We packed into our green minivan and drove into the small town at the foot of the mountains. Even though we were camping, we managed to clean off our camp smell and still arrive at the small Pentecostal church a few minutes early.
Upon entering their worship space, I got the suspicion that this was probably a hip church—the stage had a backdrop made up of colorful circles that I guessed would be changed come fall. My suspicions were confirmed when the young pastor started to talk about how much he liked “good coffee” and how he wrote his sermons in a local coffee shop. Plus his jeans were tight.
(Full disclosure: I don’t drink coffee or wear tight jeans, but I have friends who do.)
A Unique Church
Throughout the service I noticed that the people on stage made a few comments to ensure that we all knew that we were at “X Church.” “Welcome to X Church.” “If you are visiting today, I hope you enjoy our unique culture here at X Church.” “Here at X Church we…”
My sense was that the pastor and others who made such comments wanted people to feel like their church is special, perhaps even better than other churches.
I didn’t, by contrast, get the sense that this church was part of the wider, world-wide, church of Christ. Rather, I was at “X Church.”
This concerns me for two reasons. First, the church might get prideful about how they might (think they) do things better than other churches.
Second, and conversely, the church members might get an inferiority complex since they might only think of themselves as part of little X Church. That is, they might not grasp the significance of the fact that they are part of a worldwide movement that includes millions of people and that accomplishes much more than X Church alone can.
Lesson 1: Don’t focus too much on promoting your church’s brand.
What’s With All the Noise?
When the musicians first began to play, I felt out of place. In part, I didn’t recognize the songs. Therefore lesson 2 might be that all churches should only sing songs that are at least 10 years old and written by Chris Tomlin or Hillsong—that way more visitors would feel welcome. 🙂
Another thing that made me feel a little out of place was that at the end of every song there were numerous people loudly saying “yeah!”, cheering, or the like. (I heard no “Amens” or “praise Jesus” though—that would probably be too old-school.) The extent of the enthusiasm seemed a little put on to me—of course, I can’t be sure.
By contrast, the next Sunday when I worshiped in a quiet non-Pentecostal evangelical church, I confess that I wondered why everyone was so quiet 🙂 . Didn’t these people care? I guess I can’t be pleased. At least they sang Hillsong songs that I knew.
Of course, I know that people can worship God quietly or loudly. Nevertheless, it made me think that at the latter church, someone who is genuine in their loud expressions might feel hindered in their worship of God. In either case, whether loudly or quietly…
Lesson 2: Be authentic in your worship.
We Are Here to Meet With God
Lest you think that I drank skeptical juice for breakfast that morning, there were things I appreciated about the Pentecostal church we visited. For starters, the worship leader that morning, the person who prayed partway through the service, and the pastor who preached all made it clear that we had gathered to worship God, hear from God, and be changed by God. They told us as much, but it was also clear in their prayers. And that leads me to…
Lesson 3: Church leaders should intentionally and regularly encourage people to engage God during their services.
I left the church feeling encouraged and welcomed (some people talked to me afterwards). We then drove back to our camp site and made grilled cheese for lunch on our little BBQ.
You might also want to read about my 4 Lessons from Worship in Liturgical Churches.
Question: Did you learn any lessons from visiting other churches this past summer? You can leave a comment by clicking here.