What you are about to read is NOT, under any circumstances, a slam against non-denominational churches or those reaching out to the “seekers” around us! I’m a part of that church and movement, so please read to the very end to hear my heart. Thanks!

I grew up in the Christian Church. I don’t mean that in general terms; my church was 1st Christian Church from the denomination of Disciples of Christ. My man was raised in the Catholic Church. So, when we got married, we decided that we didn’t want to raise our kids going to “Mommy’s church” or “Daddy’s church”; we wanted to start fresh, somewhere that we both felt comfortable and that could be “our church”. The search for a place took a year.

We ended up in what was very new at the time: a non-denominational Bible church. Not tied to any one denomination, it was seemingly free of the trappings of denominational doctrine and legalism that so many were siting as the very reason they were leaving the churches of their youth in search of something different. The following 26 years of marriage found us involved in four non-denom churches (in 3 different states), one of which we helped plant.

Over the last few years of being part of a non-denom body, I’ve begun to notice a few things. We have become almost exclusively “seeker-driven”; in other words, we have made those seeking a different life our sole focus, aiming to show them that Christ is what they’re missing. We’ve determined to show them that church doesn’t have to be über-strict or “hell-fire and brimstone”; it doesn’t have to be too stuffy or too dressy or too boring. And, more than anything, we want to show them a merciful, loving God to contrast that “holy score-keeper in the sky” who might be ready to drive the gavel of judgment down on their heads at any moment. Certainly, these are all good things. However, over the last year or two, I’ve found myself with an unsettling in my spirit about them. Like, for all that “good,” we were missing something…something important.

A couple of weeks ago, my husband was called upon by one of his agents to make a presentation to her church during their Sunday services. It was a local African-American Baptist congregation, and we were honored to be included. Here are the main points about the service that struck me in great contrast to our usual Sunday morning worship experience:

  • Greeting was not left to the official greeter. Once we were in the door, people came up to us in droves, OF THEIR OWN ACCORD (some from well across the room), to welcome us warmly and sincerely.
  • Everyone in the place was dressed in their Sunday finest. It was obvious that some were not of great financial means, yet they still wore their very best in God’s house.
  • Their praise and worship was Spirit-led. It was not 3-4 songs, with 2 upbeat and 1 or 2 a slower tempo to lead us into the message. While they had a plan and order of music, extra verses or chorus repeats were brought into play as the Spirit led.
  • Though they were a denominational congregation, they didn’t seem bound by stereotypical Baptist “rules.” They had a marvelous praise dance team that moved me to tears with their interpretation.
  • The message their pastor brought represented a complete picture of God and wasn’t written in order not to offend. While God was presented as a loving, merciful, forgiving and compassionate God, He was also presented as powerful and just…a God to be respected and revered.
  • They treated Sunday as the sabbath it is. The service was twice as long as any we’ve ever attended, but no one seemed in any hurry to get home. They were settled in for a day with their Father and their “family.”

As I walked out to the car, I felt more “churched-up” than I’ve felt in a really long time. Over these last couple of weeks I’ve thought about it and realized that in our non-denom quest to be seeker-friendly, we have (along with more than a few denominational churches I know of) turned our Sunday mornings into a “formula.” While determining the exact length the services need to be to keep everyone’s attention, or what exact number of song verses will provide the desired emotional response to properly set up the message, or how casual our “dress code” can go before it’s indecent, or how watered down we need to make our messages so they don’t offend or scare people away (and on and on…), I fear we’ve begun to lose sight of bringing our best as an offering, and in reverence, to a mighty and just God. We’re so caught up in the formula of a church service, that we forget we’re going to meet Him there…we forget to relax and quit looking at our watches long enough to feel His movement and follow Him in it.

I love the non-denominational church. I believe that it’s needed in today’s society for a lot of reasons, perhaps none more important than the seeker. But, I have to wonder…if we started catering exclusively to God, as opposed to the seeker, wouldn’t He be absolutely faithful to show those seeking that they needn’t look any further? I think that if we dared to step outside the formula into the sabbath celebration of our Father, we would ALL find just what we’re looking for.