We know that coming to a new church for the first time can be intimidating, even scary, especially for people who’ve never been to church before. What will the people be like? Will I stick out like a sore thumb? What if I stand when I should sit? What if my little children are disruptive? When you visit for the first time, you might be surprised by what you’ll find. Click on the following links to learn more about what to expect.
Sometimes people wonder how they are expected to dress at a church they have never visited before.
Since the Bible presents no dress code, aside from simple decency and Christian humility, St. Peter’s Evangelical Lutheran Church doesn’t make any rules either. Like most people, our members try to make their worship time at church a special time. This is often reflected in the way they dress.
But dress is a personal matter of worship before God. One may dress casually and rejoice that we have a God who accepts us as we are. Another may dress to reflect the awe and reverence we have for our Savior King.
On any Sunday at our church, you may see running shoes and high heels, jeans and suits, open collars and ties. When a person dresses out of love for God, the choice of casual dress or more formal is acceptable to God…and us.
One thing that our pastor has heard several times over the years from our guests is how friendly the members of St. Peter’s are. It is not uncommon to see several of our members talking with each other before and after church—both in the back of the church and in the pews. Some, who have gone on to become members, said they immediately felt right at home. Although we can’t make any guarantees that you will be welcomed by one of our members, the chances are likely.
Every church has its own style of worship, and St. Peter’s is no exception. We believe that there is no biblically-mandated form of worship. We also believe that the forms and emphasis of the church service should accurately reflect the primary purpose of God’s Word, which is to lead us into a right relationship with God through His Law and his Gospel, the good news about Jesus. As such, we typically chose to do liturgical worship. Worship using the liturgy gives expression to God’s Law and Gospel as well as our relationship with Him. Through liturgical worship, God serves His people through His Word and the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
The services usually include the following parts in a variety of forms:
- Call to Worship (sometimes called the Invocation) – We call on the name of our Savior God as we praise him.
- Admitting sins and finding forgiveness – We acknowledge that we have not always done what God asks. Then, we are assured of forgiveness because of what Jesus Christ has done for us.
- Bible Readings – We hear selections from God’s Old Testament prophets, Jesus’ apostles, and from Jesus himself in the Gospels.
- Sermon – Our pastor offers instruction and encouragement in a Bible-based sermon. We hear how we can expect God’s guidance and grace for dealing with problems, as well as the promise of eternal life in heaven through Jesus.
- Response to the Word – We respond with a confession of faith, offerings, and prayers for the things God has promised to us and for strength to do what he has asked.
- Communion – Typically on the 1st and 3rd Sundays of the month our services also include the distribution of the Lord’s Supper. To find out more about our communion practices, please see the Close(d) Communion tab below.
- Parting Blessing – We hear one last assurance of God’s care before we head out into the world to live as God’s children. Mixed throughout these different parts of our service are hymns and short songs to praise God. Our worship uses traditional forms and hymns blended with contemporary songs, modern language, and application. We strive to use the best of the tried and proven with the best of what modern hymn writers and composers have produced. We hope you enjoy both!
We know that it can be confusing, even uncomfortable for a guest when the collection plate comes by. We gather an offering as an opportunity to express our thanks to God for giving us his greatest treasure, his Son Jesus Christ, and to support the Lord’s work that we do here and around the world. This is very important to us. If you are visiting us, please do not feel that you must participate in the offering. You are our guest!
If you are wary about attending a church service because it is strange to you and you aren’t sure what you are supposed to be doing, that’s perfectly ok. Our pastor is very aware of that, and he always does his best to let people know where we are in the hymnal, when people are asked to stand out of reverence for God, etc. Other than being a new face who is likely to receive a warm welcome from one of our friendly members, you will fit right in.
Parents with Children
We recognize that it can be very intimidating for parents of young children to attend church for the first time with their children. “What if the children are disruptive? How embarrassing that would be!” they often fear.
The members of St. Peter’s understand this pressure and we want you to know that we are glad that you and your children are here! We love to have families worship together. Children need to hear that their sins are forgiven too. They need to learn, from experience and observation, what church is all about. That’s what happens when they come regularly.
It is not uncommon to hear the noises of children during the service; they are a welcome sound to many. But we recognize that sometimes a child who is not accustomed to sitting in a pew for about one hour might get a little antsy. So we have a private room at the back of the church for parents to take their children when needed. It’s perfectly ok to get up in the middle of the sermon and make use of that room if you have to. The room is wired with audio and has a window to view the sanctuary. Give them some time to regain their composure, then feel free to join us whenever you are ready. There are bags of toys in that room to help focus a child’s energy. We will do our best not to stare, but please forgive us if one or two elderly people give you a glance. It isn’t because they are angry. It is simply human curiosity.
We know that Close(d) Communion turns some people away from a church, but before you stop reading, please hear us out.
Many Christian churches allow just about any Christian to come forward and receive the Lord’s Supper. That is not our practice at St. Peter’s. Communion at St. Peter’s is only for members of St. Peter’s or members of other WELS (Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod) or ELS (Evangelical Lutheran Synod) congregations, or those who belong to another church of the CELC (Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference—a world-wide group of 22 Lutheran church bodies that have declared fellowship with each other). We ask that anyone who desires communion, who is outside our fellowship, to please refrain from coming forward to receive the Lord’s Supper until you speak with the pastor and get to know more about our beliefs.
We recognize that this practice is confusing and upsets many people. But please understand there are a few good reasons for this practice that has been in place since ancient times, and they are all motivated by our love for those who desire to receive communion. (Justin Martyr (100-165 A.D.), a Christian philosopher and apologist, wrote about the practice of close(d) communion in his First Apology (155 A.D.), chapter 66)
You may notice that the word Close(d) has the letter ‘d’ in parentheses. That is because there are two aspects of communion that are being expressed. When we refer to close communion, we are speaking of the unity of faith that Scripture says is expressed when believers receive communion together. When we refer to closed communion, we are speaking of the biblical injunction that only qualified communicants come forward to receive communion. It isn’t open for anyone to receive. Why is this?
First, closed communion is designed to protect an unknowing person from receiving the Lord’s Supper for his harm. We believe that communion is the reception of Christ’s body and blood together with the bread and the wine for the forgiveness of sins (Matt. 26:26-28; I Cor. 10:16). But there are a number of Christian churches which do not teach that Christ’s body and blood are truly present in, with, and under the bread and wine. For the members of these churches to receive communion with us, not knowing what it is they are receiving, they would “eat and drink judgment on themselves.” (I Cor. 11:29)
We also recognize that there may be people who desire to come forward to receive the Sacrament who do not understand why they are receiving it. The Lord’s Supper is designed for two purposes: 1. To help us remember Christ’s sacrifices for our sins; 2. As a personal assurance of forgiveness. Only Christians can confess Jesus’ death for sins and examine themselves to see why they need what the sacrament offers (I Cor. 11:28). Anyone who takes communion for any reason other than what it is designed for is “guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.” (I Cor. 11:27) It is the responsibility of the pastor to make sure communicants know what they are receiving and why they are receiving it.
Think of it like prescription medication. Used in the right way, the Lord’s Supper can do great good. Used for the wrong reasons by someone who does not understand it correctly, the Lord’s Supper can actually cause spiritual harm. So just as prescription meds are given only to people who need them, so communion is given only to those who recognize their need for what it gives. And just as a pharmacist doesn’t dispense prescription meds over-the-counter, so pastors must not treat communion in a similar manner. Rather, just as pharmacists instruct the patient on how and when to take prescription meds, so a pastor is called to instruct someone before they can become a communicant member.
Second, the Bible says that communion is an expression of fellowship, for “we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.” (I Cor. 10:17) While it may be true that many of our guests also believe that Jesus died for our sins, that does not mean that we share a common confession of faith. There is a wide diversity of teachings and beliefs among the many Christian denominations. The unity that the Bible talks about and that communion expresses is a perfect unity “in mind and thought.” (I Cor. 1:10) So when our pastor asks a member of a Christian denomination to ‘please wait’ to come forward for communion, he isn’t judging that person’s faith. Rather, he’s giving a loving warning against false doctrines and practices and against a false show of unity. There are those who have come back later and thanked pastors for not allowing them to commune, as they then looked more deeply into the doctrines of their churches and found them to be in error.
Prepare to Be Challenged and to Grow
Some people go to church to be entertained. Some go to church to be comfortable. While these things certainly may happen from time to time, they are not the primary reason for attending church. God himself says that “man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” (Deut. 8:3) Just as our bodies depend on food to live, so our souls depend on the food God provides—his Word—to live. As such, the goal and objective of our church services is to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (II Pet. 3:18) This means that, every once in a while, many of our commonly held beliefs and assumptions that society has ingrained into us will be challenged. But through this experience, we gain a better understanding of our God, what he has done, and his will for our lives. And as this happens, we grow in our faith.