Church Shopping for Lent: The Results

I wrote yesterday about being stressed, and I’m happy to report that I got 7.5 hours of sleep last night and am feeling a lot better today! Sleep definitely affects my mood a lot, and I’m definitely going to try to prioritize it more. Eight hours tonight? Not happening with my 5:30am spin class, but maybe I can get another seven hours if I write this post quickly!

One thing that I’ve been making time for on the weekends, and loving, has been going to church. I was raised Catholic, and in the past, have honestly gone to church out of obligation. The old “Catholic guilt” has me convinced that just going to church makes me a better person, but I never want to go because I honestly haven’t gotten all that much out of the services I’ve attended in the past (outside of that “yay I did a good thing” feeling). As a result, I usually only go to church on the major Catholic holidays (Christmas, Ash Wednesday, Palm Sunday, and Easter), and sometimes a few more Sundays leading up to Christmas.

This year for Lent, I decided that I would “sacrifice” by going to church every Sunday. Terrible that I consider going to church a sacrifice, huh? But rather than just force myself to go, I decided that I would spend Lent trying to figure out how to make going to church a regular occasion instead of a “sacrifice”. I’ve now spent the last six weeks “church shopping”, by which I mean exploring different churches in the Boulder area. My thinking is that if I find a church I really like attending, maybe I’ll go more frequently.

But rather than just go to all Catholic churches, I upped the ante and decided to be a little more open-minded. Over the last six weeks, I’ve tried out a few different denominations: Catholic, Lutheran, Evangelical, and non-denominational. Having never attended a non-Catholic church before, it was really interesting to see how different church experiences could be! In the end, I settled on two churches as my favorites – and I think my goal worked, because I’m looking forward to attending them even after Easter.

The first one of my favorites, which also happens to be the first church I “shopped”, is a massive megachurch: Flatirons Community Church in Lafayette. I had never been to a megachurch before and always wanted to check one out, so when Flatirons came highly recommended by a lot of people in my neighborhood, I figured I’d give it a shot. Flatirons’ service is held at a giant mall-like structure that doesn’t feel church-like at all. You’re given free coffee/hot cocoa/bagels/pastries when you walk in, and there’s an entire “kids’ zone” taking up one side of the building. The building is just massive, as is the parking lot… and I learned from local residents that they thoroughly hate the traffic around it and have nicknamed it “being Flatirons-ed” when they try to go to the store and get caught in the Sunday traffic jams! But as much as I felt kind of like a sheep walking in with several thousand other people (Flatirons has over 17,000 attendees per weekend!), I really enjoyed the service.

As it turns out, most church services are not quite as regimented as the Catholic service I grew up with. Flatirons starts with three songs, then a pastor lectures for about 30 minutes, and then there’s one more song to close out. And that’s it! There’s no standing up or sitting down at defined times, and no recited prayers – the closest thing to that is when the pastor asks us to read a line or two of Bible verse all as a group. Because there isn’t any time spent on reciting prayers, the pastor has a lot of time to explain the passages we read from the Bible – and I really like hearing his interpretation.

There are two pastors who trade off, and they do a great job making the message really relevant to modern life, talking about things like how to deal with annoying coworkers and how to be nice to your kids when they’re driving you crazy. They bring their own personal stories into it, and don’t come off as holier-than-thou but very approachable, fallible people who just happen to be talking to all of us. Overall, I felt like the messages at Flatirons were very TED-talk-like, focusing more on how to be a better person than on religion. Apparently the way to get me to like a church is to make it less church-y ;)

Flatirons_Church_Countdown

The countdown clocks to the start of the music at Flatirons… not exactly what you’d expect at a church!

The other thing I was really looking for in a church is good music, since that’s usually my favorite part of church service. Flatirons is definitely a lot flashier than the Catholic church services I’m used to: the music is done by very talented/professional musicians, and it’s coordinated with fancy lighting, special effects (like smoke machines!), and animated video displays showing the lyrics. Even during the service, there are cameras on the pastor so you can see him close up when you’re way far in the back. I had never seen anything like that before!

Flatirons_Music

This piano/vocals duet and the amazing lighting effects gave me the chills last week.

Going to Flatirons reminded me of going to a giant concert every week, and it was made even more convenient when they have Saturday afternoon/evening services as well as the regular Sunday times. This means I can go skiing or hiking on Sundays and still be able to attend church on Saturdays. (Flatirons also publishes videos of their services every week, so if I’m away from Colorado altogether, I can watch those to get caught up. Perfect so that I can get and stay in the habit of never missing a week!)

However, it’s exactly that flashiness and enormous size that also made me feel like Flatirons can’t be my only church. I like going to Flatirons to become a better person, but for more religious content (especially around the holidays), I’d like something a bit more traditional. And that’s where I really loved Calvary Bible Church up in Boulder.

Calvary is a smaller Evangelical church that had just as amazing music as Flatirons, but was a lot more religious – as a church should be. I had been to a few other churches that had us open the Bible and read various passages while they explained in detail what it meant, and I liked that aspect but disliked some other aspects of those churches. Calvary kind of combined the best of all worlds by having great music, innovative use of technology, and a thought-provoking selection of Bible verses, while still having a relatable message that didn’t get too high-level.

Furthermore, I’ve only been to Calvary once so far, but the congregation was incredibly welcoming and made me feel like I was a member already. I was pleasantly surprised at a lot of the churches how they noticed I was new and made it a point to welcome me, but the welcome at Calvary was extra special because my high school friend Ben is the arts pastor and he could make introductions to others :) Ben and I didn’t really stay in touch after high school, so it’s great to reconnect with him now and see what a wonderful life he’s built out here. (And just further builds the case how everyone else needs to join us in moving from the East Coast to Colorado!)

Side note: Other churches I tried include Good News Community Church, Ascent Community Church, St. Thomas of Aquinas, Christ the Servant, and the Breckenridge Mountain non-denominational worship service. All but one were pretty nice, but not quite as great a fit as Flatirons and Calvary.

Comparing Flatirons and Calvary is hard, since I think for me they’re going to serve two different purposes. I love the music and the message at Flatirons, but I also feel like it doesn’t really satisfy the spiritual side of me as much. And with Calvary, I love that I’ve found a church where it feels like a community, but we’ll see how frequently I want that more religious experience when I’m just easing back into weekly church services.

So who says I can’t just keep alternating which church I go to each week, getting the best of both worlds? I’m really looking forward to going back to both churches more, even though Lent is nearly over… which means mission success :)

Anyone else ever “church shopped”, or tried out a church other than the one you grew up with? I’d highly recommend seeing what’s out there!

Comments

  1. Ha, my Lent goal was to stop being apathetic about religion and actually go to church. I trade off churches, too, to get what I want–I love the structure that Episcopal churches have, so I primarily go there, but sometimes the anonymity of a megachurch or the worship music of an evangelical church is nice, too.

  2. We have two large churches in Calgary, and I attend them off-and-on depending on the season (of my life). I really enjoy the non-denominational services and the few times I’ve gone to a Cathloic service I’ve felt very lost because I never knew if I should sit or stand or take communion or what.

    It took quite a while to find a church that felt like home to me, and I stepped back a bit while going through my divorce, but now I think I’m ready to be brave and start going back (even though I haaaate going to church alone.)

    • The Catholic church changed the traditional prayers a few (okay probably more than a few now) years back, and I get so frustrated when I go to say the prayer that I recited from childhood and everyone else is saying something else. I hate feeling lost in church. Let me know how going back to church goes for you!

  3. I took a similar path to you by growing up Catholic and then trying out other churches. I eventually found my way back to being a Catholic. This book and the website Dynamic Catholic helped me to find what I was looking for. http://dynamiccatholic.com/rediscover-catholicism/

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