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Visiting Churches

Discussing Church #61: Visiting Church by Myself 

Many Sundays we’ve driven by this church, noting a three-quarters-full lot for their first service and a packed one for their second. While church size doesn’t impress me and growth may be misleading, both can signal spiritual vitality. I’m intrigued. Today, I’ll be visiting church by myself.

Consider these seven discussion questions about Church #61.

Candy is gone, so I’m on my own. I’m okay visiting a church by myself, but staying home is so tempting. How can we form a habit of regular church attendance? How can we stick with it?

The parking lot has plenty of space. I’m underwhelmed. What message does our parking lot send? How can we make parking be a positive and inviting introduction to our facility?

Being alone, I feel more exposed than usual. I pause, hoping someone will greet me. No one does. And no one’s available for me to approach. Visiting a church solo takes extra courage. How can we welcome a person squirming in silence?

Several minutes after it’s time to start, the worship team begins playing. Their opening strains call people into the sanctuary. These late arrivals distract me from worship. How can we make sure we don’t impede others from experiencing God?

Next is the greeting. Epic fail. I’m weary of these trivial attempts at connection: people faking friendly when ordered and then withdrawing. How can we be open and friendly all the time and not just when instructed?

The senior pastor is gone, with a second-year seminarian filling in. The guy is green. He should practice in seminary, not on a congregation. When a message falls short—which will inevitably happen—how should we respond?

I leave frustrated. I enjoyed the music, but the message caused consternation, and the lack of connection left me empty. Was it my fault or theirs? How can we help others leave church feeling better than when they arrived?

[Read about Church #61, Church #62, or start at the beginning of our journey.]

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

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

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

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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.

Where do we go to best connect with God and spend time with other like-minded believers? Click To Tweet

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?

Discover more about celebrating Jesus and his birth in Peter’s new book, The Advent of Jesus.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

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

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Visiting Churches

Key Questions from Churches 45 through 53

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

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

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

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

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

How can you guard against complacency?

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

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

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

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

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Christian Living

The Bible Tells the Church to Meet Together, Worship, and Witness

We Can’t Witness for Jesus When We Sequester Ourselves on Sunday Mornings

Just before Jesus leaves this world to return to heaven, he instructs his followers to go into the world and make disciples (Matthew 28:19). In an expanded version of this incident, Jesus tells his followers to wait for Holy Spirit power and then be his witness, both near and far (Acts 1:4-9).

Witness and Make Disciples

The church of Jesus doesn’t do a good job of being witnesses and making disciples. To do so requires an outward perspective, yet most all churches have an inward focus: they care for their own to the peril of outsiders, with many churches excelling in doing so.

Yes, God values community and wants us to meet together (Hebrews 10:25). And the Bible is packed with commands and examples of worshiping God, with Jesus noting that “true worshipers” will worship God in the Spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24).

Meeting Together and Worship

Most churches do the meeting together part reasonably well, albeit with varying degrees of success. Many of those churches have a time of worship as they meet together, though perhaps not always “in the Spirit” or even “in truth.”

Yet few churches look outside their walls in order to go into their community to witness and make disciples. Though Jesus said to wait for the Holy Spirit, he didn’t say to wait for people to come to us, to come to our churches so we could witness and disciple them.

No, we are supposed to leave our church buildings to take this work to them. We can’t do that at church on Sunday morning, safely snug behind closed doors.

Maybe we should forego the church service in order to be a church that serves. Click To Tweet

Go into the World as a Witness

Yes there is a time to come together and a time to worship, but there is also a time to go. And we need to give more attention to the going part.

I know of two churches that have sent their congregations out into their community on Sunday mornings, foregoing the church service in order to be a church that serves. One church did it a few times and stopped after they saw little results and received much grumbling.

The other church regularly plans this a few times each year and garners a positive influence on their community.

Shouldn’t every church make a positive impact on their community? Yet so few do. They are too busy meeting together and worshiping.

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

Read more about the book of Acts in Tongues of Fire: 40 Devotional Insights for Today’s Church from the Book of Acts, available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover. [Originally published as Dear Theophilus Acts.]

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

The Megachurch, a Grand and Welcoming Experience

I’m both excited and apprehensive about visiting our area’s largest church, a megachurch.

Consider these four discussion questions about Church #51

1. A sign at their drive tells first-time visitors to turn on their four-way flashers—because they want to give us VIP treatment. I don’t bother and follow the flow of cars, but it’s a nice touch. 

What can you do to give visitors VIP treatment?

2. After the opening set, one of the co-pastors explains that it’s nametag Sunday, something new they’re trying to facilitate better connections with one another. 

How can you help people connect with each other?

3. After the service I turn in our visitor card and they offer a tour of the facility. Our guide wraps up with a challenge to come back for three months to see how our faith grows. “You can’t evaluate a church on just one visit.” 

How can you encourage others on their faith journey?

4. While making connection was a concern at Church #50, forming meaningful friendships would be even harder here at this megachurch. But they do offer opportunities to meet people and form deeper relationships on Sunday nights and throughout the week. 

How can you help people connect at your church?

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

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

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

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

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Visiting Churches

A Large and Anonymous Church

This church is huge, the largest so far.

Consider these four discussion questions about Church #49:

1. I wonder if I’ll find a space in their packed parking lot and fight off the urge to flee in panic. Large churches need parking attendants. 

What can you do to help people find a place to park and not drive away?

2. The large lobby has hundreds of people milling about. Just inside, a man approaches us. He’s wearing an ear mic. I wonder if he’s the pastor, but he simply introduces himself as John. Unfortunately, he’s the only one to talk to us. 

What can you do to greet visitors?

3. Candy spots a coat rack and we head toward it. It’s full, and so is the next one. The third one has room. Just as it’s hospitable to leave spaces for visitors to park near the entrance, leave space in the coat racks too. 

How can you make room for guests?

4. During his message, John instructed members to look for visitors to greet. But no one makes any effort, not even the man sitting in front of us who wears a deacon nametag. He looks past us. 

What can you do next Sunday to better greet people you don’t know?

This was a large and anonymous church, were people can show up for church, sit through a service, and leave without ever talking with anyone.

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

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

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

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

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Visiting Churches

Prayers for the People

The church’s pastor is out of town, and the laity leads the entire service. One thing they do is “prayers for the people.”

Consider these four discussion questions about Church #48

1. Someone asks us to sign their guestbook but then scrambles to find a pen. Though once common, guestbooks now seem archaic and carry privacy concerns. 

What practices do you need to change because they no longer fit today’s culture?

2. A friend invites us to sit with her and her husband. The leader gives some announcements and then asks for more. After others share, our friend stands and introduces us to the crowd. It’s a nice gesture. 

How can you introduce new people to others and thereby reduce their discomfort?

3. After a song they offer “prayers for the people.” The leader opens and then pauses. After a bit of silence, someone else prays, and a few more follow. I like their approach, effectively sharing with each other as they talk to God. 

How can you make group prayer more meaningful and less awkward?

4. Afterward we stay for coffee and cookies. We linger for forty-five minutes before heading home, happy for our time at church today. 

What should you change so that people want to tarry and enjoy Christian community?

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

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

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

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

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Visiting Churches

Two Services: Another Doubleheader

Experiencing a Traditional Service and a Contemporary One

Today we’ll enjoy two services, another doubleheader: a traditional service followed by a contemporary one.

Consider these four discussion questions about Church #45

1. As we wander inside, several people acknowledge our presence, thanking us for visiting. But beyond that no one says anything more, so we meander into the sanctuary. 

Acknowledging a person is a great start, but what more can you do to connect with them and show you care?

2. At one point, the minister invites people to come forward to the altar. Doing this in the middle of the service is unusual, and I don’t catch the purpose. 

When you do something people don’t expect, how can you make your intentions clear?

3. Between services is a pastor’s breakfast for guests. It’s a great chance to learn more and experience community. They say it’s in the library but fail to explain how to get there. Eventually someone gives us directions. 

How can you help people better navigate your facility?

4. The crowd is lethargic at the contemporary service. It’s as though they just crawled out of bed and rolled into church—and many rolled in late. 

What must you do to engage in worship? How can you help others in their worship?

The two services gave us completely different experiences.

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

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

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

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

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Visiting Churches

Key Questions from Churches 27 through 44

As we wind up this phase of our journey, our experiences are starting to blur. Yes, I still notice kindnesses offered and innovations presented, but I worry I’m now more apt to notice the negative. I pray against that.

Consider these two discussion questions about the third leg of our journey: 

1. I’ve noted the importance of community. Some churches excel at it, a few fail, and most fall in-between. 

How can your church do better at providing community?

2, Integral to the importance of community is greeting. Greeting well fosters community. It happens before the service, during any official greeting time within the service, and afterward. 

How can you greet more effectively?

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

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

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

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

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Visiting Churches

A Great Way to End the Year

With Sunday falling between Christmas and New Year’s Day, I have low expectations for their year end service.

Consider these four discussion questions about Church #39

1. Yet inside, friendly faces and hearty handshakes greet us. People acknowledge us as first-timers, without fawning over us. 

How can you better embrace newcomers without making them uncomfortable?

2. We slide into the fifth row, which is also the back row. I’m dismayed over the pews’ lack of lumbar support. I squirm throughout the service and soon have a terrible backache. 

What can you do to make sure your seating doesn’t distract people from encountering God?

3. The congregation recites this week’s memory verse in unison. The pastor then challenges them to recall last week’s verse, which he leads them in saying. 

What can you do to help people hide God’s word in their hearts (Psalm 119:11)?

4. They invite us to a fast food restaurant after church. When we sit, no one joins us. It’s awkward until a lady moves to our booth midway through the meal. It only takes one person to make the difference between feeling seen or ignored. 

What can you do to help others feel accepted?

Overall, it was a great year end service.

[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.