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Visiting Churches

Church #54: Emergent Church, Maybe

Someone once quipped, “There are more books about emergent churches than there are emergent churches.” That seems like hyperbole, but my experience confirms it.

I’ve read several books about the emergent church, but I’ve never actually been to one. Tonight’s experience may change that, but I’m not sure.

My wife, Candy, and I have an opening in our normal Sunday evening plans. This is an opportunity to visit a site plant of our home church (Church #53, “Home for Easter Sunday”). They meet at 5:30 for a community meal and then have a service afterward—more or less. 

For the past couple of weeks, we’ve discussed going. I’m in favor of it, but my bride is reluctant. It’s not that she fears adventure, but she fears the neighborhood. I offer the suggestion, but I don’t push it, hoping she’ll agree to go, without me having to talk her into it.

Talking with the Pastor

Sunday morning, I’m still waiting. The decision happens as Candy talks with one of the site plant leaders. He’s a friend and fellow writer. We hang out a couple times a month. 

His plans for tonight are to share a meal, offer a brief teaching, and then go for a prayer walk in the neighborhood. I’m sure his intent to wander the streets surrounding the church building will discourage Candy from going.

It’s one thing to drive to a semi-safe area and scurry inside a building, but it’s another to traipse around the neighborhood. (In all honesty, I’m apprehensive of the semi-safe prayer walk, too, but I’m willing to push through.)

His words don’t offer the assurance Candy seeks, but she asks what food to bring.

A Shared Meal

As visitors, they’d forgive us if we showed up empty-handed, but during our year of visiting fifty-two churches, we did our share of mooching, and I don’t want to do so again.

Vegetables, we learn, are typically lacking at their weekly potluck, so on our way home from the morning service, we stop by the store to pick up our contribution for the evening meal. 

The building is familiar to us. It’s the one our church first used until outgrowing the facility and moving. At first, a contingent of people remained, but our church leaders did poorly at managing multiple locations and eventually shut the site down.

Now—wiser, better equipped, and armed with a new plan—a cadre has returned, intent on serving this underserved neighborhood: the area’s poorest and least safe, crime-ridden and void of hope.

Arriving at Church

After a minor detour, because I made a wrong turn, we arrive right at 5:30. My all-too-familiar anxiety about confronting the unknown rumbles in my gut. My pulse quickens as we pull into the small, but mostly filled, parking lot.

I want to make a U-turn and race home, but the likelihood of my wife laughing at my panic steels my resolve enough to park our car. Another family exits their minivan, with kids in tow and food in hand.

Feeling a bit assured, we follow them through the back door that leads directly to the lower level.

With only a handful of people present, there’s even less food, mostly desserts. Round tables fill the basement. The one nearest us holds the food while one further away accommodates some people awaiting the meal.

Between the two is a room of empty spaces, except for a solitary woman sitting at her own table. Pleasant-looking and approachable, my instincts are to talk to her, while mindful that she could misunderstand my efforts or feel uncomfortable.

If I can get Candy’s attention, we can go together, but she’s at the food table, talking with someone who just emerged from the kitchen. To my relief, someone eventually joins the woman so she’s no longer alone.

Seeing Friends—and a Dog Named Beau

I scan the room, expecting to see friends who are part of this adventure, but I don’t see them. From upstairs come sounds of the worship team practicing. Surely, some of my friends are there.

Although I see a few familiar faces, I don’t recall any names. While I survey the situation, one of the familiar faces comes up to talk. We have a friendly, yet awkward, exchange that lasts too long. 

A small white dog meanders over to welcome me. I squat, offering my hand for him to smell. All he does is sniff and tremble. He doesn’t withdraw, yet he’s not advancing for me to pet him either. He’s apprehensive and has found a kindred soul in me.

I later learn his name is Beau, nicknamed Bobo. He serves as the church’s unofficial mascot, esteemed by all, and cared for by many. He belongs to our friends: the site pastor and his wife.

They welcomed Beau into their home and later adopted him. This is poetic preparation, for they will soon welcome a foster child into their home with the intent to adopt him too.

Eventually, the site pastor descends the stairs. Dismayed with the low turnout, he concedes we should not wait any longer for more to arrive. We gather in a circle and hold hands while he prays. He reminds us that sharing a meal is communion.

As we eat and drink together, we do so to remember Jesus. With the Amen said, people surge toward the food table. 

We’ve now grown in number to about thirty, yet the food hasn’t kept pace, and it’s still half desserts. Some people bought prepared food at the store, others share leftovers, and one person made some stew.

It smells tasty but is gone before I get to it. I hold back, as do a few others. Some people may depend on this for their evening meal. If I don’t have enough to eat, there’s more awaiting me at home. Others may not have that luxury.

Fellowship

Candy and I sit at a nearby table with our food, and others join us. We get to know them, making connections as we eat. As a bonus, today is the birthday of one of our leaders. We sing to her and share cake.

My focus is more on the fellowship than the food. But I reckon they cut both short when they urge us upstairs. As we do, more friends show up.

With four young children, it’s too much work to get their brood’s tiny mouths all fed before the worship time starts, so they eat at home and show up a bit later.

The Worship Space

The sanctuary is different from the last time we were here some five years ago. The antiquated pews are gone, replaced with comfortable, padded chairs. The ambiance of the coffee house next to the sanctuary is gone with its accessories stripped away to provide only the most basic options.

In the back, areas are set up for kids to play, with plenty of open floor space for physical worship. The overhead lights remain off, with mood lighting taking their place. The result is a peaceful, subdued setting.

There’s a short teaching, though our leader misses his goal of keeping it under ten minutes. He references Exodus 14:19–22, speaking about slavery, drawing present-day parallels for us to contemplate.

He wraps up about fifteen minutes later. With the planned prayer walk canceled due to a light rain, a time of worship starts, now an hour into the evening.

A few of the people from the meal are missing, but several more have arrived, swelling our group to over forty. Candy and I are at the upper end of the age spectrum. Most are in their mid-twenties and thirties, with a good number of children present.

The other site leader—the birthday girl—sits at the keyboard and leads us in song. A skillful and spirit-filled leader, she moves us forward with music. For some people the songs are the focus, while for others the sounds become reverent background music.

Candy soon wearies of the repetition, repetition, repetition of the choruses. For me it’s not the words that matter but the atmosphere: a worship space where we encounter God in multiple ways, according to each person’s preference.

Some people stand as they feel led, raising their arms, swaying, and reverently dancing. Others sit, bow, or kneel. 

Some kids wave worship flags, praising God through solemn movement. A few adults join them. Other kids play quiet games, build with foam blocks, or create art on a wall-sized chalkboard. A couple of women dance in the back with graceful movement.

I want to watch, worshiping God through the beauty of their motions, but I fear that in doing so I may intrude on a private moment between them and the Almighty. 

The teaching pastor stands again, signaling his wife to pause her playing. He offers a bit of encouragement and instruction. We sing a final song, and he dismisses us with a traditional benediction.

More Fellowship

The planned service is over, but no one leaves. Everyone tarries. We chat with several friends, offering prayers and blessings as needed. We say our goodbyes to the new friends we’ve made, thanking them for the opportunity to get to know them and wishing them well.

Many people attempt to leave, but they’re unsuccessful. There are simply too many conversations to have. Among the first to exit, we leave at 8:00 p.m., two and a half hours after we arrived.

The time passed quickly for me, as it does when I’m in the company of winsome Jesus followers. I relish the experience, suspecting this group is approaching a truer meaning of church than I’ve ever experienced on a Sunday morning. 

Candy has a different assessment, saying that had she not already gone to church today, this would have left her wanting. This must be one reason why there are so many types of churches.

Regardless of our differing perspectives, I think we just had our first emergent church experience.

[See the discussion questions for Church 54, read about Church 53, or start at the beginning of our journey.]

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

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

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Visiting Churches

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

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.

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Visiting Churches

A Refreshing Church Service

The church meets in a middle school’s all-purpose room. Large portable signs direct us to the entrance. We enjoy a refreshing church service.

Consider these four discussion questions about Church #38: 

1. People mill about: talking, sipping coffee, or munching snacks. They represent all age groups, with many kids. 

Younger people are the future of our church. What can you do to attract and connect with them?

2. A team of four leads worship, with optimally adjusted audio. The ideal sound tech is the one you’re unaware of. It’s only because of mistakes that anyone usually notices. This one is good. 

What should you do to make sure your audiovisual team supports your service and doesn’t distract?

3. As a special treat, three ladies from a local ballet company worship with us in dance. Ballet and guitars are an odd pairing, but the result is worshiping God through sound and movement. 

What fresh worship experiences can you add to your service?

4. Our leader gives us the freedom to dance—or not. I don’t have a danceable bone in my body, so I appreciate the permission to stay still, yet I’m disappointed because only a few join in. 

Worshipful dance occurs in the Bible. How can you incorporate dance into your church service?

Overall, we enjoyed a most refreshing church service, connecting with others who pointed us to God. We left in awe of God and his 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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Bible Insights

Adam Was a Vegetarian

Discover When Our Ancestors Starting Eating Meat

Adam was a vegetarian—really, he was. So were Eve and their kids too. In fact, the next several generations likely avoided meat was well. They all had a vegetarian lifestyle.

How do I know this? After creation, God told Adam and Eve that they could eat any plant or fruit tree for food. Meat was not mentioned as an option (Genesis 1:29).

However, less we conclude that we are supposed to be vegetarian, consider God’s follow-up instructions after the great flood. At that time, God gave all animals to Noah, stating that they would also be used for food (Genesis 9:2-3).

One might argue that God’s original plan was for a vegetarian lifestyle. That is an acceptable conclusion, but it needs to be kept in balance with the also acceptable perspective that meat was given to us to be enjoyed. Both are biblically defensible conclusions.

So, be we herbivore or carnivore, we need to get along with each other. That is even more in line with God’s desire for us then what we eat.

Bon Appétit!

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Genesis 9-11 and today’s post is on Genesis 9:2-3.]

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 Shepherd Cares for His Flock

Discussing Church 33

Even though this church is only nine miles from our house, the contrast between their lives and mine is stark. These people live in poverty. And their shepherd cares for his flock.

Consider these four discussion questions about Church #33

1. We struggle to sing hymns. The organist learned to play because no one else could, and the minister isn’t adept at leading singing. We push through. God doesn’t care about our musical ability, only our heart. 

How can we better align our perspective with his?

2. The people of this rural congregation struggle getting enough to eat. Behind the church is a sizable garden, planted for their church community. The pastor offers venison for Thanksgiving to those in need, as well as firewood to help heat their homes. 

How open are you to see the needs of others? What can you do to help?

3. The reality of these people’s lives puts an exclamation point on being in need. Their physical needs are great and their life, far different than mine.

How can you help meet the tangible needs of the people in your church? Your neighborhood?

4. These people worship God with their church community, their extended family. Being together is what matters. This minister takes care of his congregation; he’s a shepherd who cares for his flock. He loves them, and they, him. 

How can you show love to others?

[See the prior set of questions, the next week, 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

Commitment Sunday and Celebration

Discussing Church 32

This church has been homeless for a while, but they moved into their own space last week. Today they celebrate God’s faithfulness on a trying journey with their annual commitment Sunday.

Consider these four discussion questions about Church #32

1. We arrive to learn that it’s commitment Sunday for them, with contribution pledges sought for the upcoming year. The woman who explains this is embarrassed that our first visit falls on their annual plea for money. 

When you ask for money, how can you help visitors feel welcomed and not obligated?

2. When their minister learns we’re not used to liturgical services, she introduces us to someone who can guide us. He takes his job seriously and performs it admirably. 

How can you apply this visitor-friendly gesture to your church services?

3. The guest speaker says, “Bigger is no longer better in the church world,” and “Smaller is where the work will be done.” He’s so right. 

What is your attitude toward church size? Does something need to change?

4. Afterward is a brunch to celebrate God’s provision and praise him. “We don’t want to intrude on your celebration,” I say to one lady. Her response removes all doubt, “You are one of the reasons we’re celebrating.” 

How well do you celebrate visitors?

[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 Day of Contrasts

Discussing Church 31

This church offers a mix of old with new, contemporary with traditional, and public friendliness with personal indifference. As a bonus, they also talk about having a Thanksgiving potluck.

Consider these four discussion questions about Church #31

1. At one point, the leader asks everyone who is able, to kneel. It hurts when I kneel. So focused on my pain, I miss the prayer. 

What practices in your church may get in the way of people encountering God?

2. Two girls read about the Good Samaritan: the first in Spanish and the second in English. But this is the only bilingual part of the service. 

What changes can you make to your service so it’s more accessible to people of other languages or cultures?

3. Afterward is a Thanksgiving potluck. Publicly, they invite all to join them, but no one personally does. “If we walk slowly,” Candy says, “maybe someone will ask us to stay.” No one does, so we leave. 

What can you do to personally invite someone to do something?

4. Aside from the two greeters at the door, no one talks to us. After the service I try to make eye contact with many people, but fail each time. I don’t matter and want to cry. 

How can you let people know you care?

Though this church had much going for it, the lack of personal connection is my lasting memory.

[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

Enhance Community: Sharing a Meal Matters

Discussing Church 9

Today, we’ll go to a United Methodist church, our first visit to a widely recognized denomination. They know how to enhance community by sharing a meal.

Consider these four discussion questions about Church #9:

1. Their services are traditional. I wonder if I should dress up, but their website doesn’t say. Though my casual attire is out of place, no one seems to object.

How do you react when someone shows up at church who looks or dresses differently from everyone else?

2. We make our way inside. Two greeters hand out preprinted nametags to the regulars. They offer us stickers to write our names on. I find nametags helpful.

How can you use nametags to enhance community and celebrate guests?

3. The minister is female. I applaud the opportunity for all people to use their gifts and skills to serve God in any capacity, including leading and teaching.

How do you react to women in leadership and ministry roles at your church?

4. A closing number ends the service, and we make our way to the fellowship hall for a potluck. These Methodists know how to cook.

How does your church use a shared meal to enhance 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.

Categories
Visiting Churches

Reflecting on Church #39: A Different Twist on Sharing a Meal

The Value of Eating Together

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 #39.

Many churches share a meal or food after their service, but this one put a new twist on it: we head off to a restaurant, en masse. Though not everyone goes, a significant number do, including my wife and me. As we form a line at a nearby fast food joint, one of the church members passes out coupons to everyone.

Though it’s great to spend time together outside of church, I wonder what kind of impact we make on the restaurant staff, with a bunch of church folk descending upon them, all bearing coupons and looking for a deal.

Once we have our food and sit down, the people from church sit at tables all around us, but no one joins us or invites us to sit with them. Though they are all having a great time moving from one table to another and bantering back and forth, Candy and I are left out.

One person can make a difference. Click To Tweet

We are all alone in a group of people. It’s not the first time, and it won’t be the last.

However, midway through the meal, one woman gets up from her table and slides into ours. We have a great conversation and feel cared for.

Again, one person made all the difference between us feeling included and being ignored. Isn’t inclusion the purpose of sharing a meal?

Building community within a church family can take on many forms. Often this involves food, such as when sharing a meal. Eating together, however, is only one way to connect with those you worship with. Working together on service projects or community initiatives is another.

[See my reflections about Church #38 and Church #40 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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