Week Five of my Finding Fingerprints adventure. I’m visiting a different church every week to see all the cool things that God is up to in the various gatherings of believers in Jesus in my community. John 17, baby — Let’s find that unity that Jesus wanted for us!
Sunday #5, Oct. 5, 2014
A Medium-Sized Non-Denominational Community Church with about 200 in attendance
Message: John 3 “You Must Be Born Again”
This one is hard to write about.
I decided I’d chosen liturgical services for the last couple of churches so I’d go with a non-denominational contemporary service this Sunday. I’m leaving off the name of the church because the whole point of this adventure is to celebrate God’s beautiful fingerprints everywhere I find them, and never to add to the disunity already running rampant in the family of God.
I checked out this church on their website and read a lot of warm, fellowship-oriented language. A café awaited me, and since I was a first-time visitor I should be sure to take a mug home with me. I arrived 7 minutes before service time. I entered the building and walked through the café to enter the sanctuary. There were probably about 200 people milling about, drinking coffee and fellowshipping. I walked slowly and made eye contact. I smiled. I was clean and had brushed my teeth. I was dressed in a very fit-in-with-the-crowd outfit. I was alone (Fred was sleeping after a night shift).
I was never once greeted.
It was like I was invisible. I thought, “I need to make sure I look open, friendly, and also a little lost. Those are the marks of a visitor.” Slowly I made my way all the way across the back of the wide sanctuary, pausing to look at the bulletin I’d picked up, looking around to read the signs on the walls, catching the occasional eye of someone and smiling tentatively. I was completely ignored.
I took a seat on the aisle on the far side of the sanctuary. The service began, and the lights went down. Stage lights lit the worship band. The sound system worked well. The words flashed on the screen. All the elements of “the production” were solid, but honestly the musicianship was pretty poor. It seemed as if they were trying so hard to put in every possible guitar riff, every instrumental bridge that they’d heard on the professional recording of the song, that their focus was just stretched thin and they were out of their depth. They looked at one another frequently trying to get their timing together. It was mighty distracting, and I was truly trying to worship.
I knew the songs. It wasn’t hard to sing along…but I was so distracted by the production that it WAS hard to sing along.
A missions report, a message that was casual, conversational, and completely confusing (even though it was intended for those in need of salvation and should have been clear to anyone)…I began to pray for SOME evidence of God’s fingerprints.
All I could see was a club; it was a club of which I was not a part. The café and casual atmosphere gave them the illusion of warmth and welcome. The conversational tone of the folks on the platform gave the false appearance of relationship with the regular attenders and a desire for relationship with the newbies. So disheartening.
I did find one lovely fingerprint, though, and it must be spotlighted.
Monthly this church offers a dinner for foster parents in the community. They cook and serve, and babysit the kids in another room while the foster parents have time to talk to one another and share encouragement. They are caring for orphans that way, right in our community.
Isn’t that beautiful?
I was so sad that I looked that hard and found so little of God’s presence. I don’t doubt that there are people in that church who love Jesus and want to live for Him. But something was wrong there; somewhere the priority got moved from substance to surface. I am praying that they will remember what it really means to love God and love others in ways that will show His fingerprints to all.