As previously mentioned, I’m really into the concept of church. And though I’m pleased to have been in a committed relationship to a church community for nearly six years, it means that I don’t see other churches very often. So it’s a treat for me when I get to check out a different church, especially a different kind of church, especially in a different country.
I recently attended a young, international, Pentecostal church in Norway. The Holy Spirit led me there insofar as it was the first result of a Google search. The lights were dim, the music was loud, the oldest person in the room was barely 40. There were flashy videos and catchy songs. The amount of energy in the room caught me off guard, and honestly, I couldn’t get into it. During the first song, one of the music leaders graciously informed us that “we’re dancing and clapping like this today because we’re excited about Jesus.”
Oh, that’s why. Maybe if I just liked Jesus a little bit more, I’d be dancing too.
During the offering (“we take credit cards, in the back”) the woman sitting next to me, who had surely noticed my lack of energy, asked me about my home church, I think trying to figure out what my deal was.
Is it like this?
No, not really. It’s quieter.
Maybe it’s a generational difference.
I don’t think so.
So what was the difference? Well, my church isn’t Pentecostal, but it feels like a cop-out to attribute these big differences to denomination alone. There wasn’t any liturgy, but I knew that going in – and is my faith so shallow that I need liturgy to get excited about Christ?
At one point I thought it had something to do with age and spiritual maturity. You know how when someone becomes a Evangelical as an adult, they get super happy and excited about Jesus and tell everyone about him? This whole church kind of felt like that. A lot of excitement, smiles, and praises, but not a ton of substance.
The sermon wasn’t amazing, but it was telling. It felt a little bit like a strategy session, because over and over again, the pastor kept talking about why this church exists.
Jesus came for everyone, from every nation and language, so that’s who we’re here for.
The gospel is for outsiders, so that’s who were here for.
This is a post-Christian culture, and that’s what we’re here for.
Only 2% of Norwegians are part of a local church. We’re here for the 98%.
98%. There it is, that’s the difference. These people are so excited because it’s a small miracle that this place even exists. These people are so excited because it’s kind of a fluke that they even know the gospel in the first place. These people are so excited because they have a sense of urgency for the gospel that an American Christian like me can barely fathom.
So come back, bring your friends, pray for people who don’t know Jesus.
During the service, the energy was really strange to me, but it continued afterwards in a really great (and much more familiar) way. There were a lot of first-time visitors that day, and the regular members were extremely friendly and kind to us all. Dozens of people stood around after the service eating and chatting for well over an hour. I don’t think it was exclusively because of their urgent need to build their church and accumulate new members/giving units; these people have found each other – they are a part of the 2% that know the radical hospitality of Jesus and the life-giving power of Christian community, and they’re clinging to that and sharing it with others.
Despite how strange this whole experience was for me, I walked away from the church appreciating it and even feeling just a hint of envy. Believe it or not, American Christianity, even on its best days, tends to focus a lot on the individual: her heart, her mind, her relationship with Christ and others. American churches focus on what they can do for YOU, the member or visitor, and a lot of emphasis is placed on personal discipleship. I worry that sometimes this distracts from the bigger picture – God and the coming Kingdom. The urgent and slightly desperate excitement that I encountered in Norway shed light on that for me, and was a great reminder of what it looks like when the church is a tiny minority trying to share the gospel in a culture where it really is quite foreign.