I’ve heard this from people over the years. “If I go to your church, will they be like…handling snakes or something?” or, “I went to a non-denominational church with my friend one time, and if FREAKED ME OUT.” So, today, for anyone hesitant about what it would be like to visit at non-denominational church, let me set the record straight.
Christians are very excited to have new people come to church and they will be very accommodating and welcoming. And, no, there will be no snakes, and if there are…run. Those people aren’t Christians, they’re just plain crazy. Beyond that, here’s what to expect.
Preparing for Church
In the past, people were expected to dress up for church, “Sunday best,” as they would call it. Now, society has become overall more relaxed with dress and so have churches. The majority of non-denominational churches don’t really care what you wear. They are mainly just glad you came. Business casual is safe for most places, and many churches even have a casual dress code. Just keep it modest, though. This is a place of worship. While many people do go to church to get dates, sexy clothing on Sunday morning is not how to do it.
A good rule of thumb when dressing for church, is if you can wear it to work, it’s fine.
Depending on the size of the church, there may be several service times to choose from. This allows for early risers, late sleepers, and Sunday work schedules. Some churches will have absolutely identical services during each time slot. Others will vary them, with different music styles, etc.
Most churches meet each Sunday morning, but a few have an additional service on Saturday evening. This allows for friends and family members that attend another church to visit without disrupting their own worship schedule.
The service times can be found on the church’s website.
When you arrive at church, the first thing you do, is drop off your children in the children’s church. Children are welcome to attend the main Sunday service, but it is geared toward adults. Instead, there are special age-specific programs for them to attend during the service.
Children’s churches are broken up into different classes by age group or school grade. Many churches have elaborate children’s programs, complete with their own wing, or even building. Age appropriate lessons on the Bible will be provided, and also time for socialization or play.
Teachers are church members, usually non-paid. Larger churches may require a background check, but smaller ones simply take willing volunteers as long as they are generally known by the leadership.
Most children’s programs require more than one adult volunteer per classroom, and will frequently have teenage assistants as well. This is for classroom control, but also provides assurance that the children are never left alone with any one worker, should an unsafe worker slip through the screening process. Parents are welcome to sit in on a children’s church class if they or the child, are unsure.
A Sunday morning service at a non-denominational church usually lasts about two hours. In decades past, they would last indefinitely. But, now church leaders are mindful of shorter attention spans and grumbling tummies. Each segment of the service has a set time frame. Sometimes the service will go over, but not much longer than fifteen to twenty minutes.
Worship Service (Approx 45 min)
The worship is the music portion of the service. A live band comprised of church musicians called a worship team will play worship songs. These are songs with lyrics expressly about God or directed at God. Some of them may be original compositions from the worship team members themselves. Others are songs written by professional recording artists and distributed through the Christian music industry. During this time, you are expected to stand and sing along. The lyrics are usually displayed on an overhead screen for your convenience.
Announcements/Offering (Approx 15 minutes)
The timing of the announcements and offering varies, but directly after the worship portion is the most common place. During this time, you are asked to sit, while a leader announces any upcoming events, or anything else of note. Many churches will now do video announcements. These can range from simple slideshows with narration, all the way to creative and entertaining pre-recorded video segments.
It is free to attend church, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t cost the church to run lights, pay any full-time staff, etc. They pay for this with monetary donations from the congregation called tithes and offerings.The Bible instructs Christians to give their church a tithe, of ten percent of their income.
Most Christians figure this in to their regular monthly budget, and come each week prepared. The church has a pulse of how much money their members regularly give and they rely on it to cover their regular operating expenses. If there are extra expenses, such as a building repair, replacing music gear, special guest, etc., they may ask the congregation to consider giving more.
Giving money into the offering should be done at your comfort level. A non-member, and especially a non-Christian, should never feel obligated to give money. Christians learn to tithe when they have been in the church for a while and they feel ready. A newcomer should simply feel welcomed. Be wary of anyone pressuring you to give money, especially if they say that “God” told you to give money. This is bad practice based on fear rather than faith.
Sermon (About 45 minutes)
Also called the message, the sermon is meat of the service. At this time, the head church leader, called a pastor, will take the stage. He or she will usually read a short passage from the Bible. Then, for the next forty five minutes or so, will speak on what the passage means, and how it applies to the modern Christian life.
In bygone times, sermons could be long-winded hellfire and brimstone extrapolations that lasted indefinitely, or complex and and sleep-inducing Scriptural analyses.
However, today’s pastors use all of the modern examples and techniques for public speaking to keep their listeners engaged. They will use humor, stories, pop culture references, and anything else they can think of to let their unique personality come through, while explaining the timeless truths laid out in the Bible. The sermon will conclude with a prayer and then usually the service will dismiss.
*Prayer Line (optional)*
Sometimes the pastor will not directly dismiss at the sermon’s conclusion. Sometimes he or she will make a call that basically states anyone who felt moved by the sermon’s topic can come and receive prayer.
Members can come up to the front of the stage, and church leaders will pray over them. This time can last indefinitely, but usually after about ten minutes, the pastor will dismiss the service for anyone who is not receiving prayer.
This is the time that many non-Christians, and even Christians from other denominations can find intimidating. Members may begin to speak in tongues, fall down, laugh uncontrollably, or may engage in other bizarre (but perfectly safe) acts. If these things make you uncomfortable, this is fine. It is actually perfectly acceptable to leave the service at this time if you don’t want to participate.
If you choose to stay, know that any strange behaviors you may witness, are not requirements for Christian life. These things are more advanced Christianity, designed to enhance the experience of those who want them.Many good, well-respected Christians never experience these things, and no one faults them for it.
Non-denominational Christians are aware that their practices may seem intimidating to others. The last thing they want to do, is alienate non-believers or make them feel uncomfortable. They will never subject you to something you don’t want to try, and are usually open to honest, non-judgmental questions.
If you do ask for prayer and you begin to feel uncomfortable, at any time you can politely thank the leaders for their time and concern and they will stop the prayer.
If you find you enjoy the Sunday morning service, consider attending a mid-week event or service. Churches are designed to be sort of open entry clubs, where people of like faith and belief can come together to find support, friendship and love. They can help you carry your burdens, support you in your life, and laugh with you and grow with you, for decades to come.