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Visiting churches and more on The 10 Big Ideas

posted Sep 23, 2010, 6:35 AM by Tim Isbell   [ updated Sep 25, 2010, 9:21 PM ]

Reflections on visiting churches.

Since "retiring" from New Life in May, each Sunday Robin and I visit churches. We are "local church people" at heart, so it is unsettling not to live embedded in a local Fellowship of Believers.  But for now that's where we are.  To make the most of this transition time, we visit churches of various Christian traditions.  Of course, this includes several Nazarene churches, but so far it also includes Episcopal, Presbyterian, American Baptist, Methodist, and non-denominational.  Some are large established churches, others much more modest and fragile.

We're pleasantly surprised with the quality of worship we experience. It is a much richer than I expected.  I don't mean every worship service is well produced and polished; I mean the authenticity of the worship is so genuine.  Every week we are with people who are worshiping Jesus Christ (well, except for one week where they seemed to worship something else).  Almost always we see people supporting and praying for each other and welcoming visitors they've never seen before (like us).  We hear very helpful, well-prepared messages that touch our hearts and minds.  We experience the fellowship of communion.  We sing some familiar songs and attempt some that are quite unfamiliar.  We sat in an adult Sunday School class of about 25 people and at prayer request time we watched about a third of them pull out a little notebook to write down what they heard.  As I watched them I realized that this room full of people would pray for these needs all week long.  We've seen children and teens affirmed in worship in many places.  We enjoyed some sort of food available virtually everywhere - usually after the service but sometimes before.  In large churches this generally takes the form of coffee/juice and some pastry.  Most small churches seem to eat lunch together every Sunday!  And the fellowship around these lunch tables is priceless.  The food is usually some sort of potluck, with certain people apparently signed up to bring in their specialty - but many others bringing something.  I'm almost to the point where when we visit a small congregation of bringing some food to share myself!

Here is one think I am a little disappointed with: there is very little follow-up of visitors.  Most churches seem to have a card for visitors to fill out, but nobody has handed one to us and urged us to fill it in.  So we have not filled in any yet.  But we have left a check with our name and address at every church, and so far only one church pastor wrote us a note the following week.

For what it's worth, here's my short list of advice for churches:

1.  If at all possible, keep that food or snack fellowship going!  It's probably easier to get someone to stay for a cup of coffee and a snack than to get them to sit down at a table and eat strange food.  But something special happens at "table fellowship," so if you can do it - GREAT.

2.  Look for creative ways to involve LOTS of parishioners in worship.  I know I used to think we designed in a LOT of this at New Life, and we did.  But even more is better.  Such as: in one church a middle or early high school student produced a short worship video as the offertory.  Afterward the pastor interviewed her.  Another church, a formal Episcopal church, that routinely calls those with birthdays and anniversaries to the front, asks them the dates and such, and then they kneel and the pastor prays for them.

3.  Be a bit more diligent at getting contact information on visitors, and follow up.

Our summary of several weeks of church shopping: there are many wonderful Christian churches around and each one seems to be anchored by a warm Fellowship of Believers.

The 10 Big Ideas of Christian Faith ... revised.

I took another pass through all the Word file attachments to this sermon series in order to make them a bit more usable.  I originally preached these on Sundays connected with the lectionary, but each of these will work anytime.  So if you are thinking about preaching or teaching on any of these topics:

1. Trinity – the Divine Team.

2. Go, Multiply – Sharing the Good News.

3. Incarnation – God Among Us.

4. Sin – Distrusting God.

5. Grace.

6. Salvation by Faith.

7. It's God's Initiative – History Is Going Somewhere.

8. Kingdom of God on Earth.

9. Resurrection.

10. Life in the Spirit.

... then I think you'll find something you can use in the attachments at the bottom of The 10 Big Ideas of Christian Faith web page.