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Visiting Churches

The Postcard Church

The Allure of Something Fresh

After a year or so of attending The Nonconventional Church, we receive a series of captivating postcards about a new church that will soon launch in our community. I soon call them the Postcard Church.

I’m intrigued and want to learn more. My wife doesn’t.

Shopping for Church: Searching for Christian Community, a Memoir

Though they’re part of a denomination, I’m willing to overlook that fact if they deliver what they promise. But their denominational affiliation is a sticking point for Candy. I get that.

So, we continue to attend The Nonconventional Church. I like everything about it and what they do—except for their music and their message. Neither draws me. Yet the allure of post-service community calls me.

I especially like the monthly potluck. I most anticipate sharing a meal with other believers and sharing life with them around the table. It’s the highlight of my month. Seriously.

Yet the food prep falls to my bride, and she wearies of it, which I comprehend. When she complains, I offer to handle it, but we both know that’s a bad idea. It’s her kitchen, and I need to stay out of it when she’s around.

Though I ably make meals when she isn’t present, the outcome is never good if she’s there to watch what I do. And the only time I could prepare for our Sunday potluck is when she’s home.

So, she continues to handle it, but it becomes a growing point of contention. The part I like best about our church is the part she likes the least.

Change in Plans

One week our daughter-in-law says she wants to visit The Postcard Church. She invites us to go with them. I know how hard it is to visit a new church, and I sense she’s looking for some support on their first visit.

With the pressures of work, life, and a growing family, their church attendance has become sporadic. Though they call The Rural Church their church home, they seldom go anymore. I think it’s been months.

The Postcard Church is in our community, meeting in the local middle school. Based entirely on their marketing materials, I’m excited to see what we’ll encounter.

Our daughter-in-law’s invitation is an excuse to visit this church and an opportunity for us to encourage our kids to plug back into a faith community. We gladly take a one-week break from our church to help our kids find a spiritual place where they can belong.

Interestingly, The Postcard Church is a site plant of the parent church behind The Multisite Church. This is another location.

This is also the church that approached The Traditional Denominational Church seeking to work with them to expand their outreach to the community. In the end, that church turned them down, opting to continue pursuing their own path.

The Postcard Church is three-quarters of a mile from our home. Though we could walk, we opt to drive. We’ll meet our children and grandchildren there.

The church is a satellite location of an established church in the area. Unlike most satellite churches, they offer the music and message live. Their parent church provides centralized governance and financial oversight.

They meet at the local middle school, an arrangement I applaud.

Instead of investing money in a building that’s only fully used a few hours each week and only fractionally used during business hours, they free up money to invest in outreach and ministry.

Though they pay a rental fee, that’s much less than the cost to own and maintain a building. Besides the cost element, this arrangement provides flexibility if they outgrow the space.

As we drive up, the church’s trailer sits alongside the driveway, smartly doubling as a sign for the church and signaling the proper entrance. Renting space from a school means they need to set up and tear down each Sunday.

The large trailer doubles as a transportation unit on Sunday and storage space throughout the week for their equipment and supplies.

We drive past the trailer. A large vertical welcome banner shows us where to park and which entrance to use, staffed with two smiling greeters.

We talk a bit. Once inside there’s no question about where to go.

A portable sign tells us to turn right for the service, though the nursery and some children’s programs are to the left. We veer right and find ourselves in a large open space, with people mingling about.

As we move forward, two men interrupt their conversation to talk to us, something I seldom witness at the churches we visit.

They share their names, and we give ours, connecting with them as we do. After a while we thank them for their time and move into the worship space, a typical middle school gym.

In the middle are folding chairs set in three sections, with one hundred chairs per section. We sit as we wait for the rest of our family to arrive, which they soon do.

With the overhead lights off, we rely on indirect lighting. The subdued ambiance pleases but makes it hard to read the literature they gave us.

People and excitement fill the space. All age groups show up, but most are younger than us. It’s likely many of the tweens and younger teenagers also attend this school during the week, while their younger siblings will in a few years.

As we wait, soft music plays in the background. People talk with friends. The atmosphere strikes a pleasing balance between churches whose members sit in stoic silence waiting for the service to start and those where frenzied activity overwhelms.

A worship team of five gathers in front. There is a drummer, two on guitars, one on keys, and one backup vocalist. They have no one for bass. The keyboardist doubles as the worship leader.

Four-fifths of their ensemble fit within the millennial generation, with a lone baby boomer.

After the first song, the teaching pastor welcomes us and gives announcements. One is a chance to get to know others in the church.

The idea is simple: three individuals or families get together three times over three months around a shared meal, dessert, or coffee.

This helps people get to know others and form connections. It’s a short-term commitment with a long-term benefit.

The pastor moves us into the greeting time. I interact with four people, but no one else makes any effort. I fidget, longing for this time to end. As church greetings go, this one is neither memorable nor haunting.

Our space is now over half full, which is good for a holiday weekend. We sing some more. I don’t know any of the songs, but I pick up the chorus on most and the verses on a few.

Next is the offering. There’s an information card to fill out and drop in the offering basket, but Candy’s still working on it when the offering gets to us. We’ll turn it in later.

After the collection they slide smoothly into a final song before the sermon.

Despite some empty spaces in the front, they’ve stealthily added more chairs in the back, which are now mostly full. I suspect the attendance pushes three hundred, with a hundred or more kids and their leaders elsewhere in the facility.

Belong, Believe, Become

It’s week three of a three-part series: “Belong, Believe, Become.” Today is about becoming. As I contemplate his teaching, I jot down a profound phrase: “Know your community.”

This makes sense. If we’re going to reach our neighbors, we need to better understand them.

He gives us a simple three-point process to engage people: Step one is to talk to them. Step two is to ask them a question. Step three is to invite them for a meal, an outing, or a service opportunity. Most people are open to an invitation to do something.

He concludes with an encouragement to build church where we are.

The service ends. Many people pick up their chair, collapse it, and stow it on a nearby rack. Others come up to us to talk. We enjoy these conversations, which are friendly and engaging.

 After doing my part to pick up our family’s chairs, we move back into the lobby. There we turn in our information cards to the visitor center and enjoy an extended time of conversation with a most engaging woman.

She tells us about the church. I ask how next Sunday’s service will compare to this holiday weekend experience. The woman says the service will be the same format, but there will be many more people. I wonder how many more.

We could return next week to find out. In two weeks, they’ll have an after-church event for people who want to learn more about their gathering. This church has much to offer, but we’ll miss it since we’ll be back at The Nonconventional Church.

I long to go to church in my community and attend with my neighbors. This church meets the first criteria, but I don’t spot any neighbors.

The four of us debrief at lunch. We all had a positive experience at the Postcard Church.

Our grandson, however, struggled in nursery, with the director of children’s programming holding him the entire time. The two of them bonded, which so touched his mother’s heart.

“We’re coming back next week,” she announces. “Do you want to come with us?”

We agree.

Takeaway

Giving first-time visitors a positive experience is key to having them come back.


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.