Visiting Churches

Experiencing Spiritual Community

A Holiday Weekend, Light Attendance, and a Great Time

I volunteer twice a month at our local food pantry. Staffed with people from area churches and service organizations, we serve those in need in our community.

One Saturday, between clients, I have an opportunity to talk with a man who attends Church #2. I ask him how things are going.

They had a packed house when my wife and I first visited, holding a business meeting to review their finances, growth, and leader’s workload. That Sunday they approved hiring an associate pastor.

Since then, they’ve continued to grow, now having two services, which are both over half full. They expect to soon be at capacity for the second service and near capacity at the first.

In anticipation of continued growth, they recently purchased eleven acres of land, located a few miles away. Part of an old farm, most of the buildings will need to be torn down, though the newest barn can be retained for storage.

They plan to donate the abandoned farmhouse to the fire department for them to use to hone their fire-fighting skills.

I don’t know if this practice is widespread, but our all-volunteer fire department will schedule a time to set the building on fire, practice various fire-fighting techniques, and then control the blaze, leaving only a heap of ashes.

Burning this abandoned building will also limit the church’s liability, keeping squatters away and preventing the chance of someone setting up a meth lab there.

(In our rural area the production of methamphetamine is high. With lots of uninhabited land, it’s easy for the perpetrators to keep a low profile, providing ample places to hide and many farmers from whom to steal the chemical fertilizer needed for meth manufacture. Abandoned houses provide an ideal place to set up a lab.)

The property is on a less traveled street and, though I know where it is, it’s been years since I’ve gone down that stretch of road. In contrast, I go by their current place a couple times a week.

I worry their future location is not nearly as good as their present strip mall setting. At this time, however, they have no plans to build a facility on their new property, they simply want to be prepared.

I’d already hoped to make a return visit to this church, and this news heightens my enthusiasm.

Our Return Visit

The opportunity to visit comes soon.

As an elder at my church, I’m assigned to attend this Sunday’s second service, which starts at 11:30 a.m. Though there are no official duties for me to perform, they want to make sure an elder is present at each service in case something comes up.

This opens our morning, giving ample time to go to the first service of Church #2 at 9 a.m. The drive takes only two minutes, compared with over twenty to make the trek to our home church.

Again, there are open parking spaces by the door, unmarked but reserved for visitors. Expecting to see many people, the crowd is sparse.

Then I remember it’s Memorial Day weekend. We end up with about fifty people, demographically skewing older. (My friend told me the second service attracts a younger crowd.)

It’s tough when a church has multiple services, as the congregation effectively divides, with only a few people crossing the time-imposed segregation.

One of the elders spots me and comes up to talk. He recognizes me but doesn’t know why. When I mention working together at the food pantry, his confusion yields to recollection.

This church sends many volunteers to the pantry and, like this elder, several people will recognize me today but not make the connection of why until I remind them.

I don’t fault them for this. They’re seeing me outside of our normal context, and though I look for them, they’re not expecting me.

Their lead pastor is away for the weekend, speaking at another event, with their associate pastor to give the message. He wears jeans and a t-shirt, though not one emblazoned with their church’s logo, as sported by several of the members.

With no opening worship set, the pastor starts the service.

Though I’m only guessing, they may change the order of the service, so the worship team doesn’t need to be at church so long, with them playing the second half of the first service and the first half of the second.

After some initial remarks, a college student comes up to share about her summer plans: volunteering with Cru (Campus Crusade for Christ).

It’s not what she planned to do, but it is the opportunity God provided. She accepts it, albeit with reluctance, as God’s path for her. I appreciate her honesty and willingness to be transparent.

She needs to raise funds for transportation and incidental expenses. Strategically she may have been better off keeping her hesitancy from us, but I find her lack of pretense refreshing.

Then the pastor starts his message, discussing poems—and how he wooed his wife with poetry. The book of Psalms contains 150 poems, sometimes raw, overflowing with emotion. “God is okay with us expressing our feelings with him.”

After making general remarks about the Psalms, he reads Psalm 3 but without comment.

The worship team comes forward, four guys playing guitar, bass, drums, and singing. Although only two guys use mikes for vocals, I appreciate that all four sing.

They lead us in three songs: a chorus, an updated hymn, and another chorus. Then they take a break for “connection time.”

Connection Time

Effectively an intermission, connection time is for people to mingle, get a coffee refill or snack, or use the bathroom. My wife and I stand, expectant to talk with people, but everyone scatters. No one comes up to chat, and no one appears approachable.

Then my bride abandons me in favor of a trip to the restroom. There I stand all lonely and pathetic looking. Fortunately, my elder friend sees my predicament and comes up to talk, rescuing me from isolation.

Soon my wife rejoins us and after making the requisite small talk, he pulls a fourth person into our conversation—and then leaves.

With no one knowing what to say, we share an awkward silence. The young lady looks vaguely familiar, but I dismiss this as my imagination. After some more mutual squirming, there’s a flicker of recognition.

She thinks she knows my wife, having seen her at school. This young lady, we discover, went to school with our daughter, grades K through 12. With a mutual connection established, we finally have something to talk about.

A personable woman, with a broad smile and striking features, she says she normally attends the second service.

Today, however, she’s a greeter, deciding to go to the first service and then greet people as they arrive for the second one. She points out her mom, who I know from the food pantry, though I’m not sure if she recognizes me.

As the connection time winds down, the pastor calls us back. I assume we’ll end the service with more singing, but instead there’s part two of the sermon. He shares the story of David and the events that brought about him writing Psalm 3.

After the sermon, he reads Matthew 26:26-27, and we move into communion. I don’t know if they serve communion every Sunday, but they celebrated it on both of our visits.

Although lacking instruction about visitors participating, we know from our first visit that communion is open to all.

They pass the elements (crackers and juice) at the same time, and we partake individually, some immediately and some after a time of contemplation.

The service ends, and we talk to more people. As we leave, our new friend stands at the door, greeting people as they arrive for the next service. Her son is at her side and he’s willing to talk to me a bit.

Personable like his mom, I ask if he’s helping her greet or if she’s helping him. He thinks for a moment. “She’s helping me!”

With their smiles as our parting memory, we get in our car and head out, not for home, but to go to the second service at our home church.

By experiencing spiritual community at their service, today is off to a great start.


An enthusiastic smile formed a lasting memory. What memory do you leave with visitors at your church? Are they experiencing spiritual community?

My wife and I visited a different Christian Church every Sunday for a year. This is our story. Get your copy of 52 Churches today, available in ebook, paperback, hardcover, and audiobook.

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.

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