|National Cathedral, Washington D.C.|
Since we left Eugene, Danny and I have visited or attended nine churches. One of those we left early. Two others we drove by, or parked near before deciding whether or not to enter. We've stalked websites. We've listened to online sermons.
I've even read Yelp reviews.
And now we're in the process of leaving Richland and relocating to Portland. While I'm excited about the move, finding a church home can be emotionally exhausting. But we've done it a lot, so on the subject, I have thoughts.
1.) I hate being singled out as being a visitor. When people find out you're a visitor, they get this odd rabid look. I'm sure you've seen it. Their eyes light up, and suddenly they're trying to make sure you come again, so they can convert you. This usually happens without any real conversation about your spiritual history. (You can negate this slightly if you bring your own Bible. Never mind if you read your Bible on an e-reader, you need the real thing for this situation).
2.) I don't want a special gift. Really, what I want most is community. Don't give me a book, don't give me free coffee. Do you really want me to come back? Invite me to a women's group, a Bible study, a post-church coffee group. And not a "hey newcomers, talk to the pastor after church" (which often has an aftertaste similar to item 1), but an honest to goodness invitation.
3.) This requires talking to me. No because I'm a visitor, but because I'm a person. Because if y'all don't talk to your people - not just the people you know, but the people you don't - I'm not okay with that.
4.) It's important to have a good website. I'll dismiss a church out of hand if their website has been "under construction" for two years, and is poorly or inexpensively done. In this day and age, the website is both a church's first impression and electronic bulletin. Don't ruin it with a purple background and yellow hypertext links.
5.) For the love of all that is holy, I can't with churches that try to be cool. The way I see it, If you have to try, it's not cool. If you are, naturally, great. Fine. Whatever. But in general, Christianity really isn't cool. The message of sin and redemption is not hip. The message of Salvation is not popular - what it is is necessary. It's truth. It's a challenging blend of freedom and sacrifice, and wrapping it up in shallow "relevance" and buzzwords is an insult to everyone's intelligence.
6.) Buzzwords. You've heard them. Relevant. Transparency. Real. Transformative. Overuse of the word "thing" (i.e. "Jesus Thing, Love Thing, Grace Thing, etc). See also: overuse of the word "place". And while I'm at it, phrases like "speaking into someone's life" or "loving on someone" drive me nuts too. Speaking into someone's life sounds awfully condescending, and loving on someone...seriously. Think about it. Does it sound legal to do in a public place? My issue with buzzwords is that they're either a Christian shorthand or verbal window-dressing. While I know synonyms are a good thing, we don't always have to linguistically reinvent the wheel. A church that relies too much on Christian buzzwords is either trying too hard to sound meaningful, or too disconnected from the rest of the world to know how silly they sound.
7.) Speaking of window dressing - coffee. If you're that into it, as a congregation, I'm concerned about the sermon quality. We attended one church that featured an official coffee break after the worship and before the message (it was, in fact, a good time to sneak out). In the past, most churches I've attended have served coffee in the Ye Olde Folger's tradition, but around here, if a church serves Stumptown they'll tell you on the website (because this is how you choose your church, right?). So aside from my quality sermon concerns, my other thought here is that if you're going to be coffee-obsessive, throw the tea-drinkers a bone and offer good-quality tea options.
8.) MUSIC. It's church, not a Beyoncé concert. Colored lights are a bit much. Strobing, flashing lights, ditto. We are in church to worship God, not to marvel at how much effort has been put into the staging, or wonder about the electricity bills.
9.) I appreciate a church that isn't afraid of acknowledging life's difficulties. We live in a fallen world, and while yes, we have Jesus, and Jesus saved us, we still have to hang tight through this life until we get to heaven. And sometimes? Sometimes this life is really hard. Scripture is pretty open about this, but I've visited several churches that seem reluctant to admit that this is reality, as if they're concerned that if we talked about the tough stuff, people might not buy into the Hope of Christianity.
10.) In a similar vein, I appreciate churches who aptly identify that their church congregation ins't solely made up of married adults with children. In a church body, there are younger singles, older singles, divorced adults, widowed adults, and couples struggling with infertility. While I'm sure it's tough to craft sermons that suit everyone, there's an importance to being sensitive to where people may be at, especially if it's a painful season of life.
11.) I do appreciate signage toward the main entrance. It's nice to look like I know where I'm going, rather than wandering around the front, examining the landscaping. Do you want people to come to your church? Make sure they know how to get in.
We did visit a new church today, and while there were a couple tricky points - we couldn't find the entrance, and several well-meaning greeters wished Danny a Happy Father's Day - we both enjoyed the meat of the message as well as the worship.
In the months to come, we'll continue to visit churches in the Portland area and I may well report back on it. Especially if people try to love on us. I'll have to blog about that.
What about you? What do you look for in a church?