There are some things in my life that I resist changing – like eating a bowl of cold cereal for lunch almost every day. If I had my way, I’d wear the same clothes every day too. I guess I just don’t like spending time making those kinds of decisions and just move on with more important things in life. Some routines are frivolous, but some are not so – like going to church. For over a decade (or two or three), I’ve been attending and volunteering at the same church every weekend. I knew almost everyone, almost everything, and almost every carpet stain in that church. Even though the building of my old church is built like a maze, I bet I can navigate around the building with no problem, even if I were blindfolded.
But recently, that’s all changed. I no longer attend that old church, and I am venturing to find a new spiritual home. Having left my former church, I got to visit different churches every weekend; and for the first time in a long time, I was the visitor. For the first time in a long time, I got to experience what new visitors see when they visit a new church.
Major things like sermons are important but I’m not going to share about that. I just pray that God bless those pastors who work so hard to get the message out! I hope everyone knows that a typical sermon takes at least 10 hours’ worth of time if not more. What I can share, however, is that to a new friend, small things matter, individuals matter, and first impressions matter.
Faces. When I enter a church, I naturally and automatically scan faces, and I find that I subconsciously categorize faces into the welcoming faces, the I’m-too-busy-for-you faces and the please-don’t-bother-me-I-am-just-here-to-attend-church faces. I’ve worn the latter faces myself and I know they are not pretty. As a new visitor, I am always impressed with the faces that take the time to smile and say hi when I, a stranger, take a seat next to them. My husband was especially impressed (maybe it’s only because he’s a pastor) with that one time when as we sat down, the woman next to us not only smiled warmly and said hi but asked if we knew Jesus. We could tell that she didn’t belong to any church committee or welcoming team. We may be wrong but to us, that speaks volumes about how concerned the church is about people’s relationship with God. Maybe it’s not appropriate to probe deep into a new friend’s beliefs at the first meet, but putting God in the first conversations certainly sets the tone for more talk about spiritual things. Of the many visits, we met people who just exude excitement when seeing us new friends and even offered to give us tours around their respective churches. There was also this one huge church that we went to that was very zealous in reaching out. Even though it’s a big church, people literally ran after us to catch up with us at the parking lot as we were leaving after worship. We felt the warm fuzzies and admired their effort. Those that make the deepest impressions were those who interacted with us with sincerity, enthusiasm, and kindness. They kind of “brand” that church. When I try to recall a church that we visited, those faces surface.
Music. We have been to many worships with different styles. There were the rock-n-rollers, the modern worship styles, the purely traditional hymn styles and the ones who try to balance the worship with a combination of both modern and traditional songs. I have my personal preferences. But the one worship that was the most impressive was the one where my family was almost the only ones sitting in the sanctuary. The songs and the leaders were good. But what set them apart from the rest for me was that even though we were the only few sitting at there, they led as if they were singing with a big audience. They didn’t cut any slack just because there were only a few of us. You can tell they practiced long and hard, and you can tell they sang and spoke from their hearts. Then I realized – perhaps they remembered they actually did have a big audience. And that big audience wasn’t us. It was the big Boss up there. That, my friend, is worship leading.
Follow up. After being a new visitor to different churches for months and not ready to decide to stay in any one church permanently, we kind of got exhausted from having to introduce ourselves every single week. So we slowed down and just attended a nearby megachurch until we find a more permanent “home.” Soon we got letters and some very personal emails from a couple of the churches. Although we understand that some of these letters or even emails were just a part of a routine protocol, we appreciate their endeavor in reaching out to us. It is definitely a nice feeling to be remembered.
It’s a new season in our lives. The search for a good spiritual home continues. I don’t know why God led us out of the old and thrusts us into a search for a new home, but it’s OK. I am learning new things and seeing old things with new eyes. Perhaps that is the reason for God’s grand plan – not to stay in one place for too long and lose that fresh perspective so that I can gain new strength for new assignments and new missions. I think I am ready. God is gracious and won’t give me anything that I can’t handle. I will still have that box of cereal in the pantry when I just need something routine, something comforting and something familiar.