You’re four minutes late!
As we walked to the church entrance, this shout came from somewhere behind us, and I thought, wow, it’s just four minutes! You don’t expect to be called out at church for being four minutes late. It’s not the friendliest of welcomes for your first-time visitors. But when I turned to see who was shouting, I saw our friend Jonathan smiling at us from his plow truck as he cleaned up the parking lot. It was nice to see him (and also realize we weren’t actually being scolded for just a couple minutes of tardiness.)
After a quick conversation, we turned back to the church and went in, visitors for another Sunday. Jonathan and his family don’t attend this church, although at that moment, I wished they did so we could walk in and find his wife and kids and settle in next to friends instead of strangers or an empty pew. The seeking is wearing on me.
The Church of the Nazarene is an evangelical denomination and “the largest denomination in the classical Wesleyan-Holiness tradition.” The denomination has a strong emphasis on making “Christlike disciples in the nations.” During this Sunday’s service, the pastor said they would be adding “mission moments” to their Sunday worship services so they could see how their giving was impacting the larger church and missionaries around the world. If nothing else, I enjoy seeing and researching the different denominations and styles and beliefs before and after each visit.
The service felt very similar to other evangelical churches we’ve attended, with contemporary worship music, an offering, and an extended sermon. I say “extended sermon” because we’ve been to more than a few churches recently where the sermons are much shorter, somewhat simpler, and marked less by point-by-point teaching than those of the evangelical churches I’m accustomed to. I even remarked on our drive to the church that I like the simpler, shorter sermons that we’ve been hearing lately because, to me, they get to the heart of the scripture passage quickly and don’t feel as formulaic as other sermons. (I don’t mean to make judgment here on different types of sermons, just stating my own preferences).
As has been the case with most of the churches we’ve visited, we were welcomed by many friendly faces and invitations for coffee and snacks downstairs. We went and stayed for just a few minutes before slipping out the side door. On our way out, one last woman greeted us and asked, “Will you come back?”
I said “maybe” because I didn’t want to say “no” but I don’t think we’ll be back. And I think about all these churches we’ve visited (it feels like so many, but I think in reality it’s somewhere around ten or maybe twelve) and I wonder if we’re missed or remembered the next Sunday. (Not in an arrogant, they-should-remember-me kind of way, but in the sense that churches seek new members, seek to bring new people in, so visitors matter). Depending on the church, visitors are counted, names are collected, welcome gifts are given, guest books are signed, visitors’ cards are filled out and dropped onto offering plates. So many people do a great job of welcoming us and at least seem excited that we are there, so I wonder if, when we don’t come back, they think, what went wrong?
But nothing went wrong. Each new community we visit is just that: a community. And we’re looking for the one where we fit best. And it’s hard for us to come and go, to take a deep breath and walk into another strange place, to hope to find a church home, but still feel unsure. And I imagine it’s hard for some of these churches, too, to welcome visitors they may never see again, to hope and pray for more members, to wonder how they can draw more people in and then watch us walk away. But I’m grateful to each community that makes space for us on a Sunday morning, and shows us where to sit and where to get coffee, and says “hello” and “do you live in the area?” and “we hope to see you again.”
We may not stay. We may not come back. But we’re glad you’re there and that you have each other. We’re glad you’re there to serve the poor and feed the hungry and send out disciples. We’re glad you’re there to teach the kids and pray for the hurts and celebrate the joys. We’re glad you’re there to worship God and sing his praises and break the bread and drink the cup. We’re glad you’re there.
We’re so glad you’re there.