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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

People Make the Difference

The newer building doesn’t look like a typical church. The sanctuary is open and inviting, with a comfortable feel. But what we will soon learn is that people make the difference.

Consider these four discussion questions about Church #41

1. “Hi, are you the DeHaans?” The usher’s question surprises me. Either he looked up Candy’s picture online or he assumed the new people matched the name in her email. Though this might be off-putting to some, the extra effort impresses me. 

How can you honor a visitor (without going too far)?

2. The area is in a flu epidemic. The minister gives us permission to avoid hugs and handshakes. He suggests an “elbow bump,” which I’m happy to do, but most people don’t follow his suggestion. 

How easy is it to adjust your normal practices when there’s a good reason to do so?

3. Bits of liturgy occur throughout the service. The words, printed in their oversized bulletins, also appear overhead. I so appreciate this. 

How can you help people better participate in your service?

4. Afterward we enjoy an engaging conversation with a lady as we share our faith journeys. Only later do we learn she’s visiting too. 

What does it say about you and your church when it’s visitors who connect with other visitors? What must change?

Our key memory from this church is that the people make the difference in our experience.

[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

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.

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52 Churches

An Intriguing Liturgical Church

Discussing Church 28

We learn of this church when we spot their name in a local paper’s church directory. Still, we struggle to confirm their meeting time. We expect to experience a liturgical church service.

Consider these four discussion questions about Church #28:

1. We walk inside and a lady shares some basic information about the liturgy for today’s service. Without her help, we’d have been lost. 

Whether you’re a liturgical church or not, how can you help people better navigate your service?

2. During the sermon the minister forewarns us we will greet each other later with a holy kiss. Though there’s only a handful of people, they’re all strangers. This is the creepiest of practices. 

What does your church do that may cause people to squirm? (And before you say nothing, think harder.)

3. After the service they invite us to stay for fellowship. A neighbor and her dog join us. Though she missed the service, she’s welcomed anyway. 

How do you feel about people skipping church and showing up afterward to hang out?

4. Even though it was hard to participate, some of this church’s strange worship traditions fascinate me. 

Do your church practices and worship intrigue others or push them away? How can you make your liturgical church service more accessible?

[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

Revisiting Roman Catholicism

Discussing Church 18

Today we visit our second Roman Catholic Church. I’m excited—and nervous. We are revisiting Roman Catholicism

Consider these four discussion questions about Church #18:

1. The large sanctuary is grand without being ostentatious. Contemporary and airy, it seats several hundred. It’s the largest we’ve seen so far. 

Does your building facilitate worship or limit it? What needs to change?

2. This Catholic Church seems even more steeped in ritual than Church #5. While they announce hymns, the rest of the liturgy proceeds without direction. We think we’re prepared, but we aren’t. 

How can you help people better engage in your worship service?

3. After the Eucharist is a ritual where we exchange the greeting “Peace be with you” to those around us. This is the only interaction we have with anyone the entire morning. The priest dismisses us, and the people scatter. 

What can you do to interact with people at your church and foster community?

4. I leave feeling empty. Though their traditions have meaning to those who understand them, it’s a roadblock to visitors. 

What can you do to help outsiders better follow your church’s practices and not walk away empty?

Overall, I’m glad we spent Sunday morning revisiting Roman Catholicism.

[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 #18: More Liturgy, More Struggles

Liturgical Church Services

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 #18.

We’ve now been to three churches with liturgical services (Church #5, 17, and 18), two of them Roman Catholic. I’ve struggled with the liturgy at all three.

I’m quite sure God is present, but we don’t connect. I could blame the church, the priest, or their tradition, but it’s no one’s fault but my own.

52 Churches, by Peter DeHaan

I appreciate that others are drawn to the tradition and find comfort in the ritual. I’m glad for them, but the rhythm of this practice evades me. I’m yet to find spiritual significance in liturgical services, but I’m willing to continue working at it.

Another struggle, a more critical concern is that the people arrive silently, worship subtly, and exit quickly. Without interaction, connection, or community, I leave feeling alone and isolated.

The ritual and rhythm of Catholic practices intrigue me, but the impersonal nature of their gathering discourages me.

May my worship be sincere and true, regardless of the style of church service. Click To Tweet

God, may I learn how to connect with you in all settings and circumstances, including liturgical services. May my worship be sincere and true, regardless of the style of church service.

[See my reflections about Church #17 and Church #19 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 #17: Learning to Embrace Liturgy

A High Church Experience

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 #17.

This high church experience gave me much to contemplate about worshiping God in a more formal, liturgical manner. In contrast, most all of my church experiences have not been high church experiences, but low church, with little liturgy.

Although he was addressing prayer, I recall Jesus’ warning against “vain repetition” (Matthew 6:7 KJV). Part of me rebels against this churches rote practices. The liturgy, the solemn ritual, and the prescribed responses all fit my understanding of “vain repetition.”

52 Churches, by Peter DeHaan

I want nothing to do with a routine, mechanical connection to God. I desire a Spirit-led directness: organic, passionate, and real.

Yet at the same time, there’s a certain rhythm to grasp—and to embrace. Though allure of liturgy eludes me right now, I want to pursue it, not as a regular spiritual practice but as a refreshing break from my normal non-liturgical connection with God.

Liturgy can expand our relationship to God. Click To Tweet

Liturgy can expand my relationship to God, my connection, if only I can learn how to comprehend it. This is something I need to push through and explore further so that one day I can embrace it more fully.

[See my reflections about Church #16 and Church #18 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 Simple Gesture (Visiting Church #32)

We ascend the steps of the church, and a gregarious woman approaches. She’s wearing a white vestment, and I spy a clerical collar underneath. We’ve never been received so cordially.

She thanks us for visiting and asks if we’re familiar with the Episcopal Church. We say no. She smiles broadly, “Here’s what I’m going to do.” She quickly scans the sanctuary. “Our services can be hard to follow if you’re not used to them, so I’m going to seat you by someone who can guide you.”

52 Churches, by Peter DeHaan

She introduces us to a couple our age and explains the situation. I sit next to the husband, and he’s eager to help.

The choir starts our service, and he cues me on the liturgy as we bounce between two books, often in quick succession. Plus, we sing one song from the bulletin. The priest also provides verbal cues when possible. My new friend takes his assignment seriously and performs it admirably.

The simple gesture touches me. It makes so much sense, but no one’s ever done this for us before.

After a short message is the Holy Eucharist. Open to all, the priest thoroughly explains the process. When we go up, if we just want to receive a blessing, we cross our arms over our chest and she will bless us.

To partake in the Eucharist we receive the bread (and it really is bread, not a cracker). Then we proceed to the wine, where we can dip the bread or drink from the cup. Most dip their bread and so do we.

Though we’re growing to understand liturgical services, they’re still daunting. Having someone to guide us is most helpful and much appreciated.

The service ends. I sincerely thank our guide for his assistance; today was good.

Having someone to guide us is most helpful and much appreciated. Click To Tweet

[Read about Church #31 and Church #33, start at the beginning of our journey, or learn more about Church #32.]

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

I Want to Learn More (Visiting Church #28)

Sunday we visit another small church. I expect a traditional, liturgical service. The sanctuary is simple, filled with color and symbolism. Several lit candles mesmerize as incense fills the air. A worshipful instrumental piece, courtesy of a CD, plays in the background.

The music stops and the opening liturgy begins. We hear the minister but don’t see him. He enters the sanctuary and performs a series of rituals, perhaps preparing the altar for worship. His actions produce a mystical aura, both comforting and confusing.

52 Churches, by Peter DeHaan

Ornately attired, he wears a combination of what I suspect a priest and a rabbi might wear for their respective services. The liturgy progresses and we follow along in the Book of Services: The Celtic Episcopal Church.

One member has already prepared us for the liturgy. Now, each time the service jumps to a new section in the book, she slides up behind us, whispering the page numbers. We appreciate her assistance.

To start his message, the minister looks at the congregation for the first time. He smiles, suddenly affable. The service, once solemn, now becomes casual. The sudden switch from the formal to informal confronts me with a contrast I can’t fully grasp.

His concise message lasts only ten minutes. Then we celebrate communion and with more liturgy, conclude the service in the original reserved manner. Without any singing, the meeting ends an hour after it started.

Although most foreign to me, this tiny church and their worship intrigues me. I want to learn the meaning behind their rituals, understand the history of their practices, and discover the rhythm of their liturgy. It’s there but will take repeated exposure for me to grasp and then to embrace it.

Though they worship God much differently than is my normal my practice, it’s no less viable and offers valuable illumination. I want to learn more.

[Read about Church #27 and Church #29, start at the beginning of our journey, or learn more about Church #28.]

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

Catholicism, Part 2 (Visiting Church #18)

The sanctuary of this Roman Catholic Church is grand without being ostentatious. Modern and airy, it seats several hundred, with pews arrayed in four sections, each group angled to face the front. Behind the platform is an impressive marble wall with a large crucifix at its center.

To one side, at floor level, is a statue of Mary.

52 Churches, by Peter DeHaan

As people enter, most dip their fingers in a vessel of water mounted by each door and touch their foreheads. Some then turn towards the crucifix, bowing slightly. Many, upon reaching their desired pew, quickly drop to one knee (genuflect) in the aisle. Once seated, about half flip down the kneeling rail.

Some kneel as a quick ritual, while others linger in pious contemplation. For each of these actions, making the sign of the cross is a common conclusion.

Perhaps my memories of Church #5 have faded, but this Roman Catholic gathering seems more steeped in ritual, with a service that’s harder to follow. While the hymns are announced, the rest of the liturgy proceeds without direction. We think we’re prepared, but we aren’t.

Some of the service uses a “Mass Prayer and Response” card and other parts use “Today’s Missal,” while much of the service follows neither, though perhaps we aren’t looking in the right place at the right time.

Much ritual surrounds the presentation of the Eucharist. Once again, I’m so fixated on the process that I miss contemplating its meaning. Then the service ends.

[Read about Church #17 and Church #19, start at the beginning of our journey, or learn more about Church #18.]

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.