A few weeks ago, my wife and I packed up the van, installed the children and set off for what many consider to be the promised land: Florida and Disney. The trip down was fairly uneventful, we enjoyed our time at Disney waiting in lines, and all that stuff that most people seem to enjoy. I was super excited to see my oldest son march with the Mattawan Marching Band through the Magic Kingdom. We packed up, left the Orlando area and headed for home via Miami. And Miami is not on the way to Michigan.
It was a great trip! But my highlight, was visiting a new church and finding an opportunity to meet with a new group of believers, to worship God together, and listen to God’s Word spoken in Florida. Maybe it is a result of being a pastor, but I delight in the opportunities I have to visit other churches. I very rarely get a chance to listen to live preaching, so I value the chances I get when I am on vacation.
So I’d like to give a few of my humble recommendations for finding a good church to visit while you are on vacation. Following this list will not guarantee that you find a church that is everything you’ve ever wanted, but I honestly said to Linda that if we ever were to retire to Florida, I’d want to be close to the church we visited.
- The first recommendation I have for you as you try to find a church while you are on vacation is quite simple and profound. Decide that you will attend a church while you are on vacation. There are so many reasons to skip church on a normal week, that I can only imagine the more robust excuses while on vacation! The beach, the sun, the exhaustion, the golf courses, the sun, the cranky kids, the work finding a good church, the “I don’t like to visit new places”, and did I mention the sun? Move past the excuses and decide to meet together with God’s people.
- The second recommendation I have for you is that you find a network related to your church or one that your home church supports and then look for a similar work. If your home church is a denomination then that makes your job easier. For those couple of people reading this who attend ReCAST, I would recommend that you look for Acts 29 or Converge while you are on vacation.
- Third, Google the area where you are vacationing and add the name of the denomination or affiliation to the search. A simple google search for the area where you vacation and “Converge” or “Acts 29” will likely yield a church or two that has a similar attitude toward the Bible and worship to ReCAST. We found an Acts 29 church in the DC area that we enjoyed and we found a Converge Church in Florida that was so encouraging.
- After you have decided where you are going, set up a family game plan. Will you all sit in the main service together? Will your children visit the children’s ministry? Every fiber of my daughter’s being is social and I have no question that she will attend the class at a new church and make two or three “friends”. My middle son may or may not attend a middle school ministry when it is an option. It just depend on how he feels. My oldest will be with us if we are visiting a new place. But talking it through, ahead of time, prepares your family to visit a new place.
- Attend joyfully. As a pastor I love meeting new people, and I have never been offended by someone who is visiting for just one time from out of town and just tells me that up front. I am glad you are there to join in, even if you are just there for the one week and I know that. Fill in the connection card, get the free stuff, learn the new songs, note what is similar and what is different, give your attention to the message, even take assessment of what it feels like to be a visitor. Use your visit as a chance to recognize how visitors to your home church must feel.
- Enter a spiritual conversation about church on the way back to the hotel, B&B, home, or wherever you are going after church. I have had some profound insights into my children through conversations after visiting churches. I did not know my oldest doesn’t like it when a band is too flashy or performance-oriented. I thought his generation was supposed to think of worship as a show! I also didn’t know that my middle son is troubled when people do not sing along in worship, or when the lights are dimmed. And I have been very surprised to find that as outgoing as my daughter is, she has had experiences while visiting churches that made her feel like an outsider, even as a little girl.
I love getting away from time to time, and I hope that nobody reading this is asking the fundamental question, “what is a vacation?!” But equally, I hope that nobody who takes vacation also finds joy in getting a break from church as well. I delight in the chance to get together with God’s people and visiting other churches while away, helps me remember what it is like to visit a church for the first time, and it also reminds me that what we do each Sunday locally, is tied to a much bigger thing that God is doing in the world.