Continuing on from the first post in this series we will look at what are some things to look for in when we are church shopping and only have a brief time to get to know a little about the community we are checking out. (Also note there are many assumptions being made in these posts, one of the more important ones is that you can gain some insight into what kind of community you are visiting by making careful observations and that in fact we often do this whether we know it or not.)
The last post considered things to observe on the outside of the building, this post will focus on stuff that happens inside, including interactions with the people themselves.
Things to Look for While you Wait for the Service To Start
Consider what types of people are represented within a church. You will be able to gain insight into who is being invited, who feels welcome and what kind of ethno-culture will be represented in the church service. How do those people dress? What age groups are present? How are different age groups treated? For instance in a recent church we visited the music team was solely made up of teenagers, I found that this said something about the trust that community placed in their kids to let them lead their worship in song.
How is the sanctuary decorated? Is the church into creative expression of worship through paintings, banners, stained-glass etc? Is it a very plain sanctuary? How are the benches situated? Is there a pulpit, where is it? What about other things in the room that may or may not give you insight into the values of the community like a baptismal, a sound board and flags.
Finally a really obvious and easy thing to do is to check their morning program and see what it says about the church’s mission and purpose. By looking over a program you can often tell what the structure of leadership is, how the worship service is planned, what programs and what kinds of programs are offered, and what events are coming.
All of these things are good to help you discover what kind of life the church has not just during the Sunday morning service but also outside of that.
Considering the Spirit of the Church
It is much harder to walk into a church and understand how the Spirit is moving in a church, but it’s the most important aspect of finding a good church to attend. When you enter a church you must be willing to receive, with your heart open to listen to the Spirit.
Consider the prayers of the church. What are the concerns brought forward, and do they speak of God answering prayer in the church? Do the people thank God, and praise him for help? What belief is represented in the prayers (Often times our implied beliefs come out during prayer, as it should if we treat prayer as an honest and open talk with God)? Who is involved in the praying? Is it one person, a few people or the whole church?
How do the people interact with each other before, during and after the service? How do they interact with you as the visitor? If people say anything to you, who is it? Often churches have a few designated people who are friendly and tend to say hello to new people – these are good people to make contact with and ask any questions you might have. Sometimes there are greeters that will welcome you, sometimes only the pastor will say hello. In my experience I’ve gone churches that never got friendlier than after that first morning, and other’s that weren’t very nice on the first day but we much more welcoming after that.
One question to ask is how are the fruits of the Spirit being displayed in this congregation???? This question will help you get at the role of the Spirit in the church.
Again we’re only looking for common threads, no universal rules can be made off these observations. And the longer you visit the better your interpretations will be of these findings. Hopefully you have clear insight into what the Spirit is doing, that will give you a confidence in understanding everything else you’ve noticed during you visit.
The next and last post will cover, the worship music, the sermon, sacraments and it’s denomination.