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Visiting Churches

Mother’s Day, Ascension Sunday, & Baby Dedications

This nontypical, nondenominational church enjoys a good amount of positive local buzz. Today is Mother’s Day. I’m apprehensive because visiting a church on a holiday never provides a typical experience.

Consider these seven discussion questions about Church 64.

Two young women at the entrance to the parking lot smile and wave as we pull in. What a nice greeting. What can we do at our church to help make a great first impression on others as they arrive?

Inside the facility I spot a lady wearing a T-shirt that suggests she’s a greeter. Her broad smile beckons me. I ask for directions, and she’s most helpful. When people look at us, do we appear approachable or repelling? 

With in-the-round seating, the worship team faces each other to get cues from their leader. Those closest have their backs to us. Though disconcerting, it’s less like a performance and more worshipful. How can we remember church isn’t a concert?

Today’s also Ascension Sunday. With the focus on mothers, singing about Jesus’s resurrection is the closest we’ll get to acknowledging his ascension. What does Jesus’s return to heaven mean? How can we better celebrate his ascension?

They conduct several baby dedications, striking a nice balance between the ceremony and celebrating the child, without dragging it into a too-long ritual. While parents take the lead in raising their kids, how can we better support their efforts? 

The minister wraps up with an altar call of sorts, but he drones on, and I soon tune him out. How can we keep our worship fresh and avoid the rut of repetition in our church services?

A big church, they offer excellent teaching and music, with many programs and service opportunities, but they struggle providing community and connection. I leave spiritually full and emotionally hungry. How can we help people leave church spiritually and emotionally filled?

This large church held baby dedications on this Mother’s Day and Ascension Sunday. They offered much, except for connection.

[Read about Church 64 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

Faith Promise Sunday: Church #63

When my wife started a new job, she learned one of her coworkers goes to a church near the one we normally attend. With a non-church sounding name, I’m intrigued. We decide to visit.

As we drive to this church, I’m so glad for a reprieve from ours and the pointless messages I endure for the sake of community. Even so, I’ll miss seeing the people there. Should the focus of church be on the message or on community?

Once inside the building we weave our way through people, all engaged in conversation with friends—and too busy to notice us. How do we respond when we see someone we don’t know? How should we react?

In the sanctuary, Candy spots her coworker and waves. His face beams. He beckons us. “I’m so glad you’re here.” He is truly overjoyed to see us. How happy are we when a friend shows up unexpectedly at church?

This man and his wife make us feel so welcomed. Though everyone in a church can greet visitors, some people have a real gift for hospitality. How can we best do our part to embrace people at church? 

We learn that this is “Faith Promise Sunday,” so they won’t have a sermon. The lack of a lecture overjoys me. Do we feel we need to hear a message for church to take place?

Instead of a message, they explain the six ministries they support. Then members from the missions committee pray for these organizations and people. When they announce the pledge total, the congregation celebrates. How does our church celebrate missions?

Hearing about the work of God’s people to share his love fed my soul. I’m encouraged by a church that treats missions seriously and not as a minor add-on to a normally cash-strapped budget. Do we make missions a priority?

This church didn’t have a sermon when we visited. Instead, they talked about the missions they supported on this Faith Promise Sunday.

Read more about Church #63 or start at the beginning of our journey.]

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 Church on Every Corner: Discussing Church #62

It’s a nondenominational church plant, with the sending congregation residing several states away. It’s curious that an out-of-state church would launch a ministry in an area noted for its religious reputation, with “a church on every corner.” 

Consider these seven discussion questions about Church #62, in an area that seems to have a church on every corner.

They meet in a school building, providing a more approachable, less intimidating environment for unchurched people. What is our perspective for having church in a traditional space? How open are we for a more visitor-friendly alternative?

When we arrive, a man standing at the parking lot’s edge greets us with enthusiasm. What a wonderful welcome. How aware are we that creating a good first impression occurs before people walk inside?

Another man greets us, opening the door with a gracious flourish. The friendly reception of these two men is infectious. I can’t wait to experience church here. What can we do to build anticipation for our church services?

To start the service they welcome everyone, asking first-time visitors to raise their hands. Many do. Normally I hate this practice, but with many visitors, I don’t feel singled out. How can we celebrate visitors without making them squirm? 

When the associate pastor announces the offering, he stresses it’s only for regulars, not visitors. This helps counter the common criticism that churches only want our money. Which example does our church follow? 

“We need to attack the lie that you can have it all,” the teaching pastor says. “It’s not possible. Something needs to give.” How can we find God-honoring contentment? How can we encourage others to do the same?

Despite the many churches in the area, the evident excitement and impressive attendance at this church suggests there’s room for one more. Should we associate church attendance and growth rates with God’s approval? Or might size be our perspective?

[Read about 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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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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Visiting Churches

The Church’s Vision Changes: Discussion Questions for Church #60

I meet a pastor launching a church in an underserved urban area. Her dream is a church for people of all ages, races, and backgrounds—a colorful mosaic of folks seeking to grow together in Jesus under Holy Spirit power

Consider these three discussion questions about Church 60.

Her vision draws me in. Being part of this church is not inconceivable, even though it’s thirty minutes away. How open are we to be part of God’s great adventure when it’s not convenient?

Months later their website still casts a vision for a downtown church, but details appear for a suburban service, without mentioning one downtown. Did their vision change? How can we keep our plans and vision aligned with God’s leading?

I assume they’ve given up on reaching the downtown urban area. Just like many other well-intentioned folks, they seem content in the suburbs. Most people are. Are we content to remain where we’re comfortable and with those we know?

[Read about Church 60 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

Advent Service: Discussion Questions for Church #59

One of the area’s megachurches has intrigued me for years. I once wanted to be part of it. Now I’m not sure. Our first visit came several years ago, long before the original 52 Churches project. Now we return for a fresh look. It’s Advent and they have an Advent service.

Consider these seven discussion questions about Church 59.

As we drive to their facility, I pray for our time there, what we will learn, and what God wants to teach us. Do we remember to pray before church? What is the focus of our prayers?

An usher hands me a bulletin. This isn’t an usher-and-bulletin church. The paper states “Advent Liturgy.” This certainly isn’t a liturgical congregation. How can we engage in a service if it’s different than what we expect?

The subdued playing lacks the excitement I anticipated. They teach us a song in Latin. The timing befuddles me. The words perplex me. When the music doesn’t click, how can we push through and worship God anyway?

I assume the liturgy, restrained playing, and song are something different they’re doing for Advent: changing the familiar into something with a mystical aura. What can we do to breathe freshness into our adoration of Jesus?

During the greeting time we have brief interactions with those sitting around us. But, unable to move, we then stand writhing in awkward isolation while conversations abound around us. How can we best greet those who need it most?

I suspect this Sunday’s teaching is typical and the rest of the service is not. Somber music pulls me down, while liturgy pushes me away. I must work to embrace all forms of worship. How can we help people overcome barriers to encountering God?

“I loved the teaching,” I tell Candy, “but I don’t have the energy to try to plug into a large church.” How can we help people plug into our church without making them work too hard?

[Read about Church 59 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

Not Welcoming: Discussion Question on Church #58

The website of this large church boasts that we’ll find “a warm and friendly group of people.” If you must claim you’re friendly, you might not be; they might be not welcoming.

Experience tells me they may try but will fall short. 

Consider these seven discussion questions about Church 58.

Always anxious before visiting a church, my gut churns even more. A sharp pain jolts me. My heart thumps. I later learn I had an anxiety attack. How can we best help people who struggle to enter a church building?

Inside, preoccupied people mill about. We walk slowly, giving someone time to approach us. No one does. And we see no one for us to approach. How can we be more aware of people longing for interaction?

When the countdown timer reaches zero the worship team begins to lead us in song. Most of the people, however, aren’t ready to worship. They aren’t even sitting down. How can we better prepare ourselves to worship God?

As I settle into the chorus of an unfamiliar tune, a reunion between two people hijacks my focus. Their loud conversation distracts me well into the third song. How can we balance a desire for community with the goal of worship?

We end up with about three hundred people, half of whom wander in several minutes after the service starts. How can we make sure we arrive on time and not distract others from experiencing God?

The minister leads us in Communion. “Everyone is invited to the table to encounter Jesus in their own way.” This is most inclusive. How can we better include people and help them encounter Jesus?

The insightful message was worth the hour-and-forty-five-minute service, but the rest disappointed me. I didn’t worship God today or experience community. I walk out feeling lonely. This church was not welcoming at all. What can we do to make sure people don’t leave church disappointed or ignored?

[Read about Church 58, Church 59, 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.

Categories
Visiting Churches

The Worship Team: Discussion Questions for Church #57

During our 52 Churches journey, many people suggested we visit today’s destination, but it was too far away. When the building’s former occupants became too few to carry on, another church took over the building and launched a new gathering.

Consider these six discussion questions about Church 57.

A sign in the drive, too small to easily read, directs traffic in two directions. Unable to read it without stopping, I guess. Do we need to rework our church signs so that they actually help?

After we enter, the worship team begins playing to start the service. This church has a reputation for its many talented musicians, and we’re seeing the results. What is our church’s reputation? What do we need to improve?

A leader asks us to break into groups and discuss the purpose of church. We’re nicely started when she tells everyone to wrap things up. What is the purpose of church? How should it function to meet this intent?

With their minister gone, the intern fills in. He shares a string of Bible verses and intriguing soundbites, but I fail to grasp their connection with the purpose of church. What should we do when the message falls short?

The worship team plays softly to end the service, while the prayer team comes forward to pray for those who seek prayer. How open are we to pray for others at church? And away from church?

When the music starts for the second service, we hustle out of the sanctuary and leave. How can we allow more time for people to experience community after the service and not shoo them away?

Both before and after the service we had rich interaction with people we knew. But I wonder about our reception had no one known us. How can we make our pre-church and post-church interaction more inclusive of people we don’t know?

[Read about Church 57 , Church 58, 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.

Categories
Visiting Churches

Discussion Questions for Church 56: A New Approach to Church

During 52 Churches, two churches planned to simultaneously shut down for a few months and then reopen as a new, merged entity. But it took much longer. At last we can visit. I call this process a reboot. Others might call it a church launch. Regardless, it’s new approach to church.

Consider these seven discussion questions about Church 56 and their new approach to church.

The large parking lot has ample room. People mill about outside, including two greeters, bantering with all who pass. One opens the door for us. What initial impression does our church make when people arrive?

I’ve been in this building before. Gone are the pews, organ, and formal elements. In their place are padded chairs and a contemporary altar. What once approached stodgy is now chic. Subdued lighting adds to the allure. What is our sanctuary’s ambience? What should change?

Communion is open to “anyone who acknowledges Jesus Christ as the risen Savior.” Children are welcome to take part, too, as determined by their parents or caregivers. How well does our church convey Communion expectations?

It’s Mother’s Day, and they distribute carnations to every female, “honoring all women.” This nicely avoids the risk of inadvertently disregarding those who desperately long to be moms but aren’t, can’t, or once were. What changes should our churches make to be more inclusive?

The children come forward for a blessing. The pastor says, “Let’s talk to Jesus.” I appreciate his simple, kid-appropriate reminder of what prayer is. What can we do to keep our faith practices fresh?

The minister says, “Giving is an act of worship.” As a teen I assumed this was a euphemism for “give us your money.” Now it clicks with me. How can we better connect our giving with our worship?

Despite updates to the sanctuary, the service unfolds like most others. They merely house typical expectations in a new package. Are our church’s attempts to be relevant mere show or significant?

Overall, I enjoyed their new approach to church and can learn much from it.

[Read about Church 56, Church 57, 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.

Categories
Visiting Churches

Discussion Questions for Church #55: A Time of Sharing

After 52 Churches ended, a new church launched in our area. Their primary marketing was yard signs, which promoted a fresh approach to church. With a last-minute opening in our schedule, we have an opportunity to visit and experience a great time of sharing. 

Consider these seven discussion questions about Church 55.

Their Facebook page contains recent updates, but they don’t mention service times or a schedule beyond their first two meetings several months ago. What can we do to make sure we provide potential visitors with up-to-date information?

They call themselves nondenominational, but their website—which Candy eventually finds—describes a church that sounds most evangelical. Why not just say they’re evangelical? Do the labels we use for our church accurately reflect who we are?

We’re the oldest people present, with kids, teens, and younger adults all represented. After visiting many churches with older congregations, this is a pleasant change. What age groups does our church cater to? What does this say about our focus and future?

They start fifteen minutes late. I’m not sure if this is their norm or because of harsh weather. When does our church service actually begin? What does this communicate to visitors?

At many churches a time of sharing approaches gossip or bragging. Not so here. The pain they share is not just a lament but also a testimony, teaching and encouraging others. How can we publicly share our needs and still edify the church?

They tell us many members have a charismatic background, but they’re careful to avoid excess, following Paul’s teaching (1 Corinthians 14:27–28). How can we better ground our church in what the Bible teaches?

Their leader follows Paul’s example of working his trade to provide for ministry (Acts 18:2–3). I like not expecting paid clergy to serve members but for members to minister to each other. How well do we do at ministering to one another?

Overall, we have a great time of sharing at this church.

[Read about Church 55 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.