I’ve been on a full sabbatical this summer. It has been an enriching, rejuvenating, and much needed time. One aspect of my sabbatical was that I visited different churches each Sunday. This has been a great eye-opening experience for me.
I don’t have all the answers, but it certainly raised some good questions. Namely, if we sat down at a table with Jesus and came up with a blueprint for what church should look like, would our contemporary model be what we come up with? Obviously not. And that’s not to throw stones at any of the churches I visited, or to say that mine would be the answer, because it certainly isn’t either. But it’s a question that we need to ask and keep asking and keep rethinking as we strategize and plan our ministries. Here is a list of what I learned and observed this summer from my church visiting, some of these are more deeper than others. Disclaimer: I am wired to see what we can improve on rather than what we are doing well. I find it to be more productive for producing effective change. I’m not trying to be overly critical here. There were good things I saw too, but that’s not really the purpose of this list:
- Being new to a church is an uncomfortable feeling, and I’m a pastor who has spent his whole life in church. I can’t imagine how uncomfortable it is for someone who has never been to church before in their life.
- New people like to sit in the back, on the ends of rows. It is makes it difficult when these seats are unavailable to them.
- Most people in churches do not sing, or they sing very quietly.
- With a small number of exceptions, sermons aren’t super interesting or memorable.
- For the most part, the strategy for a new person to connect into the community of a church is this: 1. Go to a service, 2. Enjoy it / Learn from it, 3. come back, 4. join a small group, event, or service group which is where you’ll A. build friendships, B. grow deeper, and/or C. impact the community. I look at this progression and wonder if this is the best way? It seems like a lot of steps to take to get to the “end goal”, and that first step is really impersonal. That’s the thing I noticed over and over, with a small number of exceptions.
- Churches are very segregated racially. The vast number of churches are either 99.9% white or 99.9% black. This is a subject that I will likely post a separate, longer blog on in order to do it justice. I’m still wrestling with the best way to articulate this as it’s something God has been weighing heavier and heavier on my heart over the years (and is at it’s heaviest point right now!) and is something I want to communicate in a way that is effective and helpful, not condemning or judgmental. The book Divided By Faith ruined me on this issue a few years ago and God has only intensified this conviction in me as years have progressed. I strongly recommend that you read this book if you want to get understanding and grow in this area. Props to Kingdom Life Church for being a good mix of blacks and whites.
- I found this randomly funny: White churches all serve coffee and snacks. Black churches don’t.
- I was excited about the idea of video venues. After visiting a couple, my excitement has lessened. The jury is still out for me on them.
For now, I just want to leave my observations as observations. I hope they cause you to ask good questions when it comes to the effectiveness of the local church to reach people who don’t know Jesus and to take Christians deeper in their walks with him.