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.]

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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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