Visiting Churches

52 Churches: Part One Perspective

Here’s an Overview After Visiting Our First 13 Churches

We’re one-quarter of the way through our journey. It’s been more than what I’d hoped for and at the same time, not as much of what I expected.

In attending the churches closest to home in our rural, white, middle-class area I expected little racial diversity, and we saw even less.

Although I could assume our few local minorities don’t go to church, it’s more likely they aren’t attending the ones nearby. This lack of racial diversity reflects poorly on the nearly all-white churches we’ve visited.

52 Churches: A Yearlong Journey Encountering God, His Church, and Our Common Faith

Despite areas of concern, I liked each of the thirteen churches and, if needed, any one could become my church home, though some would take much more effort than others.

Notable and Intriguing Churches

But finding a new church isn’t our goal. Our mission is to expand our worship of God and meet our extended Christian family. Still, three churches grab my attention:

Church #7 (The New Church) draws me. I like that they’re truly nondenominational and unaffiliated. Even more, I appreciate their many unchurched and under-churched attendees, as well as their goal of growing deeper.

As a bonus, they recently moved and are now the third closest church to our home, a scant 1.4 miles away. Their community calls me.

Both United Methodist churches hold an appeal, but the second one, Church #12 (More Methodists, More Food), edges out the first.

This is in part because they’re in our rural area, whereas the first, although slightly closer to our home, has more affinity with the nearby city I’ve become weary of driving to.

I also really like the pastor there. Her quiet reverence in leading worship guides me into God’s presence like nothing I’ve ever enjoyed at church.

The United Methodist Church, however, periodically relocates its ministers, and I wonder if I’d still feel drawn to the church once they reassign her. She’s already been there six and a half years, and I suspect she’ll move on soon.

Church #5 (Catholics are Christians Too) has a pull for me, likely because they’re an enigma. There’s much I could learn from them about worshiping God.

Unfortunately, their service isn’t accessible to outsiders, and it would be hard to make friends there since there’s little community.

Additionally, I’d like to make repeat visits to Church #3 (It Only Hurts When You Care) and Church #8 (A Grand Experiment).

For the first one, I want to witness a typical service there, whereas for the second, I wonder if I’d still be as interested in their community after a second visit. I fear I wouldn’t, so maybe it’s best not to return.

Candy says that out of the thirteen, Church #2 (Growing Deeper, Not Wider) is her preference. It, too, has a strong draw for me. This makes sense as its worship style and age demographics are the most like our home church.

My only concern is that their doctrine is much narrower than mine, and I fear I would soon chafe under its teaching.

Key Observations

Overall, and most disconcerting, is the correlation I’ve seen between the members’ age and dress compared to their facility and worship style.

If you show me the building and service, I’ll predict the audience’s age and what they’ll wear. Alternately, tell me the age and attire of attendees, and I’ll predict the type of service and even the character of the facility.

The question is causality. Does an aging congregation produce a traditional service in a dated facility or does a traditional service in a dated facility attract an older crowd?

Conversely, does a younger or multigenerational gathering create a contemporary service in a nontraditional setting or does a contemporary service in a nontraditional setting attract a younger or multigenerational crowd?

Instead of wondering which caused what, the greater insight is to simply note a connection between attendee age and service style. I suspect the two go together.

Older congregations with traditional services face a deadly downward spiral, with one feeding into the other, which only exacerbates the trend.

I see no long-term hope for these aging congregations and no realistic way to rejuvenate them—aside from supernatural intervention. Pray that God will intervene.

Parting Thoughts

So far, this adventure has been great. Part of me doesn’t want it to end after fifty-two weeks, as there are a couple hundred churches within easy driving distance, but another part of me wonders if I have the stamina to persevere to the end.

Added to this are churches that warrant repeat visits. I also wonder what I might learn about Christianity by visiting non-Christian faith gatherings.

Despite that, I also miss having regular community with close friends.

With all this in mind, we press on.

Takeaway for Everyone: Many churches operate as they always have, unaware that society has changed and seeks something different. The future of these congregations is in jeopardy.

[Check out the discussion questions for this post.]

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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