Monday, November 05, 2007

Church Shopping 101

We didn't make it to our church yesterday. Even though we "gained" an hour from the time change, we couldn't drag ourselves out of bed to make it to the 9:00 am service in time. We huddled under the blankets and let the kids watch too much TV.

When we finally got up, we knew we wouldn't make it. Rather than go to the 10:45 service, we decided to check out a United Methodist church nearby. They had a contemporary service at 9:30, and we figured we could make it as long as we got ready quickly.

I really enjoyed it, but it left me thinking about what is important in a church body.

Looking at this unknown congregation, I started making my observations. Full service. Friendly people. Lots of families. Older people and younger people. People seem interested in the service, not drifting off or overly distracted. Communion served--yay! Music good. (really good! They had great musicians and singers)

I wasn't sure about the pastor because, as always happens when we visit a church, they had a guest speaker. I swear that has happened to us more times than I can count. We just looked at each other and laughed.

I felt good being in the church. I could see my family making connections there. I could imagine my kids making friends.

However, I also noticed some other things.

It was very white. And not just white, but a much more buttoned down white. Not overly stiff, just all khakified and button-down shirtified. I wondered how well an outsider who might be a little "different" might feel walking into such a church.

The guest speaker read a selected Scripture from Mark, and then proceeded to give a message incorporating the Tale of the Three Trees. Huh? I believe the United Methodist church usually has a scheduled portion of Scripture that is supposed to be read in a certain order throughout the year, so I get the reading. But, why veer off into a sermon using an illustration that isn't even Scriptural?

The sermon was actually pretty good despite being based on a folk tale. The speaker managed to weave in other Scriptures to make his point, so it wasn't completely off the wall. He delivered his message well. Still ....The Three Trees?

I brushed all that aside because he was just a guest after all, but I was left wondering about what was important to me in a church.

How important is the diversity of a church? How much weight should "comfortableness" have in making a decision about a church? What is the most important aspect to consider when choosing a church body with which to associate--the pastor, the worship, fellowship, outreach?

Maybe I could come up with a complicated equation to measure and weigh the various aspects of a church and give it a rating.

Let's get a "9" for the worship..."1" for the corny jokes the pastor told..."7" for the friendliness factor..."5" for the decor--I mean, really, mauve is so 80's....and an "8" for the children's ministry because you stuffed my kids with Goldfish, sang "Pharoah, Pharoah, woah, woah, let my people go....yeah, yeah, yeah yeah", knocked down a wall of blocks to represent Jericho's wall and they were happy when I picked them up.

whaddya think?


Your hubby said...

I admit to having just as much confusion as you. I also enjoyed the worship -- it was a great blend of traditional and contemporary music. But... there was something about all the colored lights that kept strobing and flashing to the music. It made me feel... well, kind of like I was at a cheap concert with a low budget light show.

The people seemed nice enough, and those that spoke to us were quite friendly, though not many actually made the effort to speak to us (said with an appropriate measure of conviction, as I am one of the worst myself at greeting visitors at church).

The message was... okay. But as you rightly observed, it was a guest speaker and not necessarily indicative at all of the typical sermons preached at this church.

Ultimately, one visit was not enough to draw an solid conclusions from other than that I would possibly be open to a second visit.

"Shopping" for a church is such a gut wrenching experience. In some ways, our having a selection of a multitude of local churches to choose from in this country is a curse as much as it is a blessing. We're left critiquing and analyzing and trying to weigh factors that we, if we're honest with ourselves, aren't even sure should be factors.

So do we stay at our current church, or do we look for a new church home? And if we do decide to leave, how do we choose a new church? And how long do we stay before we start to feel uncomfortable and start looking again for a new place?

I honestly don't know.

Carl said...

We moved to the north of Tallahassee about 4 years ago and joined a small church nearby and have been very welcomed and I believe have been ministered to quite well. I truly feel that God led us to this church. I pray that God guides you to whatever decision you make.

Carl said...

To clarify...I just realized the way I worded the above, one might assume we moved to Tallahassee 4 years ago. Actually we moved to Tallahassee about 20 years ago and lived in a small apartment on the south side near Orange Ave. for over 16 years. We finally could afford our first house and found one just north of the Tally city limits we could afford that we liked in a nice quiet neighborhood as opposed to the area we were living in (which was pretty bad for a time with gunshots on weekends and our car getting broken into twice and stolen, then recovered, once).

Jazzki said...

Oh, I can so relate, or, as they say, "been there, done that."

Certain denominations I won't even come near, but after "shopping" several times, each almost 2 years apart, I look 4 three things (and I'm lucky if even 2 are present): solid pulpit (i.e. meaty sermons), reverent worship (i.e. no Rock or Rap, and at least 99% solid hymns as opposed to "praise songs") and finally, genuine koinonia. Out here in the MadBadLands of the West (GoldrushLand), I have yet to experience the latter. You might more often encounter the middle one, and if you attend a certain "flavor" of church (I will not here proselytize, so cryptic is the word), you can pretty much rest assured that the sermons will be either "good" or even "outstanding."

Unlike you, I don't mind if it's a "White" church, tho I'm horrendously uncomfortable if it's the type where SUV and Izod are the litmus tests for your acceptability.