Recently my wife and I were out on a date and decided to visit a church service. As I think about it now, I’m not sure why Brynn thought this was a good idea. Perhaps it is because she loves church more than most. Perhaps it is because she saw it as an opportunity for us to sit by each other and worship, something we rarely get to do at our own church services because of our numerous responsibilities. I don’t know why she thought a church service was a good idea on a date, but I know why I did.
I wanted to attend church that night for one reason, research. I saw visiting another church as a good opportunity to compare and contrast what they were doing at their gathering versus what we do at ours. I hoped to pick up some ideas. I figured I would sit back, relax, and make mental notes of the various happenings, deciding what we did better, what they did better, and what we needed to do differently.
Upon entering the church we headed straight for the balcony seating (I think this is what everyone does who wants to be at church, but doesn’t want to participate). We sat down and readied myself to soak in new ideas. As the service started, my heart changed. I realized (perhaps remembered) that I am incapable of being a disengaged spectator at church; I know too much. Sure, I made a few mental notes that evening: I love their projector. We should be using hashtags more effectively. I need to use humor better in my preaching. But, I also participated.
In this post I want to share three things I know that changed how I engaged with the church we visited that night.
I KNOW GOD IS UNIQUELY PRESENT WHEN A CHURCH GATHERS
I’ve written and spoken a great deal about God’s unique presence in a church’s gathering. It is outside the scope of this post to explain why I know this is true (you can read something here and listen to something here). But while the “why” is outside of my present purposes, the how is not. By “how” I do not mean how God’s presence can be felt, but rather how this belief altars how I approach church.[bra_blockquote align=”]When you know God is in your midst it is a bit idiotic to willfully waste an opportunity to interact with him.[/bra_blockquote]When you know God is in your midst it is a bit idiotic to willfully waste an opportunity to interact with him. For example, when a pastor is leading a church into musical worship, it is illogical to think “God is here, but I’m not going to express my love to him through these songs because ” Likewise, when a pastor opens up the Bible, God’s Word, it is illogical to think, “God is here, but I’m not really going to pay attention to what he has to say because I’m only here to critique the way this guy speaks.”
So for me, holding to a belief that God is often uniquely present when a church gathers, it becomes hard to gather with that church and ignore him for the purpose of research. When my wife and I visited the aforementioned church and the music started, I wanted to simply think things like, “The acoustics are so much better here then our gym” or “Our electric guitar player is better than their electric guitar player.” Instead, I recognized that God may be present in a powerful way, and I expressed my love to him through song.
I KNOW PEOPLE JUDGE A CHURCH ON THE BASIS OF OTHER ATTENDERS
As a pastor, I would love it if visitors only judged our church based on things I could control. For example, it would be great if people only judged Creekside on the basis of my preaching. The reality is, there are a lot of factors that go into what a visitor thinks about a church. These factors all boil down to one question that every visitor of a church, or any business for that matter, sub-consciously asks themselves: “Do they care about me?”
In a church gathering this question will be answered in many ways: Does the building look nice? Did the pastor put thought into his sermon? Did the band practice? AND, were people nice to me?
It is this last question that altered my date night church attendance. [bra_blockquote align=’right’]I know that a visitor at a church might determine whether or not the church cares about them on the basis of whether or not I’m friendly.[/bra_blockquote]I know that a visitor at a church might determine whether or not the church cares about them on the basis of whether or not I’m friendly. So, when the church Brynn and I visited asked us to turn and shake people’s hands, I looked for people who looked alone, shook their hands warmly, and kindly looked into their eyes when I said hello. Perhaps you think it is a small thing. I think it is a big thing. I think that a smile and “hello” could be the reason someone says, “Maybe the people of this church care about me” and decides to come back. I think that ultimately a smile and a “hello” can be the catalyst for people entering into a relationship with Jesus.
I KNOW VOLUNTEERS ARE AWESOME
While pastors sometimes talk about the difficulties of working with volunteers, we are glad to have them. Church cannot be done well without people serving freely!
Most church volunteers, even those who don’t do a good job, are volunteering out of a heart for God. Sure, there are exceptions. Some people volunteer to be seen. Some volunteer because they want to play with the churches technology. Some because they want to feel needed. But most volunteer, because they love God and care about the church they attend. Think about it, in a mobile church like mine, there isn’t a great deal of tangible incentive to show up at 7:45 am on a Sunday to help setup chairs, but people do it. Most church volunteers do their work because of a love of God and their church – at least that has been my experience with volunteers.
Church volunteers don’t just volunteer for good reason though, they also volunteer without receiving much gratitude. In most churches a handful of people receive the majority of the accolades. October was pastor appreciation month, I received a bunch of encouraging notes. There is no nationally recognize church volunteer month. Most volunteers will do their job week in and week while only receiving an occasional thank you (if that).[bra_blockquote align=”]I know how much the volunteers do at my church; I know that they don’t have to do any of it.[/bra_blockquote]I know how much the volunteers do at my church; I know that they don’t have to do any of it. I also know how under-appreciated they are. So, when Brynn and I visited another church, I wanted to show real appreciation to those serving. When communion was passed to me by an usher, I looked her in the eyes and with the utmost sincerity said, “Thank you.” I know this probably had very little impact on the girl, she probably was serving because of her love of God and her church, but it was important to me. [bra_border_divider top=’20’ bottom=’20’]
When someone attends a church serve it is easy to be a passive observer, but when you know that God is uniquely present, visitors are judging the church based on your behavior, and volunteers are awesome, it ought to change your approach to being with God’s gathered people. I hope that you will learn these things and never attend church the same again.