Visiting Churches

Reflections on 52 Churches

Wrapping Up Our Year of Visiting Churches

Our journey of visiting fifty-two churches is over, though the memories will last forever. With much to consider, this wrap-up pulls together key elements of our adventure.

I hope this helps you and your church better interact with and respond to visitors, as well as find new ways to connect with and serve God.

Here are some of my thoughts and reflections on 52 Churches.

Format and Size Matters

In our pilgrimage we found smaller churches (those under fifty people) generally offered more opportunity to make connections, with meaningful community apparent. But I grew weary of the ultra-small gatherings (those under twenty).

Their miniscule size made Sunday worship a struggle, and there’s little hope for their future. Without God’s supernatural intervention, they’ll plod along until their minister can no longer serve or until most of the remaining members die.

Surely, they won’t last the decade.

We also discovered that most liturgical churches—sometimes called high churches—weren’t friendly.

Though there were exceptions, the norm at these gatherings was no interaction with other attendees, not before, during, or after the service. And if anyone made contact it was often a rote effort with a disingenuous air.

This isn’t to imply non-liturgical churches—sometimes called low churches—were friendly. Though many were, some also kept visitors at a stoic distance.

Friendliness is a partner to community. At larger churches (those over a couple hundred), community presents a challenge, while anonymity unfolds with ease.

Without concerted effort we would remain a part of the unnoticed masses at these larger gatherings. Though some people prefer to slip in and slip out of church unseen, interacting with no one, what’s the point of going?

The same outcome—perhaps a better one—could result by sitting at home in front of the TV.

At smaller churches, anonymity is impossible. Although experiencing community is much more likely, there’s no guarantee, either. Arriving and leaving stealthily can’t happen, but what’s key is how they handle their visitors.

Some churches do this gracefully, bordering on celebration, while others have an awkwardness that produces squirming and embarrassment.

Granted, I’m an introvert—as is 51 to 74 percent of the population, depending on who you ask—so my extroverted counterparts may think differently.

For medium-sized churches (fifty to two hundred), some acted with large church anonymity, while others retained small church connection.


As already mentioned, we found liturgical churches less friendly and not as interested in fostering community, with charismatic congregations being the most embracing—even though their theology was often the most exclusive.

Likewise, larger churches struggled to personally welcome us as visitors, whereas this was less of a problem at smaller churches.

Churches with a more traditional service tended to have older congregations, whereas churches with a contemporary service skewed younger, being either completely youthful or having a good cross-section of ages.

At many churches we were among the youngest present, while at a few, we were among the oldest. When the entire congregation is over sixty-five, their future as a viable church seems bleak.

After only a few weeks of visiting, I developed a knack for predicting the type of service based solely on the appearance of the sanctuary: its condition and trappings.

Likewise, the age of the congregation and how they dressed were also sufficient to gauge the type of service we would see. At only two churches did I judge incorrectly (Church #19 and Church #45).

One observation was particularly disconcerting: Churches with older congregations and traditional services tended to be friendlier than at contemporary services with younger people.

This held true even within churches that offered both styles of service. What I’m not sure of is if the primary factor was the age of the congregation or the style of the service, because the two seem interconnected.

Last, based on a prior bad stint at an ultra-conservative Baptist church, I expected the Baptist churches we visited would be dogmatic, closed-minded, and exclusive.

I’m pleased to say that, with one exception, this didn’t prove true, although I’m dismayed that we did witness dogmatic, closed-minded, exclusive attitudes at some of the charismatic churches we visited.

This shocked me because I understood this was an old-school mindset, with the current charismatic perspective being more theologically inclusive and open-minded.

[Check out the discussion questions for this post for our overall reflections and .thoughts about church size and format.]

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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