Since retiring and becoming fulltime traveling RVers we’ve become church hoppers. It’s quite a change from being the parsonage couple and attending our local church every time the doors are open.
As traveling RVers we’re on the move about seven months each year, changing churches almost every week. We could visit the campground services and sometimes we do, but we like going to a local church. Honestly, we miss our church family. Going to church as perpetual visitors isn’t the same as being regular attenders.
Here’s our approach: after searching the web for an area church of our denominational flavor we look over the church’s web site for service times and directions. We look for photos of people at a regular worship service so we have a better idea of the unwritten dress code. Like most anyone, we just want to fit in and not be too casual or too formal. When I was a kid people wore their “Sunday best” to church. These days, not so much. That makes it challenging to know just what to wear. Also, we check the church calendar to see if there is a special event that Sunday. If so, depending on the event, it might make us more or less likely to attend that particular week (VBS program, less likely – southern gospel concert, oh yeah!). Often, the church with a website that provides us the above information is the one we visit. By the way, the church that is still promoting last winter’s Christmas program in July automatically loses potential as a likely place for our visit.
If our own denomination has no nearby church, we look for a “sister” group, but really, we’re pretty comfortable in a wide variety of churches.
We try to arrive at the church just a few minutes early. If we are too early we find ourselves sitting uncomfortably in a less than full sanctuary. If we arrive late, we fear we’ll interrupt a service already in progress. You’d be surprised at how often we’ve arrived at churches not knowing for sure which parking lot to use or even which door to enter. That’s especially true with large churches with multiple buildings on their campus or with older churches that have an old sanctuary and newer buildings around it.
We’ve concluded that most churches are completely unprepared for walk in visitors. They are comfortable with people who attend as a guest of a regular who is “showing them the ropes” but walk-ins are unexpected and unanticipated. After being the ultimate church “insiders” we’ve realized just how uncomfortable walk-in visitors are during a meet and greet time. Everyone is told to stand and greet those around them. We stand and say a brief hello to those around us and then remain standing with fixed smiles while everyone around us has short private conversations as friends do at such a time. Even churches that think they are friendly are mostly just friendly with one another, not with outsiders.
One eye opener for me, as a career pastor, has been the demeanor of pastors. When we first arrive they come up to shake hands and smile, telling us how glad they are we have visited. Then, they always ask, “Are you from around here?” When we say we aren’t the light goes out and they quickly move on, sometimes with hardly another word. I know how busy a pastor is on a Sunday morning, but this response to our not being “prospects” was surprisingly consistent wherever we visited and were greeted by the pastor.
Having said all that I want to add that, in general, we enjoy visiting churches. As a retired pastor I often remind myself that I’m attending church as a worshiper. I’m not there to look for interesting ideas or to “fix” the church. In addition, we’ve been impressed by how many good preachers and singers there are. We’ve enjoyed the variety and seeing the good that is being done in churches around the country. It hasn’t been unusual for us to drive away from a worship service and remark to one another, “If we lived here we could be a part of that church.”
We miss our church family and friends. We’re very aware that there’s a depth of spiritual life that is best fostered by being a faithful part of a good church family. Also, we’re glad for social media and the ability it provides for keeping up with what is happening “back home.” At the same time we’re enjoying our travels and the many opportunities to worship with the larger Church with a capitol “C.”