For the past three months, I had the rare opportunity to visit a different church every Sunday. I tried to diversify my experience as much as possible, so I visited churches that varied in size, location, denomination, and demographic. I also sometimes checked out several different churches in one day (I would not recommend doing this).
People have been asking what I observed during my visits, so I decided to share my experience. Granted, my observations may be limited since I'm basing them on one Sunday visit. I'm also aware that my experience may be colored by my theology, cultural upbringing, and personality. So take everything here with a grain of salt.
With that being said, here are ten brief observations I've gained from this experience
1) Every Korean Church Feels the Same
If you've ever visited a Korean church, just know you don't really need to visit another one. Why so? Well, you probably won't learn anything new. Sure the liturgy and sermon style may vary but, for the most part, every Korean church felt the same. Good praise. Long sermon. Lingering in the main chapel. Feeling lost during fellowship while everybody else seem to be best friends. It's amazing how much of our Koreanness shapes the church culture.
2) Every White Church Feels the Same
I had a hunch that every Korean church would feel similar. However, I was surprised to find that every white church felt the same too. They're all fairly large and family-oriented. The tone of the service is always happy and enthusiastic. And the preaching is always along the lines of, "You're awesome and you were meant to do so much more with your life!"
3) Good Female Singers Are Really Important
I noticed that the churches with the most powerful praise sets always had an amazing female vocalist. I'm not sure why this is the case, but it felt like the difference between a good praise band and a great one was the girl singer. And what made these women so good wasn't just their vocal abilities - it was the confidence they had while singing.
4) Common Megachurch Experiences
I visited quite a few megachurches and without fail, I always experienced the following:
- They all offer granola bars before service
- They all emphasized tithing
- They all asked me to volunteer to serve (even though it was my first Sunday)
5) Urban Churches vs. Suburban Churches
Generally speaking, I noticed a difference between urban and suburban churches. In urban churches, it seems like the emphasis is what happens on Sunday (e.g. sermon, praise set, etc.). But in suburban churches, it seems like the emphasis is what happens outside of Sunday (e.g. small groups, bible study, etc.).
I'm not saying urban churches have better sermons while suburban churches have better small groups. But their focus seemed to differ. For churches in the city, it's all about the main dish. For churches in the suburbs, it's all about the side dishes.
6) The Most Encouraging Church Visit
I was encouraged by a lot of the churches I visited, but the ones I felt most encouraged by were King's Church in Long Beach and Redeemer Presbyterian Church in San Diego. It wasn't just the praise and preaching; rather I really resonated with was the overall tone of the service - it felt calm, thoughtful, and, most importantly, a place that could engage non-Christians.
7) The Most Discouraging Church Visit
I was also discouraged by a lot of churches I visited, but perhaps none more than Hillsong L.A. I don't want to sound like a hater, but I just wasn't feeling it. To me, that Sunday experience at Hillsong encapsulated everything that's wrong with modern Western evangelicalism. Shallow lyrics. Entertainment-based liturgy. Simplistic sermon. And a cringe-worthy gospel presentation/altar call. The music was good but nothing amazing. Again, it was just one Sunday, so take this with a grain of salt.
8) How to be a Multicultural Church
I visited a lot of multicultural churches and I learned an important lesson: For a church to really feel multicultural, BOTH the congregation and the leadership need to be multicultural. There were some churches I attended that had diverse congregations but for some reason, they still felt really white. I think it felt this way because the entire leadership was white.
For a church to feel multicultural, you need to have a minority in a platformed leadership role. And no - having a token Asian guy overseeing your small groups doesn't count. Rather you need him consistently speaking at the pulpit. He needs to be influencing the culture and participating in leadership vision. Only then do you have a chance of making minorities feel welcomed.
9) Sermon Styles
There are two basic ways that a pastor will preach a sermon. They will either a) read the passage and preach on what the text says or b) they'll read the passage and preach on whatever they want to talk about. It was also interesting to notice that in smaller churches, the content of the sermon seemed most important; however in larger churches, it was the charisma of the speaker seemed to matter most.
10) Every Christian Should (Occasionally) Visit Another Church
I'm against church-hopping and believe it's detrimental to the soul to visit a new church every week. But I also think it's potentially detrimental to never visit a church outside the one you already attend. Christians like this often become overly tribal. After this experience, I can't help but think it might be good for Christians to visit a different church 1-2x a year.
If you ever do, I'd encourage you not to visit a church that's basically a clone of the one you attend. Rather visit one that's radically different than yours (but still orthodox). At best, you'll learn from it and gain a greater perspective. At worst, you'll get discouraged and will appreciate your home church.