn more. I want to take him up on his offer but don’t. Though I’d enjoy getting together, I fear it would raise false expectations on his part.


Seek ways to reach out to visitors: talk with them, form connections, even invite them to meet. And this doesn’t just apply to paid staff. It applies to everyone.

[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?

Bible Study

1 John Bible Study, Day 2: Fellowship

Today’s passage: 1 John 1:2–3

Focus verse: We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. (1 John 1:3)

Building on the phrase Word of life, John continues by saying that the life appeared—that is, Jesus appeared—whom John has seen and testifies about. He proclaims Jesus’s life (eternal life) to us.

Why does he do this? He doesn’t say it’s so we’ll go to heaven when we die, even though eternal life is a sweet outcome of following Jesus.

John’s goal is that we might enjoy fellowship with other followers of Jesus. And this fellowship is also with Father God and his Son. This means that as part of Jesus’s church, we can also fellowship with our Creator and our Savior.

But fellowship is a strange word to me. 

As a child, the only time I ever heard fellowship was when churches had “fellowship hour” or “a time of fellowship.”

This meant the adults would sit around drinking coffee, making small talk, and laughing at amusing anecdotes. Aside from taking place in a church building, God had little part in our fellowship time.

But fellowship bored us kids. For our part, we spent this time seeking creative ways to entertain ourselves, with the goal of avoiding getting into trouble. 

Though supplying some insight, the dictionary doesn’t offer much clarity into what John means with fellowship either. In defining fellowship, it talks about companionship, friendship, and comradeship.

This understanding may explain most churches’ fellowship time, but it falls short of what Christian fellowship could and should be.

The churches’ and the dictionary’s superficial views of fellowship aren’t what John writes about. The reality that God is part of our fellowship suggests it exists, at least in part, on a spiritual level where we enjoy a supernatural connection. 

Consider the pair of disciples walking to Emmaus after Jesus’s crucifixion. The resurrected Christ appears to them, but they don’t recognize him.

When they at last realize who he is, Jesus disappears. Reflecting on what happened, they say, “Weren’t our hearts burning when he talked to us and explained the Scriptures?” (Luke 24:32).

Having our hearts burn within us is an example of fellowship. 

God-honoring fellowship should cause our hearts to burn when we talk about the things of God, explore the Bible together, and live in authentic Christian community.

And we can also experience this intense, personal fellowship with God. Through the Holy Spirit, we can connect with God the Father and God the Son in the spiritual realm.

This fellowship with other believers and with our Lord is why John proclaims Jesus. And when we follow Jesus, we can experience this sincere, profound, and deep connection on a spiritual level.


  1. Is our fellowship more than sitting around and drinking coffee? 
  2. How can our fellowship with other believers be more meaningful?
  3. How can we have fellowship with God?
  4. When is the last time your heart burned within you over spiritual matters?
  5. What role can the Holy Spirit play in our fellowship?

Discover more about fellowship in Acts 2:42, 1 Corinthians 1:9, and 2 Corinthians 13:14, as well as 1 John 1:6–7.

Tips: Check out our tips to use this online Bible study for your church, small group, Sunday school class, or family discussion. It’s also ideal for personal study. Come back each Monday for a new lesson.

Read the next lesson or start at the beginning of this study.

Discover practical, insightful, and encouraging truths in Love One Another, a devotional Bible study to foster a deeper appreciation for the two greatest commandments: To love God and to love others.

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.

Visiting Churches

The Next Steps

Another exploration of visiting churches has wrapped up, producing memories and insights. These can serve to move us forward in our spiritual journey, better prepared to worship God, serve others, and experience community. Where do we go from here? What are the next steps?

Consider these three discussion questions about the next steps.

1. Church means different things to different people, with our understanding of it evolving over time. The same applies to faith. Review your answers in this workbook.

How has your view of church grown? What changes should we make in how we put our faith into action?

2. I hope the questions in this book have spurred a lot of great ideas. But without action, great ideas amount to nothing.

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

3. When visiting churches, one person often made the difference between us feeling accepted and rejected.

In addition to changes we want to make in our own interactions with visitors, how can we encourage others to follow our example?

[Read about How to Go to Church 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.

Visiting Churches

Our New Church Home

For 52 Churches, we took a year off and visited a different Christian church every Sunday. When the year wrapped up, we returned to our home church.

More Than 52 Churches: The Journey Continues

This time it’s different. Throughout More Than 52 Churches, we interspersed our church visits with regular attendance at our home church. This provided a balance, a stability to keep us anchored in church community, as we visited others.

Attending our home church required a fifteen-minute trip to get there, going past many other options that were more accessible and more inviting.

For much of my life, I couldn’t figure out why we drove past other churches to go to our church of choice. Yet we never went to the closest one.

Since each Christian church worships the same God, follows the same Savior, and reads the same Bible, it shouldn’t really matter which one we go to. Yes, this is theoretical. I do understand why most people don’t go to the closest church.

For years, I’ve longed to go to church in my community, worshiping and serving with my neighbors and family.

Now we do.

It’s Church #67, the “Satellite Church.”

After our initial visit, we returned the following week, and came back the week after that, staying for their after-church meeting to learn more about their community.

Soon going there turned into a habit, and we got involved. This may explain in part why the allure of visiting other churches grew dim.

This church is within walking distance of our house, three-quarters of a mile away. (For full disclosure, this is the second-closest church. There’s one a tad nearer. We visited it, but one of us didn’t care for it.)

We now know that several of our neighbors attend our church, as well as two of our children and grandchildren. Weather permitting, I walk to church each Sunday. Candy drives. This way we can leave church together and head for lunch with family.

It’s all good.

It’s our new church home.

Read the prior post in this series, the next post on How to Be an Engaging Church, 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.

Christian Living

We Must Rethink Sunday School

Reform Sunday School as an Education Service to Your Community

It may be strange to see Sunday school on this list of things we must change for our churches, but we should carefully reexamine it. Do you know the original mission of this Sunday program?

It was to teach poor children how to read. And the church used the most accessible book to them, the Bible. It was a pleasant side effect that in teaching children to read, this Sunday educational program also taught them about God through the Bible.

By the time public schools came into existence and took over this job of teaching children how to read, Sunday school had become entrenched in churches.

Instead of realizing they had accomplished their objective and shutting it down, they shifted its focus to teach the church’s children about God.

It didn’t matter that this was the parent’s responsibility (Deuteronomy 6:6–7, Proverbs 22:6, and Ephesians 6:4). Though parents can supplement their efforts with other resources, let’s not depend on Sunday school to be one of them.

English as a Second Language

We could use this as justification for shutting down our Sunday schools, but a better approach might be to reform this practice from the internal program that it has become back into a service effort to help those in our community, just as was the original intent.

One example that would apply in many areas in the United States is to look at teaching English as a second language (ESL). Though many ESL programs already exist, they don’t reach everyone.

Beyond ESL classes, meeting any unmet community educational need would fit nicely.

Regardless, the church should reform their Sunday school practice to address needs in their community.

Parents should resume their biblical role to tell their children about Jesus. They are the primary spiritual educators of their children. This removes the need for Sunday school, which we can re-envision as a program to help those in our community.

Read the next post in this series about things we must change in our discussion about Christian unity and loving others.

Read more about this in Peter’s new book, Jesus’s Broken Church, available in e-book, audiobook, 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.

Visiting Churches

A Messianic Jewish Congregation: Church #71

Before 52 Churches, we visited a Messianic Jewish church: Jews who believe in Jesus as their Jewish savior, mixing Jewish tradition with Christian faith. 

They met on Saturday nights. The service involved a time of worship and a time of teaching. They concluded with a shared meal.

Most of the service was in English, but a few parts of worship were in Hebrew. I mumbled the words the best I could, but I had no idea if my fellow worshipers pronounced their Hebrew words correctly or not. 

Their hymnals were in both Hebrew and English. As I recall, page one was at the back. For their meal, shared potluck style, they provided food with a Jewish flair. I don’t know how authentic or Americanized these dishes were, but they were tasty.

The friendly people there embraced us. They welcomed us. We felt like family from the beginning.

Worshiping God in an unfamiliar way brought a freshness, an authenticity to our efforts. Their unfamiliar traditions occasionally confused me, but I also felt strangely invigorated by what we did.

They didn’t have their own building, but they did have their own worship space. It was in the basement of a Protestant church. This was ideal, since neither group used the facility at the same time.

There were two interesting things about this congregation. First, everyone there was Gentile. That is, they weren’t Jewish. It seems strange to me that a Messianic Jewish church wouldn’t have some Jewish people attending it.

When I asked about this, someone explained that sometimes a Jewish family did drive from another city to meet with them, but this didn’t occur every week.

The other interesting thing is most of the people present at this Saturday evening Messianic Jewish gathering also attend a Protestant service on Sunday morning. This perplexed me. This is, however, exactly what Candy and I did.

That was many years ago, but the experience stayed with me, and I want to encounter it again. When we embarked upon our 52 Churches journey, I desired to include this church and make a repeat visit. Unfortunately, they no longer met at the same place.

Instead their location rotated between the homes of their regular attendees. Revisiting them wasn’t going to work for 52 Churches. And though I would’ve liked to have returned later, we never got around to it.

There’s another Messianic Jewish congregation near where we live. It’s a thirty-five-minute drive, not close but not insurmountable either. I want to visit them and compare their practices with my recollection of the first Messianic Jewish congregation.

I want to go. We could go. But we don’t.

I guess I’m tired of visiting churches.

[See the discussion questions for Church 71, read about Church 70 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.

Christian Living

Realign our Church Practices of Music and Message

We Must Rethink What Happens at Our Church Services

A friend once said in his Sunday morning message that some people go to church for the music and put up with the sermon. Others go for the sermon and put up with the music.

The minister’s statement suggests that people feel a church service has two primary elements. One is the worship music, and the other is the sermon: music and message.

I get this. At one point in my life I endured the singing as I waited for the teaching. Then my perspective flopped as I pursued worship and endured the sermon. Now neither matters too much to me.

In recent years I’ve not gone to church for the music nor the message. I show up for the chance of experiencing meaningful community before or after the service.

Put Music or Message in Its Place

Though the New Testament talks about both music and message, neither seems central to their meetings, especially not the way we pursue these two items today.

Music: Though music is a part of Jesus’s church, it emerges more as a secondary pursuit. Paul doesn’t ascribe music to a worship leader but to each person gathered. The purpose of this is to build up Jesus’s church (1 Corinthians 14:26).

Music is part of the one another commands as a way of ministering to each other (Colossians 3:16 and Ephesians 5:18–19).

An interesting side note is that the New Testament never mentions using musical instruments in their worship of God, as happened throughout the Old Testament. This doesn’t imply that our church singing today should be a cappella, but this is something we might want to contemplate.

Sometimes New Testament singing to God happens apart from a church gathering, such as when Paul and Silas are sitting in jail (Acts 16:25). Let’s consider how we can apply their example to our reality today.

Sometimes the music set at one of today’s church services is worshipful, drawing us into closer fellowship with God. But too often it’s more of a performance for attendees then a tribute to our creator.

This makes the music portion at some churches more akin to a concert, even to the point of including a light show, smoke machines, and accompanying video projection behind the performers.

And if you claim our church worship time isn’t a performance, then why are the singers and musicians positioned in front of everyone and elevated on a stage? If the music is truly a tribute to God and not a performance for us, then why not station the musicians behind the congregation or out of sight so their presence won’t distract us from God?

Message: Another friend calls the church sermon a lecture. I’m not sure if he’s joking or serious, but I get his point. I’ve heard sermons that so sidestepped the Bible, faith, and the good news of Jesus that the resulting words were no different than a lecture from a secular speaker.

There are, however, three instances where New Testament writers describe activity that we might equate to a sermon. These are in specific situations.

The first is educating people about their faith (Acts 2:42). This implicitly is for new believers, giving them spiritual milk as we would feed a baby (1 Corinthians 3:1–3). This basic training grows them in their salvation (1 Peter 2:1–3).

It prepares them to teach others (Hebrews 5:11–14). It’s not something to persist in Sunday after Sunday. Instead it’s a temporary situation we should grow out of.

The second is missionaries who tell those outside the church about Jesus. This can’t happen at a church meeting because those who need to hear the good news of Jesus aren’t there.

Spreading the gospel message requires going out to encounter people where they are, not expecting them to come to us and our church services (Acts 8:4, Acts 8:40, Romans 10:14–15, and 2 Corinthians 10:16).

And the third is traveling missionaries who give updates at the local churches (Acts 14:27, Acts 15:4, and Acts 20:7).

Everyone Participates: Regarding these two elements of music and message—that we place so much emphasis on in our churches today—Paul gives instructions to the church in Corinth. It’s not the job of a worship leader to lead us in song.

Nor is it the role of a minister to preach a sermon. We—the people in attendance—are to do these things, and more, for each other. It’s an egalitarian gathering where we all take part for our common good to build up Jesus’s church (1 Corinthians 14:26).

Remember, through Jesus, we are all priests. It’s time we start acting like it.


What does show up as a reoccurring theme throughout the New Testament is community. But this goes way beyond the time of personal interaction that I seek before or after a Sunday service.

The church, as a group of people, should major in community, on getting along and experiencing life together. Community should happen before, during, and after all our gatherings—both those on Sunday, as well as throughout the week. In all that we do, community must be our focus.

We should enjoy spending time with each other, just hanging out.

If we don’t like spending time with the people we see for an hour each Sunday morning, then something’s wrong: not with them, but with us. Yes, community can get messy.

But we have Jesus’s example, the Holy Spirit’s insight, and the Bible’s wisdom to guide us in navigating the challenges that erupt when people spend time with each other in intentional interaction.

Here are some of the aspects of community that we see in the early church, and that we can follow in today’s church.

Share Meals: A lot of eating takes place in Jesus’s church. We must feed our bodies to sustain us physically, so why not do it in the company of other like-minded people?

In community, sharing food becomes a celebration of life and of faith. (Read more about breaking bread in “10 More New Testament Practices, Part 2”.)

Fast: Although Jesus’s followers do a lot of eating together, they also fast (Matthew 6:16–17 and Acts 14:23). Fasting is an intentional act of devotion that helps connect us with God and align our perspectives with his.

Remember that although Jesus’s disciples didn’t fast, once he left, it was time for his followers to resume fasting (Luke 5:33–35).

Prayer: Another reoccurring New Testament theme is prayer. This isn’t a minister-led oration on Sunday morning. This is more akin to a mid-week prayer meeting, with everyone gathered in community to seek God in prayer together (Acts 1:14 and Acts 12:5).

Listen to the Holy Spirit: As the people pray, sometimes associated with fasting, they listen to the Holy Spirit (Acts 15:28). Then they obey what the Holy Spirit calls them to do (Acts 13:2–3).

Minister to One Another: In their community they follow the Bible’s one another commands, which teach us how to get along in a God-honoring way. (See treat one another.”)

Serve Others: We serve one another in our faith community (Galatians 5:13). We should also serve those outside our church, just as Jesus served others. And we shouldn’t serve with any motive other than with the pure intent to show them the love of Jesus.

Loving others through our actions may be the most powerful witness we can offer. We need to let our light shine so that the world can see (Matthew 5:14–16 and James 2:14–17). All of humanity is watching. May they see Jesus in what we do (1 Peter 2:12).

Tell Others about Jesus: The New Testament gives examples of people telling others about Jesus in their local community (Acts 3:11–26 and Acts 7:1–53). It also mentions sending people out into the world as missionaries (Acts 8:4–5 and Acts 13:2).

Witnessing, both local and abroad, springs from the foundation of community.


In our community we should pursue harmony. Jesus prayed that we would be one (John 17:20–21). The early church modeled unity (Acts 4:32). We also covered unity in the “The Acts 4 Example.”

When issues arise among Jesus’s followers that threaten their single-mindedness, they work through it to avoid division (Acts 11:1–18). This unity includes the agreement of their theology (Acts 15:1–21).


We need to rethink what happens at our church, deemphasizing the significance of music and message while elevating the importance of community, one that functions in unity for Jesus.

Read more about this in Peter’s new book, Jesus’s Broken Church, available in e-book, audiobook, 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.

Visiting Churches

Quakers: Unplanned and Spontaneous, Church #70

A few years ago, I stumbled upon a group of Young Quakers online. Their faith, their passion for community, and their desire to make a difference in their world drew me in. They even invited me to their annual gathering, halfway across the country.

Though I had never met one of them in person, for a time I considered going. That’s how desperate I was to be part of a vibrant faith community—even for a weekend.

They were all about half my age, which may explain their zest and their appeal to me. After serious consideration, however, I opted not to go.

Local Opportunities

Being ever practical, I looked for a gathering closer to home. Some of their group met on the other side of the state, but that was still too far away.

Casting a wider net for Quakers in general, I found a gathering some forty minutes from my house. They don’t meet every week, but instead get together the first, third, and fifth Sundays of each month.

According to their website, their meetings are unplanned and spontaneous. They use different wording, but my take is they spend a lot of time listening to the Holy Spirit, responding as appropriate.

Sometimes this means sharing insights and other times it entails keeping it to themselves. With no minister, everyone can participate in an egalitarian manner.

This is quite different from my normal Sunday practices, yet I have often experienced this, albeit without my bride, in other settings. There we would quiet ourselves and wait for the Holy Spirit to speak to us.

If his words were for the group, we would share them. Otherwise, we would keep his insight to ourselves. I wrote what I heard in my journal.

I know Candy would go to this church without complaint, but I also worry that their format would make her uncomfortable. I never resolved this dilemma, so the Quakers also kept moving down the list as we visited other churches. 

Range of Quaker Practices

Of note: In my online research about Quakers, I gather there is a wide range of Quaker practices. On one side are those gatherings that focus on the leading of the Holy Spirit, as this church seems to follow. In contrast, other Quaker meetings are quite different.

[See the discussion questions for Church 70, read about Church 69, 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.