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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.

Takeaway

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.