Let’s visit some churches!

In my last post, I explained that I have moved to a region without a call to be a settled pastor for the first time in over 25 years. This affords me the opportunity to see what is happening in worship in a variety of churches.

Here are my ground-rules on my journey. 1) I have decided not to list the names of these churches. Some of my comments will include criticism, and I want to be sensitive to the Body of Christ. My opinions are just that – my opinions. So I see no need to “single out” any church.language-of-worship

What can I say generally about these churches? Suffice to say they are in the greater Milwaukee area of Wisconsin. Some will be urban, some suburban, some nondenominational, some denominational, both evangelical and mainline.

2) In each church, I make sure that I interview some people. I simply walk up to them and tell them that I consult with churches and I’d like to ask them some questions. Everyone loves to give his or her opinion!

3) I have been honest about my biases and perspectives. To read those, go to http://bit.ly/2c0XpSO

Theologically, I affirm these 4 convictions:

A. Authentic worship is first and foremost about God.

B. My definition of worship, following Donald Carson, is that “worship glorifies God and edifies believers.”

C. Worship is not a spectator sport.

D. True worship should elicit a response.

Here is our first church!

As I walked in, this church clearly had a younger vibe. It met in a former factory within a larger complex that had been rehabilitated. It was in a part of an older community that was experiencing some renewal and was attracting younger urban professionals. And lots of people wore plaid shirts. What more can I say? It was a younger crowd.

This church has an “emergent style,” but is a bible-teaching church. It was more typical of newer churches in the “nondenominational” vein in that it was very informal, with no printed order of worship. The sequence was music (worship), message, offering, announcements, and dismissal.

I could not sing 4 of 5 sings well. This was telling because I am musical and can sing almost anything. The one song that was over 5 years old seemed to be the one the congregation sang with greater participation and enthusiasm. They sang no hymns. Given my belief that worship is not a spectator sport, I found the lack or participation disconcerting. I am not convinced that “un-singable songs” is necessary for larger churches, or churches that trend toward millennial in age.

Communion was available on a small table near the entrance to the worship space. There was an announcement in the bulletin that one could go to the “communion station” whenever one wanted to. Those who think of the Lord’s Supper as a communal event would take issue with this. Seeing people go and partake touched me, regardless. It was a tangible expression of God’s grace. I wondered if having a pastor or elder present at the communion station and perhaps a deeper statement of the meaning of the Lord’s Supper in the bulletin might have helped. This is unresolved for me.

What about interviews?

I asked an older guy named Ron why he came to a church filled with younger people. He used to come because he brought the Lead Pastor’s quadriplegic father to church. The father died 3 years ago, but he continues to come. Why? Because the church is a loving place as opposed to judgmental, and because the church teaches the Bible.

A 60-ish couple comes because some of their children and grandchildren go there. I sought these people out because they did not “fit the crowd” so it was notable to ask why they attended.

Besides the worship service, here were the salient things mentioned about the church in the bulletin.

We are here to:

  • UNITE lost and hurting children with their loving, heavenly Father through the power of Christ’s Cross.
  • CULTIVATE personal spiritual development and active Gospel community through the generous application of God’s Word, mercy and grace.
  • CREATE an environment in which God’s presence and power is both experienced and reflected.

A “Missional” Emphasis Without Using the Word

This church expresses being committed to a philosophy of church that values community and focuses on the development of people rather than the expansion of the organization.  They say, “We are not focused on building a church, but rather, focused on BEING the church.”

It is interesting that their mission speaks about nothing “outside their doors.” Yet, these ministries do: cleaning up the beach, hosting art shows with Jazz, and volunteering at a local medical clinic. “We invite you to explore who we are, and maybe you will find a home along side us where you can experience God, develop personally, and impact your community.”

I found a great deal of vitality at this church. While the worship left me wanting more, they clearly were a church “on mission” in the community. They were inviting people to know Jesus and follow him in mission. Love covers a multitude of sins.

Questions for you and your church

Are you engaging the community? Do you teach the bible with conviction and in meaningful ways? Are you serving families so clearly that grandparents are willing to come to your church?