Pilgriming Lab Report

Hey everybody…. This is the last of my blog posts on my church visits. I had this crazy idea to structure it in the proper format of a lab report. I thought it sounded like a cute idea, but I’m not sure it works when all is said and done. According to my research, a lab report is supposed to be in passive voice and the author should not use personal pronouns to refer to herself. I followed that rule in my first draft, but found it way too awkward and uncomfortable. I am apparently too obsessed with myself to avoid all references to my own role in this experiment. Anyway, I will let you decide for yourself if my “cute idea” works at all. I just wanted to explain what is going on in case you read this and think- “what the heck is this? It doesn’t sound like Terri!”

Pilgriming Lab Report


After a period of turbulence in my current church experience, an experiment to evaluate a sample of other congregations seemed appropriate. Previous life experience has provided me with the opportunity to worship in numerous Catholic churches, several Episcopal churches, two Baptist churches, one Missouri synod Lutheran church, and one non-denominational megachurch.  However, most experiences with these congregations did not intentionally purpose to evaluate their characteristics. They were simply episodic, casual experiences.  The current experiment purposed to methodically sample different ways other congregations formatted their worship services, presented their core beliefs, implemented inclusiveness, and engaged visitors. Upon gathering the sampling data, the plan was to evaluate whether or not a different faith tradition, denomination, or congregation would more effectively enhance my spiritual development and give me more impactful ways to serve than my current church.


If different church experiences suggest that another congregation aligns with my core theology, values, spiritual journey, and ideas on interpersonal relationships/congregational development, it is incumbent upon me to change churches.


Preparation for the experiment involved researching the internet about different denominations. The goal was to assess different denominations for some key factors in order to narrow down the number of churches to visit. The following items were considered in the internet search:

  • Theology
  • Policy statements on particular challenging or controversial issues in Christendom
  • Role of women in the church
  • View of Biblical truth
  • Degree of emphasis on social justice/liberation theology
  • Understanding on the nature of the Eucharist

After evaluating the information on the overall denominations, it was decided to limit the church samples to the following:

  • Lutheran- Evangelical Lutheran Church of America synod
  • Lutheran- Missouri synod
  • United Methodist Church

These denomination seemed to follow theology that is roughly in line with my views. They are well-known, mainstream Protestant religions. They provide three different experiences so that the sampling is not homogenous.

Next, the websites for churches of these denominations within 30 miles were reviewed. In this review, the following factors were considered:

  • Distance from home
  • Ease of use of the website
  • Faith formation opportunities
  • Ministries
  • Biographies of staff
  • Size of congregation
  • Recent newsletters and bulletins
  • Financial status of congregation

 Three churches were selected for further study- one Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (Sample A,) one Missouri Synod Lutheran Church (Sample B,) and one United Methodist Church (Sample C.) One traditional 10:00am Sunday morning (Sample A,) one contemporary 4:00pm Saturday evening service (Sample B,) and one traditional early 8:00am Sunday service (Sample C) were chosen to get a diverse mix of experiences.

Upon visiting the churches, it was determined that Sample B was actually another Evangelical Lutheran Church of America rather than a Missouri Synod Lutheran Church. However, the experiences were still quite different. Sample A was a traditional service. Sample B was a contemporary service. Sample A had a congregation of about 50 people. Sample B had a congregation of around 400 people. It was determined that Sample B was sufficiently different from Sample A to proceed with the methodology as planned.

Several factors were observed during the church visits. These included:


The three sample churches were visited in a three-week period.  The data is subjective, based on my criteria. Each church was rated on each criterium, on a scale of one to five, with five being the highest rating.

Criteria                                                           Sample A      Sample B          Sample C                                                                                                                                                                                         

Welcome                                                                  3                  3                  2

Size of congregation                                                  3                  4                  3

Format of the service                                                 4                  4                  3

Sermon                                                                    2                  4                  2

Faith development and service activities                     2                  3                  3

Music                                                                       2                  4                  3

Comfort level of environment                                      4                  4                  4

Connection with the people                                         3                  2                  3

Financial health/transparency                                     4                  3                  NA

Total                                                                         27                31                23

I also rated the church I am currently attending on the same criteria.

Welcome                                                                  5

Size of congregation                                            4

Format of the service                                           4

Sermon                                                                    5

Faith development and service activities     4

Music                                                                       3

Comfort level of environment                             3

Connection with the people                                   4

Financial health/transparency                              5

Total                                                                         37


Clearly, the ratings on these criteria are subjective, based on my own preferences. The reasons for the ratings varied. In the case of sample C, the lower rating does not arise from not being friendly enough; the rating arises because the people were too alarming friendly for my introverted soul. The ratings on the size criteria again demonstrate my own preference for a mid-size congregation of 100-200 people. Sample A and Sample C had very small congregations at the services and Sample B was a megachurch. I slightly preferred the larger congregation. Other people would likely have different preference. Since this was my experiment, it seems fair to weight my own preferences as the standard.

It was not always possible to tell everything about the church based on an internet search and one visit. It was especially difficult to assess financial health and transparency, although I was happy to note that Sample A did include some financial information on their website. Their finances were not rock solid, but they did have clear information about their economic status and philosophy towards stewardship.  For Sample B, I had to do some extrapolating about finances by considering the rapid growth in membership and campuses. I had no way of evaluating this criterium for Sample C.


While it is an interesting exercise to apply scientific method to evaluating a church home, choosing a church is largely a matter of intangibles. I learned many things during my individual church visits (which you can read in my previous blog posts on each individual visit) and most of them were not quantifiable. Also, church culture and congregational development are not necessarily painted with a wide brush. For instance, in evaluating the “connection with the people” criterium, I clearly realized that no one is going to have the same level of connection with everyone. In some cases, the connection vibe may be lukewarm across the board. In other cases, the connection vibe may be intensely strong and bonded in some percentage of people and  painfully shredded with others. Such is the nature of intimacy. In both situations, the net “connection” might rate a 3 but for different reasons.


There is more to choosing a church than scientific data. That choice is more about how the Holy Spirit leads your heart. In visiting different churches, I was able to clear my mind of the pain that the recent congregational flashpoints in my current church caused me. I was able to look beyond the giant trees that seemed to be falling on me so that I could see how beautiful the forest really is. I learned things about the churches I visited and about myself that made me realize that being brave enough to dodge the falling trees might be worth the effort if it means I can live in that beautiful forest.

The statistical data and scientific analysis also suggest that my current church is the right choice for me.  Of course it did. It is God’s science!

I’d love to know what you think of my “scientific” spiritual experiment.  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Have a scientifically spiritual day!

Terri/Dorry 😊