My Experience Visiting Other Churches: Part 1

This is part one of a two-part blog post. I'll post part two later this week.

Over the last month I've had the privilege of attending five different churches. As a pastor looking to plant a new church, I'm intentionally taking some time in this initial phase to explore other churches and learn from them. One of the challenges of working for a church is that you rarely, if ever, have the chance to visit other churches. Therefore, I'm trying to take advantage of this season to do just that. 

I've had quite an eclectic experience over the last month. The churches I visited are all very different from each other. Some of them are local, some of them regional, and one of them out of state. They range in size. Some of them are small (less than 100 people), some of them are mid-sized (150-500+ people), and some of them are very large (4,000-20,000+ people). They range in theology and tradition (FEC, United Methodist, Christian Church, Non-denominational, and Interdenominational). They range in style and experience as well. Some of them are loud and full of energy. Some of them are quiet and contemplative. Some of them are urban. Some of them are rural. Some of them are full of young people. Some of them are older. Some are a good mixture of young and old.

I was a first-time visitor at all five churches. So I approached each experience with that in mind, trying to pay attention to what it feels like to be new, to be an outsider. Now to be fair, I'm never really a complete outsider. I've worked in the church world for over 10 years of my life. So I know how the system works by now. But I still had an opportunity to experience these churches with fresh eyes, to have a first impression. With that said, I'd like to share just a few things I've learned from visiting these churches.

1. A smaller church doesn't always mean it's easier to get connected.

I spent the last six and a half years working at a mega-church. One of the occasional complaints we heard was that because of our size it was difficult to get to know people. But based on my last month of church experience, I've come to realize that it's always difficult to get to know people regardless of the size of a church. When you are new, it doesn't matter if there are 100 people or 10,000 people at the church you are attending. The amount of people you know is still the same: zero.

What this means is that no matter how small or big you are, it's incredibly dangerous to assume that people can get connected easily in your community. Actually, I found that a couple of the larger churches I attended were better equipped to connect new people than some of the smaller ones. Because of their size, they didn't have the luxury of people naturally finding community inside their church. Therefore, they've created some systems and structures to help new people connect better and get to know others in the church.

2. A bigger church doesn't always mean a better experience.

We live in a world that says bigger is better. I'm originally from Texas so it's in my blood to think this way. But when it comes to church, bigger doesn't always mean that it will be a better experience. Now there are lots of great things about large churches. They can do amazing things and pull off experiences that smaller churches couldn't dream of doing. But on the flip side, the larger a church is, the more complex it is. Even little things like pulling into the parking lot can become a challenge. Oftentimes mega-churches will even have police directing traffic at their entrances. Their buildings can be confusing as well because they are so big and offer so many different options. Other challenges like finding a seat when it's crowded or waiting in long lines to drop off and pick up your kids can be pretty typical at a very large church.

What this means is that the larger you are, the more you committed you have to be to hospitality. This sounds crazy, but if I could make a recommendation to very large churches, I'd recommend having your guest services team stationed at every entrance holding the most massive signs you could ever imagine saying, "If you are new, we can help!" I'd also recommend that your guest services team walk each new person through the entire process from the front door, to childcare (or any other stop along the way), to their seat in the adult worship experience. No amount of signage or technology will ever make up for the personal touch of a human being who cares, who can answer questions, and who can help you navigate the controlled chaos that is a mega-church.

This blog post will continue with part two later this week. If you want to make sure you see part two, you can subscribe to my blog by clicking here.