Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Church Hunt Is Over (God Willing)

church huntThis past Sunday, the family and I continued our church hunt in Indianapolis. We've been searching for a new church closer to our new home in Indianapolis, but have been very disappointed with everything we've found so far. Quite possibly because we are allowing ourselves to draw too many comparisons with our old church in Terre Haute. So far, some of the major differences we've encountered include:
  • Many of the churches in Indy seem to practice a modified form of Intinction when they take Communion. My wife and I are both very familiar with taking the bread and the cup separately, not dipping the bread into a community juice.

  • We have grown very accustomed to a period of corporate worship (defined as a Worship Leader and a band leading the congregation in thirty minutes or so of whorshipping God through contemporary Christian music) after the sermon. Every church we have encountered has their longer worship period before the sermon at the beginning of the service, as if it's intended to allow ample time for stragglers to make it into their seats without missing the message. We prefer the latter period of worship because it allows for time to reflect upon the message, pray and commune with God.

  • We have found that at some churches, the mere process of dropping our children off for childrens worship and making our way into the sanctuary is overwhelming. This doesn't seem to be in any way associated with the size of the congregation or the church, as I'll explain later in this article.

That seems to touch on the majority of the major differences. We have visited several churches over the past several months, and have not yet found ourselves feeling comfortable and welcome to the point that we just knew we could return. A couple of churches have been better than others and seemed like they might have to suffice, but I think we've finally broken the chain of disappointment.

This past Sunday our church hunting took us to East 91st Street Christian Church, more commonly referred to on their website as E91. The church claims to have over three thousand in attendance each week and is part of the Restoration movement. It is a non-denominational church with the sole purpose of serving and worshipping Christ.

We were at first overwhelmed with traffic in the area as we approached the church. There is ongoing construction at the site while this already large church continues to grow. Officers were posted along East 91st Street to direct traffic and ease the congestion, and it seemed adequate enough.

Having looked at the church floor plan online in advance, I tried to park as close to the childrens wing as possible, and we arrived with adequate time to get the kids registered and signed into their respective classes. We entered the church as close to the childrens wing as we could find and approached a well-marked information desk. When we explained that we were there for the first time and wanted to drop the kids off for childrens worship, the woman serving at the desk was very warm and welcoming. She gave us some information about the church, to include their fall program directory, called Lifebook. She then walked with us to the childrens wing and waited while we took our daughter to her class. The entire way to the childrens wing, she was very conversational and made us feel very welcome.

We then took our son to his class, which was when the drama began. Since we started our church hunt, our son has been very resistant to going to childrens worship at new churches. I haven't been able to figure out why this is, but it has been a challenge every week to get him to leave us to join his age group. E91 proved to be no exception. My son hid his eyes and nearly had to be carried into his classroom. For nearly fifteen minutes I, my wife, and two adults in the class spoke with my son and tried to make him feel more at ease. In the end, we agreed to let our son go to the sanctuary with us, with the understanding that if we felt called to return to the church, one of us would stay with him next week in his class.

As we entered the sanctuary, it once again was difficult to find enough seats together for the three of us. Luckily an usher proved helpful in seating us. The sanctuary is arranged so that the speaker stands on a walkway that extends into the center of the room. There are several rows of theater-style seating facing the front of the walkway. On each side of the walkway there are several more rows of theater-style seating placed perpendicular to the those at the end of the walkway, so that everyone sitting in the sanctuary is looking at the speaker. There are balconies on each side and in the back of the sanctuary, as well. There is a choir loft behind the speaker that was not in use as we chose to attend the contemporary service, not the traditional service.

The worship band was on stage playing as we seated ourselves. They had a very polished sound and the acoustics of the sanctuary were great. Midway through the second song, my son said he wanted to go back to his class. I guess he realized he would have more fun there than he would sitting with mommy and daddy listening to music that he probably thought was too loud. I quickly took him to his class and returned just in time for Communion.

After Communion (traditional Communion, which made us both happy) and the offertory, the Pastor took the stage and delivered a very thought-provoking message. I took several pages of notes while Pastor Derek Duncan delivered a message in a very fast tempo.

After the sermon, we picked up our children, where everyone remembered us and made us feel very welcome again. Though my son played games during the ride home saying he didn't want to go back to E91, he later told us he had been joking, making it unanimous: we will be returning to E91 this weekend.

As I said earlier, I don't believe that the overwhelming feeling we've had at several other churches is at all related to the size of the building or the size of the congregation. We have visited smallish churches where things were so disorganized as to make the whole experience seem stressful, and we have been to more than one very large church where things went so smoothly that one might forget that it was a large church. With over three thousand people attending on Sunday, E91 is one of those churches that has made the large seem not so large and eliminated much of the overwhelming feeling that many come to associate with larger churches.

The experience was very positive, and as my wife and I left we both said that we felt our hunt may be over. We both feel that quite possibly God is calling us to become involved in the community at E91 and to settle down in a new church home. We certainly intend to give Him the time to make the message clear to us.

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