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52 Churches

A Welcoming Church with Much to Offer

Located in a building with shared tenant space, this church has an inviting location, easily accessible, with nearby parking. They are a most welcoming church.

Consider these four discussion questions about Church #43

1. With little room to mingle, we sit down. Several people come over to greet us. They give a heartfelt thanks for visiting and invite us back. 

How can you engage with people who sit in silence waiting for the service to begin?

2. We’ve identified two key elements that make us feel truly welcomed at churches. One is sharing names, and the other is making a connection. Any attempt works, provided it doesn’t become an interrogation. 

How can you do better at connecting with others?

3. Their multipage bulletin contains their liturgy, but I get my pages out of order and later joke about my ineptitude to an elderly man. “We have to get a projector to display the words,” he says. “I’ve wanted this for years.” 

How can technology make your service more accessible?

4. Except for the prayer and message, the members handle the service. 

How much of your service do leaders handle and how much do members take care of? What can you do to allow for more participation?

This was a welcoming church with much to offer. I especially like how involved the congregation is and their sense of ownership in the service. I anticipate that a great future awaits them.

[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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52 Churches

An Outlier Church

Discussing Church 15

Their website says we’ll find “a laid-back, coffeehouse atmosphere” with “an unconventional setting where a blend of people, of all ages, from all walks of life, can gather and feel at home.” This is my kind of church. It’s an outlier church in a mainline denomination.

Consider these four discussion questions about Church #15

1. Weather permitting, the service will be outdoors. I’m excited for a chance to worship in nature, but I’m disappointed I won’t experience their typical service. 

Regular attendees may appreciate a special service, but how does this impact visitors?

2. We arrive and see no hint of an outdoor service. We later learn that based on today’s forecast for ninety-three degrees, they decided to meet inside. 

How well does your church deal with last-minute changes?

3. The service starts with a video. It’s an allegory that shows the importance of churches maintaining their original purpose: focusing outward and avoiding the snare of self-centeredness or adopting an inward preoccupation. 

How can your church better maintain an outward focus?

4. Next is a time for healing prayer, another first on our journey, and a most welcome one. 

Does your church offer healing prayer for people in need? Do you?

[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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52 Churches

Successfully Melding Contemporary and Traditional

Discussing Church 4

This church’s Facebook page—they have no website—says their “services are informal with a blend of hymns and contemporary music.” I expect service melding contemporary and traditional aspect of worship.

Consider these four discussion questions about Church #4:

1. I suspect the service will match what I see in the facility, a merging of traditional and contemporary, just as promised online.

Does your church deliver what you promise? If not, what needs to change?

2. We sit only a third of the way in, yet most people pack in behind us.

Where do you sit in church? Why? Many visitors like to sit toward the back to remain anonymous. What can you do to leave room for them?

3. Some people raise their hands in worship as we sing, yet most don’t. I want to, but I fear calling unwelcomed attention to myself if I do.

How can you help people feel comfortable in worshiping God at your church?

4. Afterward, they invite us to stay for coffee and cookies. So many people talk to us that snack time is over before we reach the fellowship hall.

How can you avoid being in such a hurry to pick up that guests feel rushed or shortchanged?

Overall. I’m excited at their melding contemporary and traditional in their church 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.

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52 Churches

Reflecting on Church #25: They Ended Up With a Building After All

A Church Doesn’t Need Their Own Space

With our journey of visiting fifty-two churches over, I can reflect more on the complete experience. Today, I’ll add to my thoughts about Church #25.

I praised this congregation for not having a church building. Instead they rented space on Sunday for their services. That meant the money they’d normally spend on a mortgage and building maintenance could instead be used for community outreach and service.

52 Churches, by Peter DeHaan

Shortly after our visit, this church announced a merger of sorts with another nearby congregation from the same denomination. The other church, small and struggling, did have a church building, but their dwindling membership made it impossible for them to continue.

As the melding of their two congregations progressed, both churches shut down for several months, before re-emerging as a new entity in the second church’s building.

During this in between time, some members grew weary of the delay and scattered to find other churches, while others gave up and stopped going to church altogether.

I wish they hadn’t delayed. I lament the loss of people, and I lament they now have a large building to maintain. I wonder if their focus on the surrounding community will suffer as a result.

The early church met in people’s homes and public places. Why can’t we do the same today? Think of all the money we’d save and hassles we could avoid if we removed the shackles of owning and maintaining a church facility.

Not only are our church structures exorbitantly expensive, they’re also underutilized most of the time. At best, one of today’s churches enjoys full usage for only two hours of each week. That’s 1.2 percent of the time. This means that for 98.8 percent of each week the building is underutilized.

Maintaining a church building is costly and does little to advance the kingdom of God. We don’t need to go to a building to go to church so we can connect with God. We take church with us wherever we go—or at least we should.

[See my reflections about Church #24 and Church #26 or start with Church #1.]

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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52 Churches

Reflecting on Church #8: It Only Takes One Person to Make a Difference

With our journey of visiting fifty-two churches over, I can reflect more on the complete experience. Today, I’ll add to my thoughts about Church #8.

My memories of this church are positive, and I want to revisit them. I even recommended it to someone who was looking for a church. However, her experience was disappointing.

Not a single person talked to her the entire time she was there: not before, not during, and not after. She entered the building not knowing anyone, and she left not knowing anyone.

52 Churches, by Peter DeHaan

Then I realized the reality of our visit. Aside from a brief conversation with a greeter when we arrived and an extended time talking with a couple who approached us just as we were leaving, they ignored us. The rest of the time, few people even made eye contact and those who did, quickly looked away. We were all alone in a room full of people.

What turned an isolated experience into a memorable one was one couple who reached out to us as we headed to the door, after we’d given up on any meaningful conversation. One couple made the difference between a happy, I-want-to-return memory and a lonely, never-going-back-again pain.

Consider how you can make a difference at your church. Then go do it.

One person can make a difference—and it doesn’t take much effort at all. Click To Tweet

[See my reflections about Church #7 and Church #9 or start with Church #1.]

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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52 Churches

Reflecting on Church #6: A Pleasing Present and a Bleak Future

With our journey of visiting fifty-two churches over, I can reflect more on the complete experience. Today, I’ll add to my thoughts about Church #6.

There are many positive aspects of this church, but with an aging congregation, their future is bleak. Caught in time, circa 1960, their service would have been nice then, even inviting. Now it’s out-of-date. When fifty-something visitors are among the youngest present, that’s a real problem.

The church’s budget is barely enough to cover operational expenses, let alone pay a pastor. Even worse, the prior week’s offering fell far short of the budget. Their aging leader can’t receive much compensation from them, if any.

52 Churches, by Peter DeHaan

Perhaps that’s why he also pastors another church. At eighty years old, I wonder how much longer he’ll be able to lead them. When that time comes what will they do? Will they find someone else to take his place? I worry over what is next for them.

[See my reflections about Church #5 and Church #7 or start with Church #1.]

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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52 Churches

Reflecting on Church #4: Focusing on What Matters Most

With our journey of visiting fifty-two churches over, I can reflect more on the complete experience. Today, I’ll add to my thoughts about Church #4.

A few years ago we visited this church when ours closed because of bad weather. At the time, they held two services and were outgrowing their building.

They purchased land and made plans for a larger facility. As I understand, some people objected, stirring up dissention and causing division. (See Romans 16:17.) As a result, many people left in a huff, while those who remained consolidated into one Sunday service.

52 Churches, by Peter DeHaan

It’s sad when God’s people can’t get along and even sadder when their words and actions divide Jesus’ church. This is not what he desires. Though differing opinions are inevitable and sometimes leaving a church may be the best solution, the dissidents need to depart quietly and without making a mess for those who stay.

It’s sad when God’s people can’t get along and even sadder when their words and actions divide Jesus’ church. Click To Tweet

Now, with the troublemakers gone, those who remain have formed a committed core group. They are intent on being what a church should be: worshiping instead of being entertained, serving over being served, and pursuing God’s perspective rather than their own agenda.

They’re focusing on what matters. I am expectant for their future.

[See my reflections about Church #3 and Church #5 or start with Church #1.]

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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52 Churches

A Glimpse into the Future (Visiting Church #15)

Sunday we visited our third United Methodist Church. I enjoyed all three, even though this one’s in sharp contrast to the other two. Based on our experience, it’s an anomaly for their denomination.

I consider them an “outlier congregation,” a group unlike the norm, one that may be an enigma to their denominational leadership.

52 Churches, by Peter DeHaan

Their website says we “will find a laid back coffee house atmosphere” with “an unconventional setting where a blend of people…can gather and feel at home.” The website is correct.

The building was formerly a corporate headquarters, so it’s laid out like a business, not a church, but it works nicely anyway. With seating for about 150, it’s spacious and smartly decorated.

Three videos are used during the service: one to start it, one to preview the message, and one during a time of healing prayer.

Having people come forward for prayer is a welcomed first on our journey. There’re two prayer teams and plenty of takers, with this portion of the service lasting several minutes. They anoint people with oil and pray for them, but they don’t publically share their needs or the prayers.

The music provides a comforting background, with hugs of gratitude as the typical response. It’s a beautiful thing and I’m glad to witness it.

As an “outlier congregation” this church parallels church #8, “A Bold Experiment.” These churches may be the result of their respective denominations’ attempts to move into the future or merely the reluctant willingness of leadership to allow them to try something new.

Regardless, they advance God’s kingdom.

Will they be a short-lived experiment or a glimpse into the future? I hope and pray it is the latter.

[Read about Church #14 and Church #16, start at the beginning of our journey, or learn more about Church #15.]

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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Reviews of Books & Movies

Book Review: The Practicing Congregation

The Practicing Congregation: Imagining a New Old Church

By Diana Butler Bass (reviewed by Peter DeHaan)

If you follow the media at all, you have likely heard of the demise of interest and attendance at mainline churches in the United States and abroad.

Although there may be some truth in that assessment, it is only part of the truth. There is also occurring numerical growth and spiritual success among some mainline congregations.

The Practicing Congregation looks at those churches, encouraging and enlightening us along the way. This sentiment is succinctly summed up in the subtitle: “Imaging a New Old Church” and as such it becomes a primer for tomorrow’s church.

The contents of this book are applicable to all who follow the God revealed in the Bible, but is focused especially on mainline churches.

As a bonus there is a compelling afterword by Brian McLaren that extends Butler Bass’s mainline principles to evangelical, Roman Catholic, and Orthodox perspectives.

For the academic minded, this work is heavily and thoughtfully footnoted.

[The Practicing Congregation: Imagining a New Old Church, by Diana Butler Bass. Published by The Alban Institute, 2004, ISBN: 978-1566993050, 129 pages.]

Read more book reviews by Peter DeHaan.

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.