Christian Living

What Does Nondenominational Mean?

Many Churches Misuse This Word and Don’t Even Know It

Some churches call themselves nondenominational. But from a practical perspective and a functional standpoint I doubt how true their assessment is.

Nondenominational Definition

Nondenominational refers to a person or an entity—usually a church—that does not restrict themselves to or affiliated with a particular denomination. They do not have any denominational association; they are not related to a denomination.

A synonym for nondenominational is nonsectarian. The definition is similar, in some dictionaries it’s identical.

It means not being associated with a particular denomination or limited to the perspectives of that denomination. Its root word of sect gets at the impact behind this word. Effectively it equates a sect with a denomination.

The Nondenominational Label

In my experience, most churches that use the nondenominational label do so for marketing purposes. They want to eliminate any negative connotations their attendees would have with a certain brand of Christianity, that is, a specific denomination.

At first this seems an enlightened approach. They distance themselves from any denominational limitations and are free to approach God without any denominational baggage.

Yet digging beneath the surface represents a different reality.

When you consider what they believe, it most always mirrors a specific denomination. And when you look at the credentials of their pastors, they usually hail from a denominational school or seminary. Their teaching reflects this influence, whether they know it or not.

It is not, therefore, surprising to find many of the attendees also have this denomination in their past as well. Whether or not they embraced this denominational influence, its teaching continues to form their perspectives.

Recall our definition of nondenominational. One phrase is that they’re not related to a denomination. In truth, most nondenominational churches are in fact related to a denomination, albeit not by name. But they are related by their beliefs and practices.

They may even believe they’re nondenominational, but this perspective is delusional—and even dangerous. I can only think of one truly nondenominational church. They seemed to smartly transcend denominations.

Most all the nondenominational churches I visited over the years have had a Baptist vibe, history, or connection. In one case, however, the nondenominational church was Pentecostal in disguise, as evidenced by their practices, beliefs, and the training of their ministers.

I have nothing against Baptists or Pentecostals, along with their beliefs and practices, but I do dislike them calling themselves nondenominational when it’s not really true.

Nondenominational Marketing

As already covered, this use of the nondenominational label is often a marketing strategy—whether they acknowledge it or not. Their brand carries negative connotations they want to avoid, so they disavow any connection with that denomination.

Yet this tactic is little different than a bait-and-switch sales and marketing ploy.

A related trend is denomination churches removing any hint of their affiliation from their name. Though they maintain their connection with their denomination and don’t claim they’re independent, their name suggests otherwise.

If your denomination’s name is a deterrent to attracting people to your gathering or reaching the world for Jesus, it warrants serious reconsideration. Perhaps cutting all ties is the better approach if you’re serious about growing the Kingdom of God.

Nondenominational in Practice

To be truly nondenominational means to not have the appearance of any one denomination. It means to transcend denominations. Being nondenominational requires taking a comprehensive approach to church practices and beliefs.

This starts by using the Bible as the foundation and studying it afresh and not through the perspective of your experience or the teaching of a particular denomination.

Though this is most challenging to do, it’s not impossible. With God’s help we can reform our thinking to move past denominations and center our focus firmly on him.

This is my goal, and I hope you will make it yours too.

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 Portable Church

A Different Approach

As we transition between homes, we’re living with our son and daughter-in-law. We’ll go to Sunday services with them, holding off on our search for a new church home.

We’ve already gone with them a handful of times over the past few years, and for this season in our lives, it will be more regularly.

Now, each Sunday morning, we all hop in the car and head to church. It’s a nondenominational gathering, about ten years old.

The congregation includes people of all ages, though it skews toward young families. Notably, the church doesn’t own a building.

Shopping for Church: Searching for Christian Community, a Memoir

Rented Space

It rents space for their Sunday service, meeting in a well-known banquet hall. I like that they aren’t spending money on a mortgage and building maintenance for a facility used only a few hours each week.

This frees up funds to help people in need and reach out to the community.

This modern, well-maintained facility is easy to get to, with ample parking near the door.

Though designed as a banquet hall and conference center, it adapts nicely for church, with a large meeting space for the service and other areas for children’s activities.

In their typical Sunday configuration, the meeting space seats about three hundred, with padded chairs arrayed in four sections. Attendance varies, between 70 percent occupied to near capacity.

Early each Sunday morning, a setup team prepares the place for church. They arrange chairs provided by the facility and lay out their service-related items, which they unpack and repack each week.

A trailer specifically designed for this purpose transports these items on Sunday and stores them between services.

Though set up and tear down have many steps, transforming the space and then returning it to its default condition goes quickly with many volunteers.

A Friendly Church

There is sometimes a greeter by the main entrance and always a pair by the main door of the worship space. They pass out brochures that function as mini newsletters, sharing little about the service and more about activities going on throughout the week.

The people dress casually. I see no men in suits or even wearing ties. Though a few women wear dresses, there aren’t many. The common attire is jeans.

They’re also a friendly group. We’ve met many people but are still waiting to form connections because we seldom see the same people from one week to the next. This is partly because of the number of people attending.

However, a bigger factor, I suspect, is that most of the people are inconsistent with their attendance. They have competing options for Sunday morning, and church doesn’t always win out.

Easing into the Service

To start the service, the worship team sings an opening song. They never display the lyrics so we can’t sing or even follow along unless we know the words.

Most of the regulars treat this first song with indifference, continuing their conversations.

For the second song, the words appear on a large overhead screen, and most people redirect their attention and sing along. There are, however, people who stand mute during the singing.

They don’t even bother to move their lips. I’m sure this happens at all churches, but it seems more common here.

The members of the worship team vary from week to week, but they usually have six: the worship leader on keyboard, two guitars, a bass guitar, drums, and a backup vocalist—the only female in the group.

With a light rock sound, they lead us in singing contemporary songs. Accomplished at what they do, the outcome is pleasing, but it’s just like most any other contemporary church service.

The Mid-Service Welcome

At some point, a staff person gives announcements, and then a greeting time follows. They do well at welcoming one another, certainly better than most churches.

But most conversations are brief, as the number of people greeted takes precedence over the depth of conversation: quantity trumps quality.

About a half hour into the service, the minister stands for the first time, signaling a transition into the message.

With a charismatic presence, this thirty-something pastor exudes confidence with an easygoing smile and approachable demeanor.

A peer of the congregation’s largest demographic, he greets attendees and then prays before teaching.

Sometimes he starts his message with an anecdote, while other times he opens by reading the Scripture text after a brief introduction. Words appear on the large screen overhead as he reads the passage.

A pop culture aficionado, he often weaves modern-day references into his messages to make his points. He also frequently uses visual aids in the form of handheld props or graphics displayed overhead.

This church is far too trendy for a traditional altar call, but the pastor ends his message with a more serious time of personal application or reflection. The service ends with a closing song and offering.

The Wrap Up

Afterward, most people stay and mingle. Longer conversations happen, and connections can occur.

Donuts and beverages are available to entice people to stay and talk. But there are no tables or places to sit, so interaction must occur while standing.

As conversations continue, the teardown crew gathers equipment and breaks down the stage. They reload the trailer, preparing it for next week when they’ll do it again.

This is an easy church to attend, but I don’t get a sense of spiritual depth or feel commitment from most of the people. I could easily amass acquaintances here, but friendships would require work.

Though I’m open to attending this church, I don’t think it’s the one my wife will pick.


Seek to form genuine friendships and not merely make acquaintances.

[Read about the next church, or start at the beginning of Shopping for Church.]

Read the full story in Peter DeHaan’s new book Shopping for Church.

Travel along with Peter and his wife as they search for a new Christian community in his latest book, Shopping for Church, part of the Visiting Churches Series.

This book picks up the mantle from 52 Churches, their year-long sabbatical of visiting churches.

Here’s what happens:

My wife and I move. Now we need to find a new church. It’s not as easy as it sounds. She wants two things; I seek three others.

But this time the stakes are higher. I’ll write about the churches we visit, and my wife will pick which one we’ll call home. It sounds simple. What could possibly go wrong?

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.

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.

1. 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?

2. 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? 

3. 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?

4. 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?

5. 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? 

6. 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?

7. 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.]

If you feel it’s time to move from the sidelines and get into the game, The More Than 52 Churches Workbook provides the plan to get you there.

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.

Visiting Churches

Church #64: Is Bigger Always Better?

It’s been three months since visiting the last church. We’ve slipped back into the routine of our own church, yet my unrest over going there remains strong.

A Last Minute Change

“Do you want to go to a different church today?” My bride’s words surprise me. She just crawled out of bed and, though awake, she seldom talks to me for the first hour or so each morning. Her unusual behavior grabs my attention.


She tells me the name. I’m familiar with it: a nontypical, nondenominational church with a good amount of positive local buzz. It’s a couple of towns away but not that far of a drive. I’m not interested in going, but I don’t say so. “Why?”

“I’m curious. I drive by it all the time. Also, we know three couples who go there.” She lists them.

I’ve been up for a few hours, moving through my Sunday morning routine of writing, exercise, and Bible study.

Well, that’s my routine for every morning, but on Sunday I write next week’s blog posts about the Bible and spirituality, a fitting pre-church focus.

I’m open for a break, any break. Yet I hesitate. Already I feel a pang over not seeing my friends at church. I’m also miffed at her springing this on me at the last minute, or what seems the last minute.

Had I known last night, I would have adjusted my morning schedule so I could better accommodate visiting this church.

“Yes,” I say after a too-long pause, “but how about some other Sunday?” 

Her silence tells me “No.”

“Do you know what time their services are?”

“Nine and eleven.” 

Ah, she’d been thinking about this for a while. “I wish you would have told me sooner. You know I struggle with spur-of-the-moment changes.”

If I drop everything and shower, we could barely make the 9:00 a.m. service. The 11:00 a.m. service, however, will give me an extra thirty minutes. “Nine is out. We can do eleven.”

She nods her agreement.

“How long will it take to get there?”

“Thirty minutes will give us enough time.”

Then I remember. “Today is Mother’s Day.

Let’s not go on a special Sunday.” We recount the last two Mother’s Days, both visiting churches (Church #5, Catholics are Christians Too and Church #56, The Reboot).

Those experiences weren’t bad, but their special focus of the day was distracting.

Then Candy reminds me of the church we visited on Father’s Day (Church #10, A Special Father’s Day Message). Agonizing best describes that experience.

I shudder at the recollection. But I suspect any Sunday would have been a rough time to visit that church.

She dismisses my concern, and I acquiesce to her suggestion.

Listening Online

Several years ago, a friend who attends church there encouraged me to listen to podcasts of their sermons. Excited for the opportunity, I downloaded the most recent message and listened to it on my iPod a few days later. 

The minister was an engaging teacher, but his topic was most difficult: child pornography. I struggled as I listened, glad for the privacy my earbuds offered. As I recall, he talked about a documentary on this despicable evil.

What I remember too vividly was his description of child pornographers shooting one scene. His details were not explicit, but the situation he depicted vexed me so much that I became ill.

The memory of what he described torments me to this day.

That was the only podcast I listened to from this church.

I don’t know the name of that minister or if he’s still there, but the image of this deplorable scene is seared into my mind and firmly associated with this church. Hence, I’m apprehensive about going there.

A 30-Minute Drive

We chat on the drive there, forgetting to pray until we spot their building, “God, be with us at church,” I say in haste. “Amen.”

Two young women, stationed at the entrance to the parking lot, smile and wave as we drive past. What a nice greeting. We pull into the lot, but there is no one to direct traffic.

Some people are still leaving from the first service. I see no open spots. I make a quick turn away from the building and head for what I hope will be available parking spaces.

We park with ease and follow the flow of people to entrance #2. Greeters hold the doors open, giving us inviting smiles and a brochure as we walk into the facility.

A large open area, reminiscent of Church #51 (The Megachurch: A Grand and Welcoming Experience), steals my breath. People move in all directions toward a myriad of options, with no clear flow pointing us to the sanctuary.

My head bobbles, trying in vain to determine the correct direction to head.

A Helpful Greeter

I spot a lady sporting a name tag and wearing a T-shirt that suggests she’s a greeter. Her broad smile beckons me. There’s no point in pretending we know what we’re doing.

“This is overwhelming,” I tell her. “Which way do we go?” 

“That depends what you’re looking for,” she says with a playful jab.

“For the service,” I clarify, trying to smile and not look like an ogre.

She points to her right, and I nod.

“Coffee?” Candy asks.

“Sure,” she smiles and points in the opposite direction. “And the bathrooms are back there,” she gestures to the vast space behind her.

“That’s everything we need to know.” I thank her for her assistance and turn toward the sanctuary, but Candy is already heading for the coffee. I fall in behind her.

There are no baristas to make a custom concoction, but there is an array of air pots with a nice range of self-serve options. She makes her selection and stirs in the desired additives. Now we can go sit down.

In the Round Seating

The worship space is square, with the stage in the center of the room, reminding us of Church #59 (Big, Yet Compelling), though not as huge.

It seats a thousand or so. It’s hard to estimate, having just walked in. I could easily be off by 50 percent.

With seating in the round, I try to make a split-second decision of the optimum place to sit. It’s pointless, so we head to some empty chairs.

While my goal is to sit quickly and not call attention to myself, Candy usually takes a more deliberate approach to seat selection.

The sound booth is opposite us and a digital clock, I assume to keep the minister on schedule, reveals it’s 11:00. It’s time to start, yet nothing happens.

The Worship Team

The worship team gathers. We spot one of our friends on bass. I count eight on the team: two lead vocalists also on guitars, two backup vocalists, a keyboardist, a drummer, a third guitarist, and our friend on bass guitar.

About five minutes late, with the place now packed, the music swells. With a pleasing rock vibe, they launch into the first song. The worship team faces each other, which means those closest have their backs to us.

They need to do this to get their cues from their leader. It’s disconcerting, but it makes their playing less of a performance and more like the worship service it’s supposed to be.

The words to this unfamiliar song appear on four screens, connected to form a box suspended over the stage.

The angle is too sharp to work well with my bifocals, and I eventually give up trying to sing along, which for me is more akin to mouthing the words, since I don’t know the tune and the timing is irregular.

The second song is unfamiliar too. I fight an uncomfortable self-consciousness for standing there mute while most others are engaged in spirited worship, swaying to the rhythm and raising their hands in praise.

I try to focus on the words as they’re sung, so I can at least worship God in my mind and spirit. I think I’ve heard the third song before, yet not enough that I can sing along.

Eventually I pick up the chorus: “The Resurrected King is resurrecting me.” Thank you, Jesus. (I later discover online that we were singing “Resurrecting” by Elevation Worship.)

Mother’s Day and Ascension Sunday

Not only is today Mother’s Day, it’s also Ascension Sunday. I expect a focus on moms and wonder if Jesus’s ascension into Heaven will receive any mention at all.

Since Jesus returned to Heaven forty days after he resurrected from the dead, that makes the actual day last Thursday, known as Ascension Thursday.

For convenience sake, the church calendar moves the acknowledgement to the Sunday after, Ascension Sunday.

Most churches I’ve attended skip this completely, yet some mention it in passing. Today, singing about Jesus’s resurrection is the closest we will get to acknowledging his ascension.

The opening song set concludes and moves into a video about a local homeless outreach, but I miss the explanation as to why they play it. Announcements follow the video and then a prayer for moms.

With a focus on celebrating motherhood, the prayer also admits this day is difficult for some, covering those who want to be moms and can’t, as well as those who were moms and no longer are.

The concluding “Amen” wraps up our salute to moms. 

Next they do eight baby dedications, striking the right balance between the dedication and celebrating the child, without dragging it into a too-long ceremony.

The parents make their pledge to take the lead in raising their kids, then the families and friends add their support, and finally the entire congregation stands to acknowledge their role. 

Now we return to their regular schedule. 

Greeting Time and Questions

Since we’re already standing, the greeting time follows. Most people engage with one another. However, only one person gives us any attention, and no one near us seems approachable.

Candy asks me the icebreaker questions posited on the screens, then I reciprocate. We work through all the suggested questions, yet the time grinds on.

After visiting so many churches we’re used to the awkwardness of most mid-service greetings, yet they remain agonizing. 


In the middle of a series titled “Heroes,” this church is examining the heroes of faith as summarized in Hebrews 11. Today we address Abel, who gave a better offering to God than his brother, Cain, Genesis 4:1–7

“How are we handling our resources?” the pastor asks. Cain gave some of his produce to God—not the first, not the best, and not extravagantly—just some. Abel gave the best of what he had. And he received God’s favor. 

“What does it mean to have God’s favor?” Our leader guides us to 2 Corinthians 9:6–10 about sowing generously and being a cheerful giver.

The Mother’s Day message on Abel morphs into a sermon about giving. “Joyful generosity,” says the minister, “produces generous blessing.”

Then he clarifies that the blessing may not be financial. He shares two recent examples from their church family, in which a commitment to give to God, despite hardship, resulted in financial blessing.

Apparently he didn’t have any examples of non-financial blessings to share.

“Cain gives because he is religious. It’s a transaction.” Instead, God wants relationship and isn’t so interested in us “doing stuff,” he explains. 

Alter Call of Sorts

At this point he slides into an altar call of sorts, but instead of coming forward, people should make a note of their decision on the connection card or go to the “Getting Started” area after the service.

He drones on, and I soon tune him out, conditioned to do so a long time ago during a five-year stint at an ultraconservative Baptist church. I shudder at the memory. 

Next they take the offering, a traditional passing of the plates in this otherwise not-so-traditional setting. Guests are exempt from giving. A closing song concludes the service.

We chat briefly with our bass-playing friend, and then he heads off to spend time with his mom. Not spotting any of our other friends and with no one approaching us or appearing approachable, we head out.

The Debrief

On the way home we debrief. “It was a nice break,” I tell Candy. “The music was definitely better than we’re used to.” The sermon also gives me something to think about.

In addition to the teaching about the Bible (which we normally have), I also received encouragement and application (which we normally don’t have).

Candy agrees about the music. “But I wouldn’t want a steady diet of it.” That ends our discussion.

Aside from the people assigned to welcome our arrival and our friend we talked to afterward, we only had the briefest interaction with one other person, which happened during the obligatory greeting time. 

As a big church, they offer excellence in their teaching and music, with an array of programs and service opportunities. However, they struggle to offer community and connection.

Such is the case in most large churches. I still wonder if bigger is always better.

I leave spiritually filled and emotionally hungry. 

[See the discussion questions for Church 64, read about Church 63, or start at the beginning of our journey.]

Get your copy of More Than 52 Churches 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.

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.

1. 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?

2. 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?

3. 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?

4. 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? 

5. 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? 

6. “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?

7. 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.]

If you feel it’s time to move from the sidelines and get into the game, The More Than 52 Churches Workbook provides the plan to get you there.

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.

Visiting Churches

Church #62: Off to a Great Start

I notice a church sign in front of a school. It’s not been there before. I’m quite sure. I’m partial to churches that meet in nontraditional spaces.

They are more likely to be nontraditional in their approach to God, being spiritually invigorating and providing a breath of freshness.

As a bonus, they don’t have the hassle of a building to distract them or the expense of a monthly mortgage payment to weigh down their budget. I have high expectations. Church is at 10 a.m.

It’s a new church, a nondenominational church plant, with the congregation that sent them residing several states away.

It’s curious that an out-of-state church would plant one in an area noted for its religious reputation, with “a church on every corner.” Even so, they did just that.

First Impressions

The day is mild and sunny. A light breeze presents the perfect combination of weather, belying the norm for an August day in southwest Michigan. We arrive ten minutes early. The parking lot is about half full.

A man stands along the walk at the parking lot’s edge. He doesn’t need to direct us to the entrance because there is only one set of doors. A most gregarious fellow, he is there to greet us.

What a wonderful welcome to church. With his broad smile and easy banter, we immediately feel at ease. His laidback embrace lets me know our experience here will be a good one.

At the door stands another man. He sports a red T-shirt, asking the question: “How can I serve you?” With an engaging smile, he welcomes 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.

Our greeting isn’t over. Just inside stand a couple, also wearing red T-shirts. They further welcome us. We exchange names and they repeat ours, making a pointed effort to remember them.

Excited to see us, we talk a bit. Among other things, they tell us about the coffee and snacks that await us inside. Having never received such a grand welcome when visiting a church, we move into the meeting space.

Meeting Space

The room is curious, more resembling a church than a school. It is a modern space, about square, with a permanent stage in one corner. The flat floor hints that this is an all-purpose room, albeit now nicely carpeted and smartly finished.

An out-of-place scoreboard hangs high on one wall, but there’s no hint that the space would work for a sporting event.

Chairs, arrayed in three sections, face the stage, offering enough room for about two hundred. A music video plays, providing background sound and a nice visual on the screen overhead.

After a couple of minutes, the video stops and a countdown timer appears, starting at five minutes.

My excitement mounts. With only seconds remaining in the countdown, the worship team scrambles to the stage.

The guitar player barely makes it in time, but to their credit, they launch into song when the timer hits zero. The worship leader plays keyboard, flanked by a guitarist and backup vocalist. The drummer sits behind them, along with a bass guitarist.

With a rock sound, we sing two songs in the opening set.

The associate pastor comes up and welcomes us. He asks first-time visitors to raise their hands. Quite a few do, including the couple sitting next to us.

With few empty seats, attendance must approach two hundred, quite remarkable for a new church during the month of August. I suspect a huge jump in the fall.

He tells us to greet those around us. This period of welcome is neither stellar nor lame, but it is pleasant, despite a lack of time for meaningful connection.

Then he announces the offering, stressing that it’s only for regular attendees, not visitors. They don’t use offering plates but velvet bags with wooden handles.

They are awkward for me to pass. As the offering bags work their way down the rows and across the aisles, the associate pastor gives some announcements. 

The church is only four months old, having launched on Easter. In a few weeks they will have a “gathering with the pastors” for new people who want to learn more about the church.

He also plugs small groups, “E-3 Groups,” which stands for Encounter, Embrace, and Engage. Taking August off, the groups will resume in September. After a few other announcements, he reads selected passages from Psalms.

After this respite, the worship team leads us in four more songs. All are contemporary, but none are familiar. The senior pastor, who is taking a break from teaching in the month of August, dismisses the children for their own activities.

Then he introduces today’s guest speaker. 

Guest Speaker

He is the founding pastor from the church that sent this team to plant a church. He opens by giving some background.

When they decided to plant a church, they considered several possibilities across the United States but kept coming back to this region, even though there didn’t seem to be a need. 

Despite the many churches in the vicinity, this area is “over-Bibled and under-Jesused.”

Given this church’s rapid numeric growth and the excitement surrounding their gathering, I think they’re right in their assessment of a need to plant a church in this locale.

Today he will speak from Philippians chapter three. Ushers pass out Bibles to anyone who doesn’t have one and would like one. I’m not sure if this is just for the service or to keep. The Bibles are English Standard Version (ESV).

In a bit of irony, however, the pastor uses the more popular NIV for his discourse. 

“We need to attack the lie that you can have it all,” he says. “It’s not possible. Something needs to give.” Although most engaging, I struggle to catch all the nuances in his rapid-fire delivery. 

The apostle Paul was willing to lose everything so he could gain Jesus. “What are you willing to lose?”

He reminds us of the parables of the hidden treasure and the pearl in Matthew 13:44–46, where a man and a merchant are both willing to give up everything for one great treasure.

Then he quotes Socrates: “An unexamined life is not worth living.”

He concludes his message with a prayer, followed by a time of introspection, reminiscent of an altar call, sans “with every head bowed” and an invitation to come forward. “Is Jesus the point in your life?” he asks.

The worship band comes up for a closing number and then the associate pastor dismisses us with a benediction. The staff is available up front for anyone who wants prayer.

After Church Interaction

Before I can talk to the visitors sitting next to me, they scoot out. During the greeting time, I learned the guy behind me shares my first name.

I’d like to talk more to my namesake, but he is already engaged in another conversation, as are the folks who sat in front of us.

With no one to talk to, we make our way out.

In the lobby stand the couple who greeted us when we arrived. They remember our names and conversation. They wish us a good day and invite us back.

This church is off to a great start. They are already making a difference in the community and poised to make an even greater impact in the future. Their numeric growth is obvious and the potential for spiritual growth is present.

They are meeting an unmet need in what some would call an already over-churched area.

[See the discussion questions for Church 62, read about Church 61 or start at the beginning of our journey.]

Get your copy of More Than 52 Churches 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.

Visiting Churches

Church #61: The Wrong Time to Visit 

Based solely on their name, I assume this church is of the same denomination as Church #19.

I enjoyed my time at that church, but I also recall their pastor saying the denomination’s member churches vary widely in their beliefs, with most holding a liberal theology.

I wonder what I’ll encounter at today’s destination. 

It turns out my speculation is needless. 


Their website says they are nondenominational. I’m at the same time disappointed and pleased.

I’m disappointed for not being able to broaden my understanding of this denomination, but I am pleased to be able to enjoy a nondenominational experience, which is my preference. 

My false assumption about their affiliation reminds me to avoid making wrong conclusions about a church or forming misguided expectations.

While this tendency to categorize—that is, to label things—is a natural leaning that aids our understanding, it can cloud our perspective as much as enhance it.

The problem is that “nondenominational” is also a label, which can carry false expectations and produce needless assumptions.

Furthermore, in reviewing the “Our Beliefs” section of their website, I add the label of evangelical and note that it sounds Baptist.

I’ve removed one wrong label and replaced it with three new ones: nondenominational, evangelical, and Baptist.

I’m no closer to a reasonable understanding of what to expect.

I do know a few other things about them, however, which are more tangible. First, they have two services.

I’ve driven by on many Sunday mornings, noting a parking lot that was three-quarters full for their first service and a packed lot for their second.

I also know they are planning on a building project to add space. While the size of a church doesn’t impress me and growth can be a misleading indicator, both can signal spiritual vitality. I’m intrigued. 

A Solo Visit

Candy is gone this weekend, so I will be on my own. I’m okay visiting a church by myself, but that also gives me the freedom to vacillate. Staying home is a tempting option, one which I consider and reject multiple times.

To end my uncertainty, I decide to visit the first service. This is, in part, to give me less time to change my mind but also because I have a lot planned for the rest of the day. 

As a result of my volunteer work at a budget program that meets at this church facility during the week, I know where the church is and how long it will take to drive there. I time my departure to arrive ten minutes early. I don’t need to.

The parking lot has plenty of space when I arrive. I’m underwhelmed. Where are all the people? I walk in with a woman whose husband drops her off by the door.

I know her from my volunteer work, but she doesn’t recognize me. We talk a bit anyway.

Pre-Church Interaction

Across the narthex I spot another familiar face from the budget program. I consider going over to talk to her, but I don’t.

She is by herself and so am I. I’m mindful that confusion or discomfort could result if I approach her alone. Aside from saying “hi” or giving an acknowledging nod, I’ve never communicated with either of these ladies before.

Other people occupy the narthex, a few in private conversation and others moving about but with no discernable pattern.

Without my partner by my side, I feel more exposed and am more uncomfortable than usual when just standing around.

I look for someone to talk to—not that I expect to find anyone. The few people I see are all preoccupied. Once again no one notices me.

I turn to the sanctuary, where there are even fewer folks. I stand in the doorway, looking about, giving ample time for someone to approach. No one does.

Two guys in the sound booth focus on preparations. Another man stands on the stage. I assume he’s part of the worship team.

Two people are already sitting, while a third flits about. I smile, looking as approachable as possible. No one sees me.

The hexagon-shaped space is newer construction, open and inviting, though not well-lit and possessing few windows. The six walls give way to six roof sections, which reach up and converge in the center.

There are three sections of comfortable looking chairs, angled to face the front.

On stage sits a drum kit and several guitars, hinting at a contemporary sound. If there’s an organ, I don’t see it. Along the back wall sit the readied accessories for communion.

Having held my position and my smile for as long as I can stand to, I meander in to select my seat. Of the two hundred or so options, I head to the second aisle, go up a third of the way and scoot in two spaces.

After sitting, I lay my Bible on the chair to my left and put my coat on my right. I’m not saving seats, but with plenty of room, why not spread out?

When I realize I could be signaling people to not sit near me, I consolidate my coat and Bible on one chair.

After a few minutes a man comes up and introduces himself. He welcomes me and gives me a bulletin. Then, with a smile, he turns and leaves, just as I open my mouth to speak. I read the entire bulletin—twice.

A couple sits directly behind me. Given over 190 other places they could have sat, I take this as an encouraging sign.

Twice I turn to interact with them, but they’re not interested, offering only the most basic responses and scowling when they do.

A Low Turnout

Now time for the service to start, it doesn’t. Eventually the worship team of seven congregates on stage. The worship leader plays guitar.

Helping him is another guitarist, bass guitarist, drummer, and keyboardist. Two ladies round out the ensemble, ready to add backup vocals.

There are as many people onstage and in the sound booth as there are sitting down. This low attendance is not at all what I expected.

I anticipate a light pop sound for the music. Instead I’m treated to rock with the hint of an edge. How exciting. The opening strains of their prelude call people into the sanctuary. Our numbers grow to about twenty-five and another ten or so eventually join us.

Most of the people are couples in their twenties and thirties, though a few are older. Aside from a baby in the back with her parents, there are no kids or teens.

I know there are classes for the kids, but I wonder about the teens. Where are they? Do they go to the second service?

The assistant pastor welcomes us and says the senior pastor is out of town. Filling in for him is one of their members, a second-year seminarian.

This is not what I hoped for, nor what I want to experience. Maybe I should have stayed home after all.

I wonder if their pastor being gone and a student filling in might account for the low attendance, or at least lower than what their parking lot typically suggests.

After an opening prayer, we sing some contemporary songs. With no songbooks, the words project on an overhead screen. It’s offset slightly from the stage, but not so much as to be uncomfortable.

The first song is a familiar tune but with slightly altered words, which trip me up every time we get to the chorus. Fortunately, I doubt I’m singing loud enough for anyone but God to hear.

The second song is likewise familiar, but our rendition lacks the punch and power that I’m used to when David Crowder sings it.

Greeting Time

Following these two songs are announcements and an instruction to “greet everyone around you.” As I shake hands with the guy in front of me, I surprise him when I ask, “How are you?” 

With his attention already shifting to the next person to greet, he does a double take. He looks back at me and smiles. “Fine, how are you?”


Before I can respond further, I’ve lost him again. There will be no conversation, no chance for a connection. I turn to the couple behind me. Although brief, this is our best interaction all morning.

I manage to shake hands with a few more people, but fail to make eye contact with those just out of reach. They are not available to see my wave or receive a nod of acknowledgment.

I’m weary of these trivial attempts at greeting, which confront me at too many churches. I want real connection, not people going through the motions: faking friendly when instructed and withdrawing the rest of the time.

I’m quite sure this is not what “meeting together” means in Hebrews 10:24–25.


Then we sing two more contemporary songs. Both are familiar—and quite comfortable. We sit down for communion. It is “open to all who believe in Jesus.”

I’m glad to know this. Too often churches fail to share this important information, leaving me in a quandary about what to do. 

They skip the bread. Curious.

Instead they offer the juice in tiny plastic cups presented on a glistening chrome platter passed up and down the rows. As I reach for mine, I notice the cup is double stacked.

I consider taking just the top one with the juice and leaving the bottom one, but it’s easier to grab both, so I do.

I now know I may participate, but I don’t know when. Do they drink the cup together, as each person feels led, or do they have some unexplained ritual? I agonize over what to do, so focused on the when, that I fail to celebrate the why.

Then the lady to my right quickly drinks the juice. Seconds later a man a couple of rows up does the same. Relieved to know their process, I’m anxious to follow, lest I call attention to myself should I tarry too long.

I fail to corral my racing mind to focus on God. I can’t quiet my heart to consider what Jesus did for us. The harder I try, the tighter anxiety grips me. God, I am so sorry I can’t focus. Time slips by. As more people partake, my chance to join them grows short.

Convinced that God knows my heart and will not hold it against me for not taking time to appropriately acknowledge the ultimate sacrifice of his Son, my Savior, I throw out a desperate prayer. Thank you, Jesus, and I drink the juice.

Feeling a bit guilty, yet also relieved, my next question is what to do with the empty container? I glance at it, noticing something trapped between the two cups.

Lifting the first one, the mystery item comes into focus. It’s a little square communion cracker, the tiniest I’ve ever seen.

Now so much makes sense. They didn’t skip the bread. They passed the elements together. That’s why one person seemed to drink twice. First they ate the cracker and then they drank the juice.

Their motions, especially for the cracker, reminded me of people I’ve seen in movies doing shots.

I need to eat the cracker, but I’m not doing it like a shot. Smirking, I fish the miniature wafer out from the plastic container. As unobtrusively as possible I slide it into my mouth. With one chomp I demolish it. I swallow, wishing for a chaser of juice.

Today I did communion backward and failed to fully embrace this remembrance of God’s gift to me. Even though I merely went through the motions, somehow it seems all right, even good.

I envision Father God in Heaven, laughing with his Son over my consternation. Standing at their side, Holy Spirit remains silent but grins broadly.

I smile, too, suspecting I gave them a bit of pleasure through my disquiet and my unfilled desire to do communion right.

A tear forms. God is so good.


I have little time to consider his goodness, however. The offering follows as soon as they finish passing the communion elements. I already filled out the visitor card and, as instructed, I place it in the offering plate when it passes.

The plate is small but able to accommodate cash and checks, but the oversized visitor card does not fit. It hangs a couple of inches over the edge. This will make it hard to contain the donations of those sitting behind me.

The Message

With the collection done, our guest preacher stands up. He begins with a prayer. His disjointed speaking—pausing too long midsentence or after each phrase—exposes his uneasiness.

I understand. I ache for him. I also know it is the wrong time to visit.

His message is about Zacchaeus, the rich tax collector, as recorded by Doctor Luke in chapter nineteen, verses one through ten.

He notes that whenever Jesus encounters a tax collector, the outcome is good. Whenever he encounters a rich man, the outcome is not.

With Zacchaeus being both a tax collector and rich, there is tension over what will happen. I question this distinction. Weren’t all tax collectors wealthy?

The guy is green. He should be practicing in seminary, not on a congregation. Yes, his introduction shows promise, but his presentation fails to deliver. His points are trivial and only loosely connected.

Despite the first three items coming from the text, his fourth does not. Instead it’s pulled from an unnamed song that I don’t know. He ends with an invitation of sorts, followed with another prayer.

With the Holy Spirit’s help, I gain one insight. Hinging on the word “today,” I see a parallel between Zacchaeus and the thief on the cross who hangs next to Jesus.

In both cases, they make a profession of some kind to Jesus and he pronounces an immediate reward for them of “today,” (Luke 19:8–9 and Luke 23:40–43). God’s idea of salvation seems so much different than what we’ve turned it into. 

Finished, the speaker sits, and the worship team gets up to play an old hymn, one tweaked to work well with guitars and drums. It’s familiar, but out of place with the rest of the service.

I wonder if they work an obligatory hymn into each service to keep the traditionalists among them happy.

The assistant pastor returns to give the closing prayer and then the worship team reprises their opening song—the one with different words—to conclude the service.

Once again, I stumble over the changed lyrics. At its conclusion, the worship leader abruptly dismisses us.

Heading for Home

I stand slowly, trying my best to look friendly and appear approachable. Inside I am, but I wonder what my body language communicates.

I often consider this and likely cause more harm than good when I attempt to contort myself into an open posture. 

Regardless, no one notices, and no one approaches. With nothing else to do, I amble toward the sanctuary doors, where the guest speaker stands, receiving handshakes and good wishes from the crowd.

I, however, don’t want to talk to him. I won’t lie and tell him he did a good job. And I fear any form of encouragement could come out as backhanded criticism.

I can’t even share an element of his teaching that I liked, because I didn’t like any of it.

I shake his hand in silence. He looks at me with a question forming in his eyes. Then I realize he’s a member of this church and doesn’t know me. I share my name, and he thanks me for visiting. 

I nod and slide into the narthex. No one leaves, but I see no indication of any fellowship time or informal gathering. Not having my bride with me is even more isolating.

I feel awkward just standing there. To avoid any more discomfort, I give up. I turn right and hit the main doors. I’m the first to leave.

It Was the Wrong Time to Visit

Driving home, I carry frustration with the threat of tears. I enjoyed the music, and, in an odd way, communion worked for me, but the message caused consternation, and the lack of connection left me empty.

It was the wrong time to visit.

If only their senior pastor had been there, I’m sure my experience would have been different. Then I realize I forgot to pray before the service. That would have made an even bigger difference. Sorry, Papa. I messed up—big time.

[Read about Church #60, Church #62, or start at the beginning of our journey.]

Get your copy of More Than 52 Churches 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.

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.

1. 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?

2. 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?

3. 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?

4. 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?

5. 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?

6. 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?

7. 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.]

If you feel it’s time to move from the sidelines and get into the game, The More Than 52 Churches Workbook provides the plan to get you there.

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.

Visiting Churches

Church #55: New and Small

One of our goals in 52 Churches was to visit all ten churches located in our local school district. After 52 Churches ended, that number increased to eleven.

The primary marketing for this new church is yard signs, spread throughout the area, suggesting a different kind of church. We make a mental note to visit.

With another last-minute opening in our schedule, we have an opportunity to go there, but we can’t remember their name—and the yard signs are gone.

Tracking Them Down

After some extensive online searching—investing much more time than any typical visitor would do—I stumble upon their name and find their Facebook page, but I can’t locate a website. 

Their Facebook page contains recent updates, but they don’t mention service times or a schedule beyond their first two meetings several months ago.

Now armed with their name, my wife, cyber sleuth Candy finds their website, which confirms their schedule and service time.

They call themselves nondenominational, but their website describes a church that fits snugly within the evangelical stream of Christianity. 

As an aside, I suspect most nondenominational churches are evangelical in function, since I’ve never been to one that wasn’t. It’s possible, however, for a church to include all three streams of Christianity.

The service at Church #19 (“A Near Miss”) seemed to embrace equal parts of traditional, evangelical, and charismatic churches.

Even though they were part of a denomination (albeit a very loose one), their service felt the most nondenominational of any I’ve ever attended.

They exemplified what I think nondenominational should be: open to anyone and everyone, without leaning toward a denomination or stream of Christianity. 

A Wintery Drive to Church

We head out early. A winter storm blankets everything with a layer of ice. Several churches cancelled services, but we don’t think to check if this one has.

I pick a route that will be more traveled and hopefully less treacherous. Even these roads are slippery, and we shouldn’t be out. Passing an accident confirms the folly of our adventure. The drive takes twice as long as normal. 

The church is in a small strip mall. With only a couple of cars in the parking lot, I wonder if they, too, cancelled services. Supporting my suspicion, I don’t see any lights or movement inside.

Our Welcome

The parking lot is even more icy than the roads. As we exit our car, a man calls out to be careful. With much concern, we inch our way toward him.

He introduces himself and doesn’t bother to ask if we’re visitors. He knows. With the weather, he expects low attendance and says they only have half of their worship team.

Inwardly, I sigh. It seems that too often we show up when churches don’t have one of their typical services.

Encouraged by the engaging welcome, we head inside. A guy in the sound booth looks up and comes over to talk. He looks familiar and says the same to me.

My bride notices he’s wearing a clip-on mic and asks if he’s the pastor. I wonder the same. He says, “Yes.”

We’ve been at a church service in this space before. A couple of years prior to 52 Churches, we visited Church #15 (“An Outlier Congregation”) here. They since moved and changed pastors, which resulted in a much different experience for our 52 Churches visit.

Today the room feels bigger than that visit several years ago. I suspect the prior church had one space in the mall, with the present configuration using two. They have 144 padded chairs, aligned in long rows.

With only twelve people present, the vastness of the space makes our numbers feel even less. We’re the oldest people there, with kids, teens, and younger adults all represented.

Even though we walked in two minutes late, we have time to talk with several people before the service. They finally start about fifteen minutes later. I’m not sure if beginning late is their norm or if they’re allowing more time for people to arrive.

As it turns out, it doesn’t matter. We are the last to show up.

The Service

Today’s worship leader normally plays drums, but today he fills in as worship leader for his older brother, who is working. He also plays guitar.

Another guitarist and bassist join him. The drum kit sits idle. His leading is confident, though not polished.

I’ve been to services where the worship team is so rehearsed that I feel I’m at a concert and miss worshiping God.

The opposite is well-intentioned people who shouldn’t be leading music. Their efforts unfold as a painful ordeal, repelling me from God.

Today, we hit that ideal place between the two extremes. At least it’s ideal for me. We sing several current worship songs, which draw me to God.

Then they have a time of sharing. When churches do this, I often wonder why. One of three patterns usually emerges: 

They call attention to the person sharing, as in “I just bought a new Lexis. Pray that my BMW sells so I can give money to the mission.”

Or it borders on gossip, as in “My brother-in-law didn’t come home again last night. My sister might file for divorce and seek full custody of the kids.”

Third is a wish list to God, as in “Pray for a new job, a good-paying job, one where the boss treats employees with respect, and a new car to get me to work, suitable work clothes, and money for . . . ” 

Yeah, I’m exaggerating a bit, but not too much. 

Not so at this church. They share well. My first hint of this is tissue boxes scattered throughout the room. Certainly, people shed tears here. My assumption proves correct.

When the first two people share, both end up crying as they reveal the angst of their heart.

Their words are not just a lament but also a testimony, teaching and encouraging others. 

They remind me of Paul’s words to Jesus’s followers in Corinth, that each person should do their part in building up the church (1 Corinthians 14:26).

Their time of sharing doesn’t fully match Paul’s instruction, but they come closer than I’ve ever seen before.

After several people share, the pastor asks for others to do the same. His words go beyond being polite. He’s almost imploring more people to participate.

I wonder if he’s leaving an opening for Candy or me to say something. At his second request, I squirm a bit, but he doesn’t prolong his plea. With no more takers, he moves on to his message.

The Message

It’s the Sunday before Christmas, and he reads about Jesus’s birth from Luke 2:8–14. The pastor has a gentle delivery, kind and accessible. Though it’s not his fault, I have trouble concentrating on his words.

I jot down a few verses and one sentence that strikes me: “God sent Jesus here so we could better understand his nature.” I ponder this, missing what comes next in the sermon.

I don’t think of helping us understand his nature as one of Jesus’s goals, but I realize the pastor is correct.

How could I have missed this?

Fellowship Afterward

The service ends with more music, and then everyone hangs around to talk. Eventually, we interact with every adult present and several of the braver teens.

We learn their leader is a tentmaker pastor, following Paul’s example of working his trade to provide for ministry (Acts 18:2–3). 

This, I feel, is how it should be, not expecting paid clergy to serve members but for members to minister to each other.

If we rightly serve and minister to one another, as the Bible teaches, the role of pastors becomes much less demanding—almost unneeded.

With less demand on their time, pastors won’t need to work as much or receive compensation, with each paying their own way.

We also learn many members have a charismatic background, but they’re careful to avoid excess, doing all things properly, as Paul taught in 1 Corinthians 14:27–28.

As we talk, the lead guitarist has a bit of a jam session. “I really enjoy your playing,” I tell him later, “but I suspect you were holding back!” 

He smiles. “I didn’t receive the set list until last night. Since I live in an apartment, I couldn’t practice.”

Having talked to everyone, we finally head out, the first to do so, glad for the experience. Most of the ice has melted, and the roads are now fine. Our church experience today was a good one.

This church does so many things right. I wish more people were part of it.

[See the discussion questions for Church 55, read about Church 54 or start at the beginning of our journey.]

Get your copy of More Than 52 Churches 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.

Visiting Churches

A Church Doubleheader

Discussing Church 17

This church has a contemporary service followed by a traditional one. It’s a church doubleheader. We’ll go to both.

The 52 Churches Workbook, by Peter DeHaan

Consider these four discussion questions about Church #17:

1. Their idea of contemporary is vastly different from mine, with this service being one of the more reserved ones we’ve attended. 

If you state a certain type of service, what do you need to do to better deliver on your promise?

2. They provide a sign language interpreter for the hearing impaired, who sit in the first three rows. It’s a treat to watch them sing with their hands and sign interactive portions of the service. 

What can your church do to help those with various limitations better engage in worship?

3. For communion, there’s no invitation for nonmembers to partake. We decide that we shouldn’t, but the usher motions us to go up. 

Do people know what to expect when you serve communion? What can you do to include visitors and welcome them to participate?

4. No one mentions it, but we find coffee and donuts in the fellowship area. Next to each is a donation basket. I feel guilty for grabbing a treat without feeding the fund. 

What practices in your church would seem odd or off-putting to outsiders?

[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.