Visiting an American church

The United States was founded on religious freedom, so you will notice many different kinds of churches across the country. Your American host, a co-worker, or friend may invite you to visit their church.  You should ask the person who invites you what to expect at their specific church.

Some congregations follow a very formal and traditional order of service with hymns, organs and recitations, while others offer a more casual, informal environment. Depending on the denomination and church, you may or may not need to dress up. Regardless of the dress or form of worship, going to church is not a spectator event. You should always show respect and reverence at any service, even in a casual environment.

No matter what kind of church you attend, you should not text or talk on your phone during the service. In fact, you should mute your phone before you enter the sanctuary so that it does not cause a distraction. Attending a church service is not like attending a concert or game. You should not wear a hat into the sanctuary. You should not expect to bring food or beverages in with you. Some churches do offer a coffee bar where you can purchase a beverage to drink.

During the service, do not whisper and chat with those seated around you. It is considered polite to stand when the congregation stands, and sit when they sit down. Listen to the speaker. Bow your head respectfully during prayer. Do not get up and down to go to the restroom or outside during the service. If you feel unsure how you should behave, watch the people around you to get an idea of appropriate behavior.

If you do not understand something(s) said or done in the service, make a note of it and ask your host about it afterwards. Do not make assumptions or guesses; your host will gladly discuss any questions you have.

Communion

Most churches follow a regular schedule to commemorate Jesus’ sacrificial death on our behalf with a practice called communion. Some denominations follow this routine every Sunday, while others do it monthly or quarterly. While the purpose of remembrance remains the same throughout all churches, the way the practice is carried might vary a lot from church to church.

 

Usually, there is a cup or pitcher filled with grape juice (or wine in some denominations) representing the blood Jesus shed when he died for our sins; and bread, crackers or something similar to symbolize his broken body. Those in the congregation who have received Jesus as Lord participate in remembering how his death saved them, by drinking the juice/wine and taking a bite of the bread. This directly follows Jesus’ teaching recorded in several books in the New Testament.

 

In some churches, participants go to a designated place in the sanctuary to partake of these elements, while others pass trays up and down the rows with small cups and pieces of bread that each person takes. Some churches ask you to wait to drink/eat until everyone has been served, and then take them together as a congregation; while others allow you to drink or eat yours at any point after you receive them.

 

No matter what tradition the church you visit follows, this is considered a time for introspection and prayer. You should remain quiet and respectful even if you do not understand or participate. Feel free to discuss any questions with your host after the service.