So you've found-a-church and have decided to attend worship this weekend — how exciting! But how does one go to church?
Some religious organizations can give the impression that only a select few are welcome. Lucky for you, The United Methodist Church doesn't operate this way. In fact, most Methodists will welcome you to take part in the sacrament of Holy Communion as a guest on your First Sunday.
Feeling overwhelmed? Don't be! We've compiled a Know-Before-You-Go list to make your first Sunday a fruitful and comforting experience.
Don't sweat the dress code
Back in the day, you'd find that the congregation was dressed a little more like the office. Fortunately, as society has evolved, so have churches. Think more Casual Friday environment — jeans or maxi dresses fit right in with organs and pews. Of course, if dressing up for church means a tuxedo or gown, go right ahead. The idea is to be comfortable in your own skin (or clothes), then to be comfortable in the House of God. Come as you are!
Arrive early and leave late
It may seem like a chore to wake up early on the weekend, but getting to church early is always a good way to enhance your experience. You may even have enough time to get some coffee, a good parking space, or meet and greet local church members. Staying late can offer an opportunity for members to see you and learn about why you decided to visit, plus you could get an idea of how folks interact with each other after the service.
If the service felt welcoming to you, why not hang out with the members over refreshments and casual conversation? You'll find that United Methodists absolutely love their fellowship. Some churches have even redesigned their worship services to focus on the relaxed setting a cafe can provide. Whether it's donuts, tea, or lemonade, fellowship is central to the Methodist tradition and is a sacred place where people grow in God with each other. There is always room at the table to build community in Christ.
Praise & Worship
One major worry everyone has about church is seating. Should new people sit up front? In the back? Seating is usually the most over-thought step in the "First Sunday" experience. As a general rule of thumb just sit wherever you feel comfortable. Ushers might urge you to sit in the front row, but you get to decide that once you have a feel for the congregation. At some point during the service, you will probably have to stand up again for the passing of the peace, which is an ancient tradition that Christians still practice to share smiles and good vibes with their fellow sisters and brothers in Christ. Get on up and greet each other in the name of Jesus!
A reliable guide to worship itself can be found in a bulletin or on a projection screen. Members rely on these resources for every service so don't be afraid to utilize them. Congregational responses, lyrics, and prayers are accessible in these places during the service. Pro tip: You don't have to fill out all of the papers in the bulletin, but usually these give the church your info to keep you in the loop of the local happenings and exciting ministries they might offer.
Smiling is especially important on your First Sunday. This may seem obvious, but the art of welcoming is a team effort between you and a church member. Smiling lets a member know you are interested and excited to be there, allowing them to relax (because members get nervous too!) and welcome you to their church family.
Praise and worship is centered on music, so of course there will be some singing. If you don't know the words or the tune of the music then try your best to catch a phrase here or there, feel free to harmonize whenever. Can't sing? No problem. Worship is not a private concert, instead it's an outlet to celebrate spirituality, however that happens is up to you.
Then of course, the offering plate will come at some point during the service. Don't worry about this one bit. If you have something to give and feel compelled to do so to support the church's ministries then feel free to give. If not, don't feel ashamed. Giving is something the Methodist tradition respects with privacy and without judgement, but feel free ask a church leader for more information about why giving is important.
If you get lucky, you might have the opportunity to take communion on your first visit. Ask yourself if this is something you'd like to be a part of while the pastor is leading the sacrament (a sacrament is something considered holy; it's a process that focuses on an inner spiritual grace through an outward tangible sign or symbol). The United Methodist Church invites any and all to partake in the holy sacrament; regardless. You don't have to say anything to affirm your faith or receive the bread and cup, nor do you need to make any hand gestures. The table is prepared for you. P.S. it's grape juice!
What about kids?
Be sure to check the church's website or social media beforehand to ensure childcare is provided during the service. Some churches might prefer to send children to Sunday school during a service, while others keep children and adults together for the sermon. Children's ministry is a great place for your kids to build a relationship with God. Let the little children be with God and feel His presence in their lives.
Try it again
Maybe it didn't go as well as you had expected. There's nothing wrong with that. Sometimes different churches fit different people, that's why the UMC has 12.7 million people. There is a church for each and every one of our members and those seeking to become a part of something bigger than themselves. Don't give up on searching for a place to call your spiritual home.
If the service, people, or interaction felt good then a second Sunday is definitely worth giving a shot. Your First Sunday at a church is a big deal. Members will take it as an opportunity to celebrate – well – you! Ultimately, your experience is the one that matters. First Sundays are an opportunity to explore and discover God in a new place where people of all nations, ages, and races are welcome.
Church is a great place to immerse your spirit in a community of faith. We have the privilege to worship God each and every day across the United Methodist connection – not just Sundays. We hope you find this information helpful as you rethink what it means to visit a church.
Paul Gomez is the Manager, Hispanic/Latino Seeker Communications at United Methodist Communications. He hails from Las Vegas, NV and currently lives in Nashville, TN.
Contact: [email protected] or +1 (615) 312-3550
[Posted September 7, 2018]