Last week, we discussed the fact that there are valid reasons for trying to find a new church. When you come to that point in your faith-life, it can be daunting trying to figure out what each church will be like. Even if they have an up-to-date webpage, there may be information that you do not quite understand. Churches use terminology that can be a little confusing. It may be an honest attempt to be open about who they are, or it could be language that conceals a simple truth, but I think that there is almost always some nuance that is missed by many church searchers. So, here are some of the terms that I have noticed, and how I interpret them.
None of these descriptions are exhaustive, but they can give you a pretty good clue as to what the church will be doing on Sundays.
Doctrine – refers to the standardized beliefs of the church. Reading a church’s doctrine will let you know what lies at the base of their teachings. Unfortunately, the written doctrine of many churches is difficult to understand.
Often, this becomes a word that carries a negative context, because people think that it means a church is founded on rules. But doctrine is not about the “do”s and “don’t”s. It is about the beliefs that form the basis of everything the church does.
Contemporary – usually used to indicate that the service is modern in its application of technology and music choices. The lyrics will be on a screen, not in a hymnal. The seating tends to be in chairs, not pews, and there will usually be more people wearing casual attire.
Many churches were contemporary at the time of their creation, but have not continued to modernize as the environment surrounding them has shifted.
Traditional – may have to do with music style (all a capella, or limited instrumentation), preaching style, or the way that the sanctuary is furnished. Each of these can have a vastly different approach to worship, so more research is necessary if you are looking for a traditional church.
Non-liturgical – frequently used to mean casual, without some of the formality that is pictured when discussing a “old-fashioned” service.
Actually, all services are liturgical. They have an order to their worship and some sort of routine that comes close to repeating most weeks, even if they are contemporary.
Satellite campus – this is a location that does not have all of its staff on site. Sometimes, there will be live musicians, but the speaker will deliver the message from another location. Other times, the worship will also be piped in, and only local announcements are made in person. Still other satellite campuses have functional staff on-site for services, but other administrative staff or senior leadership is elsewhere.
Church Plant – a new congregation of believers. These can start from scratch, with just a handful of people, or they can be filled with many people from another church, similar to a satellite campus, but with a full compliment of leadership and staff.
Mission and vision – You can usually find this in a few different places during the service. These describe how the church intends to do God’s work or spread His Word.
Disciples – people who are trying to follow Jesus. “Disciples” may be used to mean those people whose faith seems to impact their daily decisions and life as opposed to those who claim to be believers, but do not seem to pursue His ways.
This is really just scratching the surface of the words that a church may use to describe itself. If there is anything that you hear or read that you do not understand, talk to someone you trust from another church and to someone within the church to ensure that you are well-informed as you move forward.
Hoping you find full worship of God,