A church is like a family. Just as families exist in all shapes and sizes, so there is an enormous variety of churches. Encountering a new group of people who all know each other and all know what is going on can feel intimidating. For that reason, a personal introduction is often the best way to go to church for the first time. If you can, go with a friend or someone who already ‘knows the ropes’. They can help you understand what is happening and why, and help you to feel at home.
If you don’t know anyone from the church, don’t let that put you off! Most churches have welcomers who are there to greet newcomers and make them feel at home. You might like to identify yourself as new if they don’t seem to realise straight away.
It is also a good idea to look at the church’s website or any social media platform beforehand to get an understanding of what happens during services, who is involved and what the dress code is. In many churches the dress code is informal, but some Christians put on their ‘Sunday best’ clothes for church services; some women wear hats to worship; some churches ask men and women not to wear shorts or leave shoulders uncovered. But most churches would want a visitor to feel comfortable. You would not be asked to do or say anything you felt awkward about.
It is also a good idea to look at the church’s website or any social media platform beforehand.
There are many different denominations within Christianity but the core beliefs are the same: Christians believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and his crucifixion and rising from the dead 2,000 years ago created a way for humanity to have a restored relationship with God and the prospect of eternal life with him. Some elements of church services are common to almost every church: praying (talking to God); worship (which includes singing songs of praise and thanks to God) and a sermon or talk by the minister or church leader. The church might also celebrate the Eucharist or Holy Communion. This is where everyone is given a small piece of bread or a wafer and a sip of wine to commemorate Jesus Christ’s sacrificial death. This is generally reserved for those who have made a decision to be followers of Jesus, so you should feel free to let the bread and wine pass you by if appropriate. Nobody will turn a hair if you do.
Services might look a bit different at significant points in the Christian calendar, such as Christmas and Easter where the congregation will be remembering Jesus’ birth and his death and resurrection. Some churches will have separate meetings during the service for children and young people which are more tailored for that audience. So if you are taking your family – or you are a young person – you might want to go into that separate session.
In some churches people sit in wooden pews or on individual chairs. In others, the people stand and move about. They may light candles and place them in front of paintings or icons. The music can vary enormously even at the same church: at one service the congregation might sing hymns from a hymn book or printed sheet accompanied by an organ, but at the next service, the music style could be very contemporary with piano, guitars, drums and brass instruments with the words displayed on a huge screen. Some services follow a regular pattern of hymns, prayers and a sermon; others are very relaxed and flexible. People usually stand to sing and sit or kneel to pray. The sermon could be a short homily or a lengthy teaching session exploring a theme from the Bible. Many churches will have a team of people to welcome newcomers, help them find a seat and explain what will happen during the service. There might also be tea and coffee available before or after the service.
Many churches will have a team of people to welcome newcomers.
Most churches hold services on Sundays but will also have meetings at other times during the week. Those meetings might be open to everybody or aimed at a particular part of the congregation. There will be details on the church noticeboard or website.
People go to church for many different reasons. Some prefer it to be a time of quiet reflection; others want to engage with the service; others go seeking prayer or spiritual support. Others go because they want to marry in their local church and are visiting to see what it is like. With so many options available, it will be possible to find a Christian church which offers a service which meets your needs.