As someone who has done a great deal of moving, I consider myself to be a bit of an “inside outsider” when it comes to the church experience. While I understand there are many different types of people who prefer a wide variety of different churches and worship styles, I am also attuned to the first impression that can make or break a person’s experience with church. And if the first impression isn’t good, do you think that person will want to return?
Have you ever wanted to invite someone to church, but you hesitated because you’re not sure they would like the service? It happens to me frequently. In fact, I often wonder why someone who has not had a steady diet of church culture through their formative years would want to go to church. Can you imagine how church must look to someone brand new to it? What if you could recruit consultants to visit your church and give their impressions of everything from the sermon to the greeters?
This is what Jim Henderson does. He sometimes pays people who aren’t Christians to evaluate churches from an outsider’s perspective. And in “Jim and Casper Go to Church,” Henderson and his friend (an atheist) visit some of the most well-known churches in the United States to compare notes. You want someone’s unvarnished opinion mixed with a dose of irreverence? Casper’s analysis is hard-hitting, humbling, and sometimes pretty funny. He has problems with fog machines and fancy video equipment, applauds churches that are serving their communities, and is very attuned to the music, including lyrics, performance, and perceived sincerity of the singers. Most important, throughout the book, Casper reveals that the people who have the most impact are those who are sharing their personal stories of faith — not in order to convert him, but because it is an important part of their lives.
Henderson’s main focus is helping people and churches better understand how to engage in dialogue with non-church people in a respectful and productive way. Between chapters about church visits, he lays out basic principles that individuals can use to talk with people of different faiths. In some ways, the things he is telling people to do represent a paradigm shift of sorts. His focus will always be on people, not on evangelistic agendas, and on listening rather than preaching or standard apologetics. According to Henderson and Casper, we do not need to have all the answers. In fact, admitting that we don’t know everything will go a long way toward fostering authentic relationships.
I recommend reading “Jim and Casper Go to Church” if you are at all interested in church culture or in fostering dialogue among those who may believe differently than you. While you’re at it, check out Henderson’s interviews with people in various stages of their faith journeys.