After working for a few days in Senegal, I asked our translator if he wanted to go to his church on Sunday. The villages we were working in had no local church (yet), and I wanted our translator to have the opportunity to see his physical and spiritual family, while at the same time, I wanted our team to be a part of a church body in that country.
He gladly accepted the change of plans, and we made preparations to travel into Dakar. After surprising his wife and daughter on the street, we made our way towards church together. As we traveled down the sandy streets of this massive capital, we finally came to the rented space that served as the church building for the church.
The front door of the space wasn’t covering the entire opening. It tilted to the right and yet was also somehow open on the right side.
The simple outdoor appeal would not meet code or expectations in the United States, and yet I think the American church desperately needs to discover what was behind that door.
Inside this space was more people than could comfortably gather. We met new friends. We connected with brothers and sisters who spoke a different language, came from a different background, and yet, I found more in common with them than I do with many Christians around me back in the States.
As we began to worship, drums, tambourines, shakers, and sticks were passed around in this small room. While there were worship leaders, everyone was leading in some way.
This church actually does their service in French and English since both are needed for their membership. Just think – we do different styles of worship for different tastes and these believers have to combine two different languages into one service because there simply isn’t that many churches in that city.
Things to Consider
Oftentimes, as Americans, we assume that other countries should learn from us. American mission teams often feel it is their responsibility to teach international churches some practices they should use. In reality, I think we could learn a lot more from this beautiful church.
Here are some things I learned that I would beg you to consider for your church:
- Host Team – There were no official greeters because everyone was a greeter. They didn’t have people assigned to be hospitable, that came from every present member as they greeted complete strangers as family.
- Favorite Seat – I often hear horror stories of churches who have a church member asking a guest to get out of “my seat” in a worship service. No worries here. As these plastic chairs filled the room, we ran out of space with all the people coming. I tried to get up to go into overflow which was just the room to the right of the open door, and the members wouldn’t allow me but gave me their seat instead.
- Comfortable Seating – There were plastic chairs crammed into the room to seat as many people there. No worries about the 80% capacity here (that rule that when you are at 80% full, people will turn around and leave because the seating doesn’t provide enough margin). No one had any leg room and no none cared.
- Ideal Temperature – It was hot outside. It was hot inside. The AC was an open window and one oscillator fan on the wall. No one complained.
- Children’s Ministry – The children’s ministry was the whole church. As little ones went back and forth between their parents and other church members, these littles weren’t seen as an inconvenience but as a blessing. Men and women, young and old, they all served as an extension to the family.
- Worship Time – We worshiped for 3 hours and 15 minutes. No one was looking at their watches. No one was trying to hurry up. In the heat, in the uncomfortable seating, these people were simply grateful to be there.
- Joyful Singing – As different members took different rhythmic instruments, the entire church was joyfully engaged in worship. Singing, clapping, playing, and dancing had everyone involved.
- Prayerful Service – In the service, we had about 12 different prayer emphases where everyone would pray intentionally about specific requests. It was truly a house of prayer.
- Intentional Blessings – In addition to the church singing a blessing over the guests and praying for our mission team, they also prayed over their pastor before he spoke and highlighted those with birthdays with prayers of blessings and testimonies by others about their faithfulness.
- Unhurried Members – Most of the membership arrived early, and everyone stayed late. After clocking in around 3:15, no one was rushing out to get to lunch early. Every single member greeted every single person there. Most of them would not be around other Christians that week and they wanted to get everything out of that moment that they possibly could.
Maybe your church looks like what I saw that Sunday. Maybe it is healthier. But my hunch is that all of us could learn a thing or two from this congregation. If you looked at the front door and thought they were a struggling church, you couldn’t be more wrong.
While you can show great attention to your church’s front door, it’s always what happens behind it that leaves the most significant impact.
Enjoy this clip of worship from my seat on the very back wall – it gives a little perspective on the size of the room.