Visiting Churches

Seeking the Full Pentecostal Experience

Expecting the Unexpected and Still Being Surprised

When we visited Church #14, I expected more. I anticipated experiencing the movement of the Holy Spirit, prophetic words, and the possibility of people being slain in the spirit. I expected the full Pentecostal experience.

I braced to hear holy laughter and the tumult of the masses simultaneously praising and praying to God in their spiritual languages. I prepared to be uncomfortable.

None of these things happened.

Aside from a couple of phrases publicly uttered in a language I didn’t understand and the possibility of some subtle praying in tongues, the service was remarkably non-charismatic.

Yes, the worship music was energetic, perhaps with more gusto than some might appreciate. Though I felt a stirring, I couldn’t discern if it came from the emotion of the music or the movement of God’s Spirit.

While there, we enjoyed close community, participating in multiple God-centered conversations.

Our time with them was a spiritual experience, we worshiped God in spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24), and our understanding of the Almighty grew. But I felt I missed the full Pentecostal experience.

The first clue of where to find the full Pentecostal experience came while talking with a friend. At half my age, she exudes enthusiasm and a zest for God.

Her ever-present smile shows how much she loves life; it’s infectious. I may have mentioned I expected a bit more from the service, but even if I didn’t, she addressed my confusion.

“You need to come back tonight,” she gushed, “that’s when us Pentecostals get really wild.”

I wanted to, but we had a conflict, as we do most Sunday evenings. I explained this, promising to return the next time our schedule permitted.

She accepted my excuse, but likely assumed it was just a socially polite response, carrying no intention of following through.

Two months later the opportunity to return on a Sunday night came, but instead my wife and I went to a movie she wanted to see. A few weeks later our schedule opened again, and we saw another movie, this time one I wanted to see.

As we discussed our options, it became clear I was more interested in the full Pentecostal experience than she. The next week my wife and our daughter went to a concert, while I made a return trip to the Pentecostal church.

Going Solo

It’s difficult enough going to an unknown church with a friend. It’s even harder to go alone. I remind myself, however, that I’ve been there once before and know a few people. Still, I’m tentative.

It’s dusk when I pull into the parking lot. This only heightens my disquiet. I persist. I walk in with a lady I meet outside, attempting conversation along the way.

I enter, surprised to be welcomed by the same person who greeted us on our first visit. He lavished us with attention then, making us feel comfortable.

He and I immediately recognize each other but are unable to recall names. It’s nice to see a familiar face. He’s pleased to see me again. I share my name, and he reciprocates.

“I’ve come back to experience one of your evening services.”

He nods, suggesting he understands the implications.

I walk into the sanctuary and sit in the back row. Memories of my first visit flood back. I appreciate the large, rectangular space: open, with a simple, yet elegant feel.

During my first visit, I suspected the worship team was an anomaly in terms of its size, talent, and energy. Tonight, an equally large, talented, and energetic group leads us.

There are about forty-five people present. This is much less than the morning service, but most churches experience a sharp decrease in attendance for their evening gatherings.

The format of the service is the same as before: an extended music set, a time for prayer, a lengthy message, and an invitation at the conclusion.

I greatly enjoy the songs and the singing, feeling the freedom to raise my hands in praise of God. I spot my young friend several rows ahead of me. It seems she’s having an extraordinary time. With sparkling eyes and glowing smile, joy emanates from her face.

Though several are dancing, her movements are more demonstrative, while at the same time remaining respectful and appropriate. I wish I could offer a beautiful performance of physical worship for God, but I can’t.

My body refuses to find the rhythm to even sway, but my heart dances on the inside.

We sing for about forty-five minutes and then the bass player transitions to the center of the stage. That’s when I recognize him as the worship pastor.

One of his team led us—and she did so with much skill. Tonight, he will give the message, as the head minister is out of town, addressing a different group.

The worship pastor is a confident speaker, dynamic and commanding, much like his boss. Another trait they share is speaking loudly, bordering on screaming.

He doesn’t need a microphone but uses one anyway. I’m not sure why some preachers feel they need to yell their message. For the fortunate sake of my ears, his fervor eventually decreases to a tolerable level.

Throughout his hour-long sermon, he shares many convicting thoughts, but his message lack structure. I’m unable to discover a central theme, aside from “worship.”

To my amusement, he begins with the same verse and teaching I heard at a different church in the morning, 1 Peter 2:9. Is God trying to tell me something?

Part way through, he makes the thought-provoking statement: “Worship is for us to edify God, and the sermon is to edify us.” I need to contemplate this.

Addressing Visitors

At several instances he singles out “visitors.” This is not in a welcoming manner but is more confrontational. I wonder if there are any other guests.

Am I being targeted? Perhaps I’m inferring too much. Or maybe he has the perspective that visitors are by default sinful outsiders in need of a Savior.

As he winds down his message, it morphs into a rant. “We need to worship despite how we feel.” He implores the church to do better. He chastises them for not worshiping God as they should. They’re holding back and not engaged.

He says there hasn’t been much in the way of healing, prophecy, or Holy Spirit activity in the past few months. He blames this on their substandard worship.

From my perspective the worship was wonderful, some of the best I’ve experienced. He feels differently. Then he reveals his son needs healing. Many prayers have been offered, but the hoped-for healing has not come.

If only the worship was better, healing would occur. Did he actually say that, or did I just think he did?

Eventually he concludes. He launches into what I think will be an alter call, and at the subtlest of invitations, all the people surge forward en masse. I’m left in the back row.

To my left sits his wife and young kids and across the aisle to my right, another couple. I surmise they’re visitors. Aside from us, everyone else has gone forward.

The same thing happened on our first visit. Perhaps it’s a reverse altar call, where the saved go forward, leaving the heathen in the pews. The minister begins addressing us visitors in the back.

We cannot hide. There’s a gulf of empty chairs separating us from the throng of people up front. I squirm, no longer hearing what he says.

Eventually, there’s a concluding worship set, and I gladly return to singing and praising God. My joy returns, but I’m still on guard. Someone approaches the couple to my right, the other visitors.

Though I can’t hear their words, the body language of the talker is confrontational. I wonder if I’ll be next. Will I be told—consistent with their published theology—that since I don’t speak in tongues, I’m not saved and headed to hell?

It’s a disconcerting moment.

The service ends. My friend bounds up to talk. We enjoy a great time sharing, and I pray for her. I also talk with others as I make my way out.

The first part of the service, with worship and prayer, offered significant spiritual connection, as was the community afterwards. In my journal I recorded several intriguing thoughts and Scripture references from the message.

Overall, I experienced a worthy supernatural encounter and am glad for it.

As I leave, I find out this wasn’t a typical evening service. Apparently, I still haven’t had the full Pentecostal experience.


Does your church service celebrate visitors or alienate them with its harsh words and disconcerting practices? Jesus drew people to him because of his love. Churches should do the same.

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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