My husband and I decided yesterday to begin going to a different church. That's a huge decision for us, and it wasn't an easy one. I've only been a Christian now for just under three years, but during those three years we've attended an awesome church here in our city. It's a very large church -- I guess you could call it a mega-church for our area. The congregation is somewhere between 3,000 -- 4,000 people, and they have three services on the weekend. We have absolutely loved going there. The worship music is out of this world. There's a full band and it's very up-beat and kind of "rock" in style, yet it's extremely moving and very engaging. The pastor is amazing, too. His sermons are very Bible-based, and extremely relevant. He's a very knowledgeable man who respects the Bible in every aspect, and teaches it so wonderfully. I can very honestly say that I would not be who I am today, and have come as far in my faith as I have without that man's teachings. So if we love it so much, why are we leaving, you ask?
Well, the answer to that is because of several reasons. I know others in my sphere of influence have had "church issues" so I wanted to throw this out there to see if anyone else has been in my situation. Or, perhaps others can draw comfort from what we're experiencing, and feel supported that they can make the same kind of move if so inclined. Holler at me if this is you!!
- The first reason why we've decided to leave is that the church is simply too big. We walk in every weekend before church, and we walk back out after church not having ever said a word to anyone. The few times we did attempt to talk to people and chat, we've never seen them again. The pastor has no idea who we are, and after almost 3 years of attending, we still feel like "newbies." When you walk in through the doors on Sunday, you feel like you're in a mall. The atrium is packed full of people, and if you're lucky you can fight your way through the crowd to get a donut or bagel. Randy tells me stories of the church he grew up in (which was a small, country Southern Baptist church). He said that his father often played golf with the pastor on Saturday mornings. And when his mom died, people from the church came over every day with food for him and his dad. Randy said that they did not have to cook one thing -- not for breakfast, lunch or dinner -- for over a month due to the kindness and compassion of the church women. I can guarantee that if I passed away, no one from the church would even know, let alone help Randy out by bringing him food. And I laugh at the thought of him playing golf with our pastor. It literally reminds me of a mall, where the people working there say hi to you, but the people there otherwise just brush past you without ever looking your way. No one strikes up conversation with you or even says "hello" or "good morning." The few times I've tried it, people looked at me like they should know me, and then appeared to be perplexed when they realized they didn't. And as for our pastor... well, he's great. But he's kind of like Bigfoot. You might catch a sighting of him here or there before the service, and you almost feel compelled to whip out your camera phone and take a picture. Other than on-stage, you just don't see him. But if we did, I think we would be too intimidated to say "hello."
- Which brings me to point # 2 -- our church is pretty clique-y, and the "celebrities" have turned the place into something overwhelming and untouchable. I think it's so awesome that our pastor has become friends with several local area celebrities and that they are now part of the congregation. It's truly very cool that he's using well-known people to help the outreach and spread the message of Christ. But when Chuck Gaidica comes up on stage to talk about a new project he's working on with the pastor, you can't help but feel that you've come to some sort of show or seminar. It just takes away the close "churchy" feel of it all. On Easter, we had the luck of being next to Karen Newman at church. She was all dressed up in her designer Easter finery with her kids. Now I wouldn't recognize a Jimmy Choo shoe if one landed on my head, but I can guarantee that her pink stilettos she wore cost more than what we spend on groceries for a month. And... how on God's green earth does one feel comfortable singing along to worship songs when you're standing next to Karen Newman?? And then it's like, do I look at her and smile? Or do I not look at her? Would she feel it intrusive if I said "hi" like I do anyone else I'm sitting next to? Of course she has every right to attend church just like everyone else, but I felt inadequate in my old Kohl's work pants and black cardigan. Even if you take the "celebrities" out of the equation, there are still cliques and groups. To the church's credit, they do really encourage people to try out and participate in small groups. But what if we ended up in one that had a bunch of executive, white collar people who own big mansions in Northville? Or what if it's like the summer picnic where you show up and everyone's familiar with each other and chatting it up about things while you're just left there standing in a corner, smiling like an idiot?
- Point number three is that we both want to serve, and our experiences with serving in our mega-church became disasters. I'm really good with computers and marketing, right? I can throw together PowerPoint presentations with all kinds of special effects like it's nobody's business. So about two years ago, I thought I might like to try to serve on our "tech team." I contacted the right person... showed up after work in the evening... and said my hellos to everyone. I thought it was going to be an hour or so tutorial about some things on the computer with a few small assignments thrown my way. Uh-uh. No way. Not even close. The "tech team" is another name for the stage-hand group. And the night they had me show up was one of the nights they had planned to completely redo the stage design. So there I was in my business casual attire, up on the stage pulling plugs and changing around microphones and lighting. I didn't know a wire from a cord from an amp, and I was like a deer in headlights. It was some major stuff, and they were changing around big pieces of equipment, speakers, choir stands, backdrops, etc. Three hours later, there was no end in sight. The poor guys who were used to climbing up ladders and hanging from the rafters had to tell me every single thing that needed to be done, and point out specifically how to do it. I was starving, tired, and completely overwhelmed. At about 10:30 pm when I asked one of them how much longer it was going to be, he replied casually, "Oh, we're usually here until about midnight." (Insert dumbfounded look here -- my bed time is typically ten o'clock.) I don't know what I had expected, but that wasn't it. I had to come forward and apologize, and say that this role of serving just wasn't for me. I commend all of those guys for the time and hard work they put in, but the whole thing scarred me. Randy had the same kind of disappointing experiences with parking lot duty, trying to usher in 1,000 attendees while navigating 1,000 other attendees out from the previous service. Most people ignored his directions and did what they wanted anyway. Our idea of getting to know people and holding babies or helping to create newsletters or cleaning up the pews after a service seemed completely ludicrous and idealistic after those experiences. That's kinda sad.
- We have very traditional and old-fashioned values, which seem to be non-existent in our big church. Now I know that our church now tries really hard to bring in everyone -- all kinds of people from every walk of life, with a special outreach to the younger crowd. The message is "Jesus loves everybody no matter who you are or what you do" and I get that. I really do. But in trying to convey that particular message, they've created a very relaxed "come as you are" mentality. It's not uncommon in the summer to see 18 year old girls coming into the service wearing cut off shorts, tank-tops and flip flops. Flip flops are totally commonplace. Last year we even saw one gal who had on what looked like pajama shorts -- you know those pink fleecy kind that have the words written on the butt? They were so short that we saw her butt-cheeks when walking behind her. It didn't appear that she did her hair -- it was in a very messy ponytail. And I wasn't quite sure she was wearing a bra under her thin cami-style tank top. And yes, flip-flops completed her ensemble. Other times we'll see women who are dressed like they are going to the bar, with sparkly things on, high-heeled boots and short skirts. It's obvious sometimes that some guys and girls go there with the expectation to "stand out" or "look hot" in the crowd. It's just annoying. I'm not saying that women have to come wearing pants or somber, old-fashioned skirts and that guys have to wear a suit and tie. But attire needs to be respectful. It's a place of worship. I'm not at all against a clean pair of jeans and a tidy button down or polo shirt. But when a guy shows up with dirty, ripped shorts and flip-flops, I just cringe. In addition to the attire, people are CONSTANTLY coming in late. I would venture to guess that more than half the congregation comes in very late -- like, after the second or third worship song. It's extremely distracting. The place fills up quickly by the middle of the worship set, and yet some still come in expecting to get the seat of their choice. I know that things happen and it's easy to get distracted and have an occasional late day. But every single week several hundred people show up significantly late. It's impossible for me to focus on the singing and feel peace and praise for God when you have a family trying to squeeze past you to get to the seats of their choice. And do I even need to go into how many teens and twenty-somethings secretly pull out their phones to text or Tweet during the service? Probably not. I don't want to be judgmental and give dirty looks, but having someone "discreetly" pull out their iPhone and text right next to you is annoyingly distracting. What gets me is that many times the teens who are doing that are sitting right next to their parents.
Okay, so I think you get the picture by now. Randy and I talked it over, and we agreed that we're both country-type souls living in the city. We're traditionalists, and we feel that church should be something you respect. The purpose is not to go and get a showy concert or "free therapy" every week, but to grow in your faith by studying the Bible and worshiping God. We want that sense of family. When we went down to Florida this past winter, we went to church with Randy's parents. It was a small Southern Baptist church. The sense of community and support there was amazing. The Bible studies were small, intimate groups -- not large conference rooms filled with 50 people. The pastor knew them well, and greeted us with warm handshakes and smiling faces. The women discussed putting on a Mother's Day high-tea, while the men chatted about their recent prayer breakfast. They discussed their latest mission group, and how everyone was going to pool together prayers and their specific talents to ensure that the group went on their way fully equipped.
We wanted that, so we did some digging and came up with a list of Southern Baptist churches in our area that we're going to try out. Our "church shopping" begins this Sunday. Our first church on the list is very local, and the small website they had online provided their recent newsletter, in which they listed all of the "Happy Birthdays" this month for the member of the congregation. Also in that newsletter were stories (with pictures and names) about members... recent births... information about one of the baby showers the church is hosting... ideas for community outreach... a potluck assignment for the Memorial Day picnic... pictures of the kids' Easter egg hunt... and a warm welcome to join their intimate Wednesday night Bible Study.
I want Little House on the Prairie in the middle of a Detroit suburb. I want to hug fellow women when I walk in, and know the toddlers' names and faces. I want to be able to join forces and help support a fellow congregation members in need. I would like for us to grow in spirit, to reach out to assist fellow church-goers if need be, and to find peace in our weekly worship. I want meaning and purpose, as well as family and community. I want to walk into our church and have it feel like home, not a hotel.
I owe a lot to our church, and know that God directed us there for a purpose. Without it, we wouldn't be so deeply rooted in our faith. But we've outgrown it, and it's time to move on. We're stagnant, and we're not serving -- which is something we're really feeling convicted to do. Randy and I didn't like walking into church every weekend and feeling annoyed by the things that touched a nerve. It's not very "Christian" to frown at someone's inappropriate behavior, but nor did it feel very "Christian" to think about it silently. We have strong values, and need a group that has those same values and puts them into practice.
I suppose that at this point in time, we're going back to Randy's roots. I would venture to guess that even soon I might become baptized, which is something I didn't feel comfortable doing in our big church. I wanted it to be meaningful, and to have my baptism performed by someone who knew me. This is the right choice for us, and we ask that God help us in picking the right church.
Stay tuned -- I'll let you know where we end up and what it's like.
"Church isn’t where you meet. Church isn’t a building. Church is what you do. Church is who you are. Church is the human outworking of the person of Jesus Christ. Let’s not go to Church, let’s BE the Church." ~Bridget Willard
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