Thursday, September 03, 2009

A Visitor At Church

Here is my article for our local paper...

Please read it and tell me what you think?


This past summer my family was away from our church family for about 11 weeks. My church was agreeable (I greatly thank them for that) to giving me this leave of absence, in which we all have just returned. Being people of faith, we did not want to take the whole summer away from gathering with others for worship, and to hear the Word of God read and spoken. Not having our own church to be apart of though, we made several decisions about how we were going to approach Sundays. One, was we were going to go to church on the weekends. It is an important thing to stay connected with the family of Christian faith. We discovered that not all churches meet on Sunday morning. Some meet Saturday mornings and some have a Sat. evening service. We decided that no matter where we were, we would get to a church family sometime over the weekend. We also decided, to try to attend churches that were different than what we are used to in the expression (or in tradition) of our Christian faith. So, for this summer we became visitors. To make it fun, we found a worship service evaluation form on the internet so each family member, could answer questions ranging from how we were received as visitors, to how the church used it’s “worship space”. Armed with evaluation sheets, we set out like “secret shoppers” that stores hire to come into their stores to tell them what their experience was like. What a fascinating time we had! We went to 8 different churches all over western Canada. Some of the church families we visited were Presbyterian, Evangelical Free, Baptist, Anglican, as well as, several other well known faith traditions. One Sunday, we stayed at home and joined an increasing tread in Canada to not go to a church building on a Sunday but watch Christian ministry on TV in our pajamas! That Sunday the “how did people treat you as a visitor” question was not answered on our evaluation sheets. Over the next several times I get to write in this paper, (thanks again Linda for giving this space to communicate to your readership) I want to talk to you about our observations on being a “visitor to church”. I hope you will read them all. I also plan to post them on our blog at after they are in the paper. I do want to cover one observation for this addition, and that is, how we forget. One of the problems that we as people who attend church regularly, or if we visit elsewhere and go only to a familiar church tradition, is that we forget what is it like to be a stone cold visitor. I wish I could say that it got easier to go to different churches week after week over the summer, but it didn’t. Often if was hard to find out what churches were in the town or city we were visiting, as most do not have any signage, anywhere. If we did find out what churches were there, we always had to have a “dry run” to find it before Sunday and sometimes it took a long time to find. We forget what it is like to not know anyone or what is going to happen in the service. We felt significant stress as we walked towards an unknown building filled with people, as close to the start of the service as possible. If we were too late, all the back pews or chairs were filled with the regular people and we would have to sit closer to the front. Walking to the front with the feeling like everyone was staring at you (which they were) was not a great feeling. Now here I am. A pastor of a church. I have gone to a church for most of my life. I am used to going to church and yet week after week I felt anxious. I had forgotten what it was like to be the new person, and so had most of the churches. Friends, I question a lot of what takes place on Sunday in our churches in Canada and wonder if it is really the best way for us to communicate the Good news of the Gospel. That being said, I do not foresee a big change in how we gather as church families in the new future. If we could just put ourselves into the emotions of those whom we hope will walk through our doors, and make some, any changes, to make it less difficult, that would be a GREAT start. To those who do not go to church, I am sorry that church going people have forgotten what it is like to try to go. This summer reminded me how hard it is. I ask you to please, give it another try. I’m sure you will find the people there, as wonderful as we found many of them to be. We need you to help us remember, what’s it like to be new. God sent Jesus to seek out people (Luke19:10) and He is still doing so by His Spirit. Let us do our part as His family to help, not hinder the work of God. More next time…

No comments:

Post a Comment