What do People Want in a Church?

I was having a conversation with a couple of men from my work when they started talking about a new church that they had joined. Apparently they had both joined the same church (I am guessing some protestant variety) at about the same time very recently. I was very interested in what they had to say and was expecting to hear some kind of conversion story. The things that they mentioned that they liked about this church were quite interesting.

What appeared to be the most important thing to both of these men was that the church was very ‘laid back’. They mentioned this several times. I eventually concluded that what they meant was that the church was very light on doctrine and even lighter on practice. I would guess that if this church had a motto it would be ‘come as you are, leave as you are’.

Another aspect of this church that was talked about was that the church conducted a youth service at the same time as the main congregational service. This meant that there were no kids under 10 in the main service.

Another thing was the band. This church had a band. They thought it was funny that they had hymn books in the church yet never used them – the band took care of all the music.

The last topic I can remember is they liked that the entire time spent at church was about 45 minutes.

During all this description I kept my mouth shut and listened. I thought about telling them that my church was quite heavy on doctrine and even heavier on practice. I thought about telling them that mormons had lots of kids and that they are all in Sacrament Meeting screaming their lungs out. I thought about telling them that we have no band and did a lot of singing. I also thought about telling them that our church services take three hours and that is just the beginning of the demands on your time. I didn’t say any of this. It was probably my finest missionary experience – keeping my mouth shut.

But how disappointed I was in their reasons for joining this church. Not a word about prayer, or truth, or spirit. Nothing at all like a testimony let alone conversion. I have to say that I am much more impressed with the conversion stories I generally hear in our church than what I heard out of these two men.

8 Responses to “What do People Want in a Church?”

  1. 1 J. Stapley December 14, 2005 at 11:16 pm

    This reminds me of a book by Alan Wolfe, The Transformation of American Religion: How We Actually Live Our Faith. It is an excellent study on contemporary american religiosity and how we got here. This trend towards inclusiveness to the extent of doing focus groups to determine music choice. A far away from Joseph’s religion that requires the sacrifice of all things…but perhaps we are not to far behind… 🙂

  2. 2 NFlanders December 15, 2005 at 12:30 am

    I like these guys. They know what they want: a short service, good music, and few kids.

    My criteria for choosing a church are different, but what’s to say my criteria would pick a good fit for them?

    I think the right church for someone is what is working for them. Not everyone is looking for the same thing.

  3. 3 Eric Nielson December 15, 2005 at 8:41 am


    So are you saying that there is no true church? Am I wrong in thinking that we need to become the type of christlike people we should be instead of finding something we like. I son’t like long services and screaming kids either (especially when they are my kids). But I am not an active member of the church just because I like it.

    I guess what I am saying is should we not change ourselves as we need to to follow the gospel of Christ instead of trying to find a church that fits what we think we like? If religion is not a search for truth and knowledge of salvation then what is the point? Simple social interaction?

  4. 4 NFlanders December 15, 2005 at 1:39 pm

    Let me preface this by saying I’m not trying to give you a hard time. I like your new blog, though we come from very different viewpoints.

    I’m just saying that not everyone shares the Mormon worldview: that there’s one true church hidden among all the denominations, and all we have to do is look hard enough to find it.

    Some people believe that all churches are inherently flawed, and that you should just do your best to follow Jesus in a non-denominational way. In this worldview, it makes sense to simply shop for the church that best represents your views and attitudes.

    I’ll admit that I’m a lot closer to the second worldview than the first.

  5. 5 Eric Nielson December 15, 2005 at 2:39 pm

    At a certain level I agree Ned. That level is that not everyone is mormon. The men I talked about are not mormons and do not share my perspective for sure. I just do not understand why anyone would take religion seriously if they did not feel that it was the truth. I can’t see myself being satisfied with a church if there was no ‘testimony’ associated with it. I might attend becasue of a general feeling of obligation, but nothing more. And what I would be looking for is a significant religious experience not a social comfort level. I realize that this may be a peculiar mormon view of the world but then that is what I am, and what this blog represents.

  6. 6 Eric Nielson December 15, 2005 at 2:41 pm

    Wait a minute…NFLANDERS LIKES MY NEW BLOG!!!!!!!

    Thank you very much! I am sincerely very flattered.

  7. 7 NFlanders December 15, 2005 at 3:58 pm

    Ha! You’re welcome.

    “I just do not understand why anyone would take religion seriously if they did not feel that it was the truth.”

    Again, this presupposes that there is a single truth out there. Imagine for a moment a world with no Mormon church. How would you go about finding a church to go to? Would you bag the whole thing and not go to church or would you try to find one that most closely matched your feelings?

  8. 8 Eric Nielson December 15, 2005 at 4:48 pm

    Most likely I would not go, and if I did it would be half-heartedly. That is not to say I would not try to search for purpose in life and truth. Perhaps my search would be almost desperate at times. I am kind of hard at times on the church I feel that I know is ‘true’, I would be brutal on one I felt was not ‘true’.

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