Informal Religious Visit Survey

Informal findings from Spring, 2013 Introduction to Comparative Religion.

I have taught Introduction to Comparative Religion for the past 21 years at a local community college.  Each semester I assign students to report on a visit to a religious service of their own choice, but one which they do not normally attend.  This year I decided to publish some of the results.  Keep in mind this is not a scientific study and the sampling is not random.  I have selected excerpts from certain reports which seem to be typical of the responses I have received over the years.  The services visited included a wide variety of groups, including Catholic, Pentecostal, Informal Aposotolic, Mormon, Baptist and Jewish.  So, this is my impression of the way students react when visiting a religious event or service they are not familiar with.  I have kept all actual names of students and religious groups out of the examples.  Here is a sampling by general category:

                                                     Positives

Perceived authenticity of religious experience: “It was quite unusual for me because of the fact that they started off with testimonials but it honestly was really heart-touching.  Looking back makes me smile because I now remember nothing but happiness in my face as well as others.”  Ellie

“My experience attending this service was alright, but I am not religious.  Would I go back?  Honestly, probably not.  I respect people and their religion, but its just not for me.  I did enjoy the prayers and the love I could see around the room.”  Chelly

Exciting music: “I have to admit I was a bit nervous because I had never gone to any church but my own.  I actually liked how the service began, it was so energetic.  The service lasted about an hour and fifteen minutes and I have to say it was not bad at all.”  Matt

Beauty of service / surroundings:  “The words about God (in the books) were lovely.  They made me realize that this faith was not that different from my own.  The young, hip (leader) brought out his guitar and led us in a song.  This was the high point of the evening.  Afterward we had light snacks.  At this time, many people came up to my fiend and I and offered to help in case we had any questions.  That was a nice gesture.”  Melissa

“Before entering the building I was taken aback by its beauty. Located in the entry way was a huge statue that radiated with such beauty.  It was a wonder that such skill could be possible.  The inside was constructed with skill.  In the middle of the room was a huge dome surrounded by small stained glass windows.  Between admiring the blues and greens of the windows and the deep browns of the wood, I didn’t even notice when the (leaders) came into the room.”  Shauna

                                                      Negatives

Non-acceptance of alternative lifestyles:  “I was told by my friend who is a member not to mention my tatoos or that I am gay.  I found that odd.”  Tina

Not knowing how to dress:  “The only thing that made me a little bit uncomfortable was the clothes I had on.  The women were dressed very conservative and they wore long skirts, but I had on dress pants.”  Martina”

I was told to dress up nice and not look like my usual self.”  Tanya

Not knowing what to do:  “I noticed there was a lot of repetitive prayers throughout the service and the congregation knew what to say.  For a visitor this could be overwhelming.”  Alex

Exclusivity:  “It bothered me that they kept saying they were the one true religion.  They didn’t use the Bible, but talked about the history of their church.  What I really took away from the experience is that church for them is more of a ‘hang out’ and that the real experience takes place at (another location).  Overall I found my experience overwhelming, confusing and a bit scary.”  Sharon

Feeling threatened by the format.  “The service consisted of the leader speaking about God’s words, but not reading from the Bible.  He looked like a regular person and seemed nice, but when he spoke it sounded like he was screaming at me.  Not long after he started people started making commotion and screaming really loud too.  The teenagers were not very respectful.  They had their cell phones out and just talked through the whole service.  At my church they would have been called out and told to show some respect.”  Maria

“I didn’t understand some of the strange symbols, but my curiosity was allured.  The people seemed friendly and the food was amazing.  I could have easily been converted.”  Ted

General:  “My overall experience was refreshing and reminded me that what is important is God and you can worship him everywhere.”  LaToya

“I really like how they got the children involved in the service.  They seemed to be enjoying themselves.”  Jessica

“As I went inside I was a little bit concerned that the leader might try to convert me, but I was wrong, the people just talked about what they believe.”  Inez

So, food for thought as your group attempts to reach outsiders.  Mike Bogart

 

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Category: General

Posted On: April 24, 2013

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About Mike

Michael Bogart (Mike) is the President of MindCuisine. Mike brings a unique perspective to MindCuisine and to the realm of religious and cultural interaction in that he is a veteran university-level instructor with more than two decades of experience teaching in both secular and Christian institutions such as West Hills Community College, Chapman University, Brandman University, Fresno Pacific University and Excelsior College. Mike has also served as a pastor and, since 2001, as a mentor and trainer of Christian leaders of many denominations in developing countries. Realizing that the competition among Christians and the name-calling between all sorts of groups belonging to the major world religions was counter-productive, Mike developed an overview approach to understanding religious and philosophical ideas which has grown out of his extensive background of teaching world religion. Besides hosting the iKnow Series on world religions, Mike is available as a conference speaker and consultant in these matters.

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