Worship at Other Churches
- 2010 27 Feb
Jumping out of her seat in a pew, a woman shouted, “Hallelujah! We praise you, mighty God!” Startled, I stared in awe as she imitated the sound of a trumpet while dancing around in the aisles. Others in the worship service rose from their seats to join her, and one even began rolling around on the floor as she called out praises to God.
Nobody had ever done that in my church, as far as I knew. But I had to admit that it was intriguing.
And after I got over the initial sense of awkwardness, I found myself joining in the joyous celebration, dancing around with everyone else. The freedom I felt to express my worship to God was exhilarating – yet I would never have dared to try worshipping that way in my own church, where the congregation pretty much just stood up and sat down during worship.
Ever since the time years ago when a friend invited me to that Wednesday night service at her African Methodist Episcopal church, I’ve been visiting other churches to worship when I can, while still remaining an active member at my own contemporary evangelical church. Sometimes I visit during a vacation, when I’m too far away to attend a service at my home church. But I also try to catch a Saturday or Sunday evening service, a mid-week service, or a holiday service at some other local churches when I can. Despite the congregations’ ecclesiastical differences, they’ve all shared a desire to glorify Christ and a devotion to the Bible.
Every worship experience at a different church broadens my perspective on the many creative ways to worship God, while deepening my sense of connection to my spiritual brothers and sisters. The peaceful quiet of a Quaker service in a simple meeting house, the breathtaking beauty of the icons at an ornate Orthodox church, the invigorating altar call at an historic, old-fashioned Baptist church – all of it has the power to draw us closer to God and each other.
Too often, we Christians visit other churches only when looking for a new one to join. But after we settle into our home church, we miss valuable opportunities to grow if we never venture out to worship with our other brothers and sisters in Christ.
Here are some reasons why it’s worthwhile to make the time to worship at other churches when you can:
It keeps your worship dynamic. Your home church features a particular style of worship that you probably enjoy. But it’s easy to become complacent after a while when you’re worshipping in the same style week after week. For example, I learned that, as much as I enjoy the rock music at my church, it’s refreshing to open a hymnal at a more traditional church every once in a while. Rather than singing the same songs I know so well over and over, having to learn new songs helps me pay closer attention to the lyrics I’m singing and enriches my soul with new insights. Conversely, a friend who belongs to a more traditional church where responsive prayers are prescribed in the bulletin has said she benefitted from visiting a church where the congregation was encouraged to speak spontaneous prayers aloud. If you’re starting to feel as if you’re going through a routine when you worship, enliven your worship by visiting another church soon to sample an entirely different worship style.
It connects you to your spiritual brothers and sisters. If you just stay within your own congregation to worship, you’ll share the experience with just a tiny fraction of the people who share your faith around the world. Visiting other churches to worship makes the bond of faith you share with others tangible. One time, while on vacation in a rural area, I’d made some snap judgments about the people I expected to encounter at small country church I’d planned to visit. But when I actually worshipped alongside them, I was struck by the depth of their worship, and grateful for the chance to spend time with strangers who, in the light of shared worship, seemed like extended family members. Seeing the faces of other believers as you join them in prayer and hearing their voices as you sing praises to God together helps you realize that you’re all connected in a spiritual family that transcends our society’s divisions.
It engages your senses. Whenever you’re in a new environment, you tend to be more alert to your surroundings than you are in a familiar place. Noticing the sensory details of a worship experience – such as the sound of clapping, the smell of incense, or the sight of a rugged wooden cross – will also help you notice God’s presence as you worship Him. When I visited a Methodist church with large, colorful stained glass windows, the gorgeous light that shone through them riveted my attention to the One who is Himself the Light of the world. If your surroundings at your home church seem to fade into the background, find a church that features a very different environment and see what you notice there.
It helps you focus on what matters most. How many times have you caught yourself daydreaming, talking with friends or family, or flipping through the bulletin in the middle of your home church’s worship service? If you’re feeling distracted, it could be because you’ve come to expect what the service will be like and know that you can go through it on autopilot. Visiting my local Coptic Orthodox church, I had to learn how to follow an elaborate, ancient liturgy to participate in the service. But doing so helped me pay attention to what matters most in worship – focusing on God. When you’re learning a new way to worship at a different church’s service, you’re more attuned to the reason why you showed up in the first place.
It gives you a glimpse of heaven. The Bible mentions that worship in heaven will be quite a diverse experience: “After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb …” (Revelation 7:9). Whenever you increase the diversity of your worship experiences here on Earth, you’re previewing a bit of what it will be like to worship one day with the great multitude of believers standing before God’s heavenly throne.