This is the second in a series of articles exploring the impact that ditching the suburbs had on our church life. Read the backstory to get an idea of our church life before we became fulltime travelers.
As we hit the road fulltime in our RV, I wanted to be open to the unknown and the unexpected. I wanted to have no expectations so I wouldn’t be disappointed if or when they didn’t get fulfilled.
And yet - I expected to encounter God in new ways and in new places.
I knew that we’d get some of that by visiting National Parks and other places where God’s handiwork was displayed in nature.
But I also hoped we’d experience God through the people we’d meet by visiting local churches as we traveled.
Our first couple of weeks on the road we “skipped church” - a month in or so we began to try and attend a local church.
We had to first decide what denominations were we willing to attend.
We settled on the Apostles Creed as a deciding factor.
If a church looked to believe that then we could attend. Other differences from our own history and beliefs weren’t significant enough to worry about for one visit.
Finding a Local Church
Being a web guy I took to the internet first.
Church websites are horrible at answering the most basic of questions that a new visitor might have. Is the service casual or formal? Is it traditional or contemporary? When you say “casual dress” do you mean leave the tie at home but still wear the rest of the suit, or are flip-flops OK?
Ditching Suburbia Manifesto Shirt
Suburbia-ditchers have different values than most people - tell the world what they are:
Simpler Living. Closer Family. Richer Education. Uncommon Adventures.
Styles available: t-Shirts, tank tops, and hoodies.
Colors available: black, navy, gray.
This approach was no better. I often got answering machines or - in one odd case - the number was answered with “Hello?”
We never did find a reliable way to choose a local church.
Sometimes we’d just pick one that was close to the campground. Sometimes we got a recommendation. A few times we attended with a local friend.
We visited Baptist, Southern Baptist, Bible Church, Lutheran, Methodist, Non-Denominational, RV park churches, and National Park Services.
A few church-visiting experiences still stand out:
- Being way under-dressed at a large formal church and then the first order of worship was to have visitors “Stand up and identify yourselves so we can give you a packet of information.”
- Being 2/3 of an RV park church where the Bingo caller on Saturday night was the Pastor on Sunday morning (he was better at Bingo).
- MsBoyink being asked to “play the pianer” and then having to wait until they could find the key to unlock the keyboard cover.
- Attending a downtown mega church and after singing with 1000 people settling in for the message. The Pastor “arrived” via a 40’ tall video screen. I’m still not sure if he was live somewhere else or pre-recorded earlier in the week.
- Getting the kids back from youth groups excited about some hamster races they’d had. I asked if they had talked about Jesus or the Bible? “No.”
- Miranda almost getting real wine during a Lutheran Communion.
- Experiencing Easter at a sunrise service on the rim of the Grand Canyon.
Most of the time our experiences visiting a local church were just…awkward.
We were always newcomers, not knowing the flow of the space or the service. We’d read “Visitors Welcome!” out on the sign but then not feel it once inside.
When we were asked about our story some people got it. Other people just smiled and nodded politely while they mentally filed us under “On Vacation / Just Visiting.”
We often found ourselves hearing sermon 2 of a 5 part series. Or getting a visiting pastor because the main pastor was on vacation.
After the services we felt ignored and passed by while people scurried out to their normal Sunday traditions.
We came to realize - we didn’t want to invest too much in getting to know a church we wouldn’t be at the next week. And they didn’t want to invest too much in us knowing we weren’t going to be there.
A friend commented on our frustration:
It’s not about going to church. It’s about being part of a church.
But how could we be part of a church if we were traveling fulltime?
Other Church Attempts
- Online church
We didn’t like the topical “how to improve your marriage” type messages (just a repeat of what we’d heard in churches for years).
- Listening to the podcast of the sermons from our home church
They were often over an hour in length and we just couldn’t pay attention that long.
- Creating our own services
This felt awkward, contrived, and even more isolating.
It took awhile - but I slowly came to realize this:
Fulltime travel and Church life (as it exists in mainstream North America) were not compatible.
- Ongoing attendance.
- You volunteering in some fashion.
- You active in small groups or Sunday School.
- Your ongoing tithe.
This doesn’t work if you aren’t there most of the time.
It felt like either we had to give up fulltime travel or church.
After much prayer and thinking here is where I arrived:
- Is God the God of all people? Yes.
- Does all people include nomadic people? Yes.
- Are we the first nomadic people? No.
- Is God limited to achieving his purposes through Churches? No.
So if the issue isn’t God or being nomadic, that left only one thing.
It occurred to me that as much as we had questioned the suburban life and why we were living it, we had never questioned our Church life in the same way.
Questions About Church
I started to ask questions like:
- For as important as “going to Church” seems to be there is little in the Bible that looks like what I know as Church. Why is that?
- Why do we have “services” with pre-defined content and order?
- Why is music and singing an acceptable form of corporate worship - but not dance or artwork?
- Why do we have dedicated buildings?
- Why do we have paid, professional pastors?
- Why do we sit in pews?
- Why does Communion in the Bible look so different than what we experienced in Church?
- What are we looking to get out of Church?
- What are we looking to put into Church?
Once I started asking the questions they came fast and furious.
And the Answers?
Read part 3 of this series, where I cover the books that tore down and rebuilt our understanding of church.