The Current State of Worship Options

I decided a couple weeks ago that I’m going to start attending the worship services of the various churches in my area, partially for self-education and partially for fun. Motivated by the vision of being inspired by new and unfamiliar practices, I hopped on Google and searched for “roseville churches”, then clicked on the map view. Roseville isn’t a huge cosmopolitan metropolis (it’s a suburb of Sacramento, with a population of about 120,000 people), but it’s large enough that I hoped to find a variety of religious groups.

Of the first 10 search results, 8 are non-denominational Christian churches and 2 are familiar Protestant denominations (Presbyterian and Methodist). In the next 10 results there’s a bit more variety: Church of the Nazarene (is that Protestant? Non-denominational? Evangelical? I guess I need to figure just what those words mean…), Christian Scientist (same questions), a Russian-language church, Catholic, Presbyterian, Seventh-Day Adventist, and 4 more non-denominational (at least, I assume a church is non-denominational when it has some kind of poetic name like “Hillcrest Alliance” or “Harvest Community”. Like I said, I’m still kind of figuring this out).

The next 10 results (21 through 30) start getting into some of the more exotic options: Scientology, Jehovah’s Witnesses (result #24), LDS (yay us! result #25), along with 4 more non-denominational, 2 more denominational, and 1 more Catholic. The next 10 consist of 8 non-denominational and 2 Orthodox.

So my first thought is, what’s non-denominational Christianity all about? I put 24 of the first 40 results in that category (60%). It’s also the category I’m least interested in. In my (admittedly ignorant) mind, non-denominational Christianity is the milquetoast of Christianity. It’s the place for people who say, “I love Jesus and the Bible and that’s good enough for me.” Kind of more a convenient cultural designation than a contemplatedly spiritual one. I unfairly lump all these churches together. So I’m looking forward to visiting some of these churches and seeing how wrong I am.

My second thought is, where are the non-Christian churches? I realize that “church” is a Christian-oriented term, and my Google search was “roseville churches”. However, if I search for “roseville mosques”, the closest results are in Sacramento. “roseville synagogues” gives me one hit in neighboring Orangevale. “roseville temples” gives me a Sikh temple in Roseville (as well as a Masonic lodge). I wish I knew some more generic search terms I could use to discover less conventional places of worship.

My third thought is, how does the religious landscape shape a community? Does being a middle class suburban community predispose Roseville toward non-denominational Christianity? If so, why?

So that’s what I’ve got for now. I’ll keep you all posted if I chance upon anything especially interesting. Also, I’d love to hear about your experiences with exposure to religious worship outside your own. What have you learned, and has it been of any use to you?

29 comments for “The Current State of Worship Options

  1. I’ve learned that after the novelty wears off in about five minutes, my neighbor’s church (or mosque, or synagogue) is just as boring and drab-weird as my own, but without the comfort of recognizable faces. The really curious stuff, if there is any, is analogous to our temple ceremonies in that you can’t get a sense of it during Sunday School. And while it’s more open to outsiders it also occurs pretty rarely, on holydays. & you need context for connection-making, and connection-making for context, & both not to die of boredom. & In most churches ritual is an artist unable to restore his lost powers & settling for eccentricity. With megachurches the spectacle retains force longer. It is hard to appreciate any form of organized worship for its own sake much less its differentness, you have to dig in there and belong and commit. That’s the A touristy Education Week approach is doomed. The people who can appreciate tradition X short of active membership are the type who read about it in bed. They’ve got their Josephus in bed, you know. Good luck, though, man.

  2. I’m a convert to Eastern Orthodox Christianity who was raised United Church of Canada and went through my teenage years attracted to loosely connected non-denomination Christian movements (Campus Crusade for Christ/IVCF/Christian camping). I did my undergrad degree in Religious Studies (more anthropology than theology), and did some field research at a Quaker meeting, a dharma centre, and on campus jummah prayers. I did my MA in Islam and Hinduism (focusing on the Indian subcontinent), and now I permanently live in a country and part of the world where Buddhist temples and shaman rituals are ubiquitous. (I also love LDS history and blogs…obviously….but I’ve yet to have a chance to go to a LDS service). Some people like to spend their vacations sun tanning on a beach, but I plan my vacations around pilgrimage spots. In other words, I love this post and your interest in other groups!

    For me, visiting other places of worship (including road side sacred sites) is an academic pursuit, but it’s also a spiritual act. I think a lot of people are afraid that if they were to learn about or experience other religions, these traditions might shake their faith – and for some people it does. But for me, it’s a chance to continually dwell on my own religious beliefs, rituals, and choices – especially because I can look at these things from completely different stand points, etc. I have not experienced a crisis of faith from my pilgrimages but rather an affirmation of my chosen tradition. Of course, at the same time, seeing other rituals makes me appreciate the great collective search for truth or Truth and the beauty of the diversity of journeys of faith. So for me, my experiences with other places of worship have been a blessing both for my mind and for my faith.

  3. When we go to visit my wife’s brother, we go to his church. It has a band and sing-along screen, coffee 1/2 hour afterwards__lots of fun, an old time-“Good enough for me” feeling about it.
    If you look around (like I did), you will find a Fire-code sign or somthing. The church ‘appears’ non-denominational, but the sign says it’ A.of God. Some kind of franchise. I confirmed this with it’s Pastor.

  4. I made a couple of visits like you are describing a few years ago, Dane. Granted, most other churches are happy to have visitors, even those who are merely curious rather than (in some sense) sincere. I quickly found that I was not comfortable “just visiting.” Churches aren’t like the zoo or a museum. Those people are there to worship; I was there to observe. At some level, I came to quickly feel insincere. Church — any church — is not for gawkers.

    If one loses faith and seeks an alternative denomination or faith, church hopping is defensible. If one never had a faith, and is touring the neighborhood to find one, that’s okay, too. I just don’t quite agree with the tourist model you have outlined. [I know there is no bad intent on your part, and I doubt few at the churches you visit would take offense. I’m just suggesting there is an issue lurking here that you might consider.]

  5. There is no way that there isn’t a Sikh gurdwara and a Hindu temple near you. If there isn’t, you’ll find both in Yuba City. Tip: Sikhs always have yummy free food.

  6. “Does being a middle class suburban community predispose Roseville toward non-denominational Christianity?” No. Being in the United States predisposes a community towards Christianity, and being in California predisposes to home-grown independent churches (rather than mainline churches).

    If a person is looking for fun and entertainment on Sunday morning, our Latter-day Saint wards won’t compete well. No food, no band, no ritual, no mystery, no carefully-prepared sermon series, no well-practiced and exuberant choir. I hope the original poster finds what he is seeking for his Sunday morning.

    But our Latter-day Saint wards do offer something — they offer the ordinances of the priesthood, most notably the sacrament, and it is in the ordinances of the priesthood (and only in the ordinances of the priesthood) that the power of Godliness is made manifest to men and women on the earth. The Lord himself said so in D&C 84. So a person coming in a spirit of worship and seeking the power of Godliness made manifest will find what he or she is seeking in a Latter-day Saint ward.

  7. Kingsley and Dave, thanks for your insights about religious tourism. Hopefully this will be more than just a chance for me to “gawk”, and perhaps I’ll even be edified in some ways.

    Msleetobe, thanks for sharing your experiences. As a missionary in Japan I always enjoyed our occasional stops by Shinto shrines. Like you said about visiting “road side sacred sites”, they always seemed to carry a special sense of peace and wonder to them.

    Bob, I put the “good enough for me” approach in too negative a light in my original post. I’ve enjoyed enough campfire Christian sing-alongs to know that there’s something to be said for just gathering in fun and fellowship.

    dangermom, thanks for the tip :)

    ji, does holding priesthood authority relieve us of the responsibility to make our meetings interesting and enjoyable?

  8. I think your motivation is the real issue. I find worshiping in community with other worshipers is powerful. If you are there just to see what they do you will miss the spirit. If you go to find the spirit, you might then try to observe why this happens. You might try to observe how different practices contribute to the worship and what is the effect they have. Then try the same openmindedness in your own congregation.

    My experience is that connecting with and loving the people, sharing their journey toward God makes the worship meaningful. I appreciated the Mennonites in the small plain building more than the Crystal Cathedral mega-church. The Mormon sacrament meeting in an echoing jr. high gymnasium was difficult, but I understood the form. The Hindu and Jewish ceremonies were a challenge because I believe I am a Christian, so the experience was less worshipful.

    Good luck. I encourage you to examine your motivations and attend to the spirit you find in each setting.

  9. An older article by SLATE addresses your post from an architectural standpoint (mega churches and non-denominational architecture). Yep, the Confrunz Center is included.

    The world is too much with us; late and soon,
    Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
    Little we see in Nature that is ours;
    We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
    This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
    The winds that will be howling at all hours,
    And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
    For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
    It moves us not. – Great God! I’d rather be
    A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
    So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
    Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn
    Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
    Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.—Wordsworth

  10. Best wishes, Dane! Last year I moved to an area where my own group (Evangelical Congregational Church) is totally absent, so I spent several months ‘sampling’ the local religious scene in similar fashion. It was a great chance to see the range of styles and approaches out there. Probably the most interesting was the local black Baptist church. I eventually settled on attending a Church of the Nazarene congregation (which is Evangelical and tends to be broadly Wesleyan and only mildly charismatic in practice). Before moving there, I’d also visited a Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall and several LDS wards on a number of occasions. I definitely got a lot out of the process.

    Some of my thoughts on the non-denominational thing: There seem to be a lot of churches these days that choose to drop the denomination from their congregation’s name, largely because of how poorly the ‘institutional’ image sells. There’s also a strong desire to move past the sectarian disputes of earlier American Protestantism. There are also a few denominations with names so generic that it’s difficult to pick them out of a congregation’s name. Of the true non-denominational churches, many do seem to be within a larger theological tradition, but simply aren’t affiliated with any larger body. And, of course, there are plenty of milquetoast non-denominational churches. Maybe not all, but it has to be admitted.

  11. Dane, I think this is a great idea! Last summer I had been in my ward about 8 months, hadn’t gotten a calling, and realized it was the perfect time to visit other churches like I had always wanted to do. I think your motivations are good, it’s okay to be curious. I was always upfront when people spoke to me, told them I was curious about religion and liked to learn the what’s and why’s of people’s faith. I didn’t go just to see what weird stuff someone would do, I went to see if I could learn something from a different perspective than my LDS one. It was a fantastic experience and I still go to some of my favorites. Definitely hit a Friday night service at a reform synagogue (they are more laid back than Saturday services, in my experience, and have been amazingly spiritual, too!) and a unitarian universalist congregation. I’ve found that those two churches have been the most open to my curiosity with plenty of people who want to talk about belief and faith and religion in general.

    As for finding places to visit, I found my favorites by asking friends where they attend. Googling didn’t find much, and my next route was to just make note of places I drove by and call them to find out about their service times and if visitor’s were welcome.

    If you are taking your wife/family, it would also be a good idea to call ahead if you want to visit a mosque. Some of them will provide your wife something to cover her head when you get there, but I went to one in Dallas that asked that we come covered.

    (And remembering how much I enjoyed this process is getting me excited to start it up again!)

  12. Kingsley knows.

    My main complaint with the various catholic services I’ve attended is that they were just doing church services without sufficiently attending to my desire for spectacle.

  13. Dane — To answer some of your questions: Actually, JB explained things pretty well. In this country, nondenominational churches tend to be evangelical in outlook; they just may not be affiliated with a major denomination or else be part of a tiny regional quasi-denomination (say, a collection of half a dozen churches that provide some mutual support). They aren’t necessarily milquetoast; in fact, they may be the opposite because there’s no denominational structure to serve as a restraining influence. A lot depends on the personality and background of the pastor. Be aware that there are also some “nondenominational” churches that are affiliated with large denominations but tend to obscure that fact.

    The Nazarenes? JB got it right. Also, at one time they were a very conservative denomination in terms of behavioral things, even more so than us Mormons. Not only was there no smoking or drinking, there also were no dancing, no going to movie theaters, no rock music, in some cases not even makeup for women. They have moved away from those tendencies over the last 30 years or so, but they still follow LDS-like rules on alcohol, tobacco and chastity.

  14. I love attending other Christian services because, although I personally do not believe that valid priesthood authority is present, I genuinely believe that we as Mormons are Christians and, as such, we share the same faith in our Savior.

    I share the discomfort described by Dave when I attend a service at St Paul’s Cathedral or at a friend’s church, but much less pronounced, it seems. The truth is, I enjoy observing their rituals because it helps me understand how they conceive of their relationship with Jesus Christ.

  15. I enjoyed the religious service portion of Kate & William’s royal wedding. Nice music, and the sermons and scripture passages were meaningful and would not have been out of place in an LDS service.

    Which brings up my point: Between cable/satellite TV and the internet, you should be able to find all sorts of religious services from different denominations. There are religious channels like our BYUTV, the local broadcast of services as public service by local TV stations, and of course lots of stuff on the internet (besides the funny short items). It also does not hurt to do some research ahead of time on what each denomination teaches, so you can understand what is going on and what the particular speakers mean when they use words familiar to Mormons but with different shades of meaning.

    I am told by Catholic friends that, before Vatican II when much of the mass was in Latin, it was very much a spectator sport even for the congregation. It is much more participatory now, with the service in the local language, and even singing by the congregation.

    I would think that it would be most interesting to observe an Orthodox service. My mother was raised a Russian Orthodox (in Japan!). The Eastern Orthodox churches tend to hold to a much more ancient tradition, with the congregation standing through the service. The fact that the Orthodox tradition has preserved the teaching of man becoming like God (which they call theosis) invites us to appreciate how a strong ancient tradition can have value.

  16. Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh once said that when you “touch someone who authentically represents a tradition, you not only touch his or her tradition, you also touch your own”? I love inter religious dialogue and services. I learned more about scripture study from interacting with my Muslim friends than I ever did in Sunday School, and I learned a lot about living my faith from both Muslim and Jewish friends.

    I occasionally attend Mass for either Catholic or Orthodox services out of love of the ceremony. I certainly have religious envy, while remaining faithfully LDS. In order to avoid the gawker status I recommend a large congregation. It is easier to lose yourself in the crowd.

  17. Dane – Once or twice when I was a child, I went to another church with a friend in return for that friend having gone to our Mormon ward. When I did, I always felt as though I had stepped in to the Great Church of Satan, given my upbringing.

    Oddly enough, it was on my mission that I began to spend serious time in other churches – this because I always served in small communities on Lakota reservations in South Dakota and Montana and to interact with the community, it was necessary to interact with the other churches, particularly in times of death and sorrow, which came frequently.

    What I discovered was that I loved the music of all the churches. Some of the preachers and priests struck me as good and sincere people and some as manipulators and charlatans. I didn’t believe any of them, but I saw that at a fundamental level…

    oh hell… what do I know? I’ll just drop this now.

    Have fun. Learn. Maybe you will come back a stronger Mormon, maybe you will come back Catholic, Evangelical or Sikh. Who knows? No one can, at this point. Or maybe you will become like me – an Agnostic Mormon – meaning you don’t really believe any of it, you feel there’s got to be something and the Mormon influence in you is too strong to ever shake off, even as you drink your coffee.

    Dave, I think you misjudge. If one’s mission is to learn, it is appropriate to go anywhere that the knowledge sought can be found – and that includes any place of worship that will open its door to you. The experience may not always be pleasant, but you will always come away knowing more than when you went in.

  18. Dane (no. 7) — There is no responsibility connected with the priesthood to “make our meetings interesting and enjoyable.” Rather, I tend to think that it is up to each member to find interest and enjoyment during the worship process, and to sustain the well-meaning efforts of their priesthood leaders. Oh, how terrible it will be if our bishops tried to entertain their wards…

    Having said this, I appreciate efforts that my priesthood leaders make to provide interesting and enjoyable worship meetings.

  19. ji,

    Your response is the typical cop-out response used so often to justify dull, boring non-worshipful, non-Christ centered meetings that try to pass themselves off as worship services. The ward priesthood leadership most certainly does have a responsibility to ensure a true worship service takes place that focuses on the Saviour and our discipleship. Otherwise all efforts at trying to find interest and enjoyment on our own are for naught. There is a major problem with our current communal worship services which is driving people away. And it is definitely impacting missionary work. Suffering through 70 minutes of screaming kids, irreverent adults and dry, boring talks that sound more like life coaching lessons than Adoration is not the reason for the Saabath.

  20. Michael (no, 23) — No, my response was well-considered, thoughtful, and honest. I haven’t justified anything.

  21. ji,

    With all due respect, how do you then state that local priesthood leadership does not have a responsibility in ensuring that our communal worship services are reverent, Christ-centered, and spiritually nourishing? Why are so many people abandoning attendance at our Sunday services? Why are we losing a whole generation of young people?

  22. Michael,

    I never wrote anything that could be reasonably interpreted as stating “that local priesthood leadership does not have a responsibility in ensuring that our communal worship services are reverent, Christ-centered, and spiritually nourishing”. My comments are at 6, 22, and 24 — please re-read them, and read them in context. Your characterization of my words in your no. 25 is not honest.

    You are the first one here to introduce the words “reverent”, “Christ-centered”, and “spiritually nourishing”. I never wrote against any of these.

    I’ll repeat this from my no. 6– But our Latter-day Saint wards do offer something — they offer the ordinances of the priesthood, most notably the sacrament, and it is in the ordinances of the priesthood (and only in the ordinances of the priesthood) that the power of Godliness is made manifest to men and women on the earth. The Lord himself said so in D&C 84. So a person coming in a spirit of worship and seeking the power of Godliness made manifest will find what he or she is seeking in a Latter-day Saint ward.

    and this from my no. 22– There is no responsibility connected with the priesthood to ‘make our meetings interesting and enjoyable.’ . . . Oh, how terrible it will be if our bishops tried to entertain their wards… Having said this, I appreciate efforts that my priesthood leaders make to provide interesting and enjoyable worship meetings.

    Where do I “state that local priesthood leadership does not have a responsibility in ensuring that our communal worship services are reverent, Christ-centered, and spiritually nourishing”?

    I take it as a given that local Latter-day Saint priesthood leaders want to ensure that our communal worship services are reverent, Christ-centered, and spiritually nourishing. Even so. Some may be better at it than others, and some locations may be better suited for it than others. But I don’t think our worship meetings will ever offer the fun and excitement and ritual and pomp and mystery and so forth that other churches offer — and this was the basis of the original posting and the context in which everything here needs to be read.

  23. I have taken YM and YW to other religious services and it has been one of the most edifying activities ever… I’ve done it many times over the years.

    Two tips: 1. Instruct them in tolerance and courtesy before you go. 2. ALWAYS debrief after the service. You’ll be amazed at what the kids discern and you’ll be able to explain (or later have explained) anything that they’ve witnessed.

  24. When I was in elementary school there was a large man in my ward that was an amazing singer. One Sunday I was staying at a friend’s house and attended Mass at the Catholic church with him. I couldn’t believe it, but the man from my ward had a twin Catholic brother who sang at the front as part of the mass. The next Sunday I saw the man in my ward and explained to him that I saw his twin briother singing at the Catholic church. He then explained to me that it was him, and that it was his job. I always thought it odd as a child, Years later I bumped into him in Salt Lake trying out for the Mo-tab. I am sure the Mo-tab people found it to be an impressive element of his singing resume :)

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