Have you been invited by a co-worker from another faith to visit their place of worship ? Or, would you like to visit a different religion or denomination so that you can be more effective in your witness for the Lord? You don’t have to agree with or condone the place of worship you are visiting, but you should be respectful for the way others worship. It is a great way to open up a dialogue with your friend and give you a chance to share your own beliefs.
As a new believer in the Lord you should probably not visit too many different denominations or religions. You should spend time learning what you can about the Bible and its teachings before exploring other denominations. Even if you ultimately move to a different denomination because you believe their teaching about the Bible is more accurate, you should stay where you are long enough to have a firm grasp of the foundational teachings of your own denomination.
Having given a warning to new Christians, let me encourage you to be curious enough about other denominations and religions to consider visiting a church that practices a bit differently than your own church. I am reminded of a wonderful opportunity I had a few years ago of participating in a service at a Jewish synagogue. There was much I did not understand, but I came away with a better appreciation for their sincerity and love for God’s Word.
Let’s consider some etiquette tips for when you do have that opportunity to visit and learn about a different denomination or religion.
Visit another church because you sincerely want to know what they believe and practice, not because you want to mock and ridicule their faith. Even if your purpose in going is so that you can take a better stand against their beliefs, be a sincere student of what you see and hear. People will notice your honest interest in their practices.
Along with sincerity, be respectful . Let me give you a political example to show what I mean. As a missionary I have been in many different countries and have often been put in a politically uncomfortable position—how to respectfully not participate during another country’s national anthem or pledge to their flag. I have been taught that I should stand, but not verbally or visually participate in a promise to support a country that is not my homeland. This can be done with respect to the other country and its citizens without showing any promise of support. I stand, but do not sing. I visibly address their flag but do not salute.
This same type of respect can be shown in a church service of another denomination. When visiting the Jewish synagogue I knew that those who entered the synagogue would touch the Mezuzah (the box and Scriptures hung on the right side of the doorpost) and then kiss their fingertips that touched the box. The verses contained in the box are two passages from Deuteronomy (called the Shema) and are an acknowledgement that there is only one God. The passages also talk about teaching the Scriptures to your children and that they should always be foremost in your mind. I agree with everything the Shema teaches. Therefore, I am pleased to participate in the Jewish ritual of showing respect to the Shema and Mezuzah.
Certainly it was not required for me to kiss the Mezuzah and, as far as I know, I am the only one from our Christian group who did so. There were several men from the synagogue who came to me and thanked me for showing such respect to their practices. It was a small gesture on my part to show respect, but no one there mistook that to mean that I was converting to Judaism. It was simply a sign of respect to their religion in much the same way as standing during another country’s national anthem or pledge.
You don’t necessarily have to wear a coat and tie to church, but there is nothing wrong with it either. If you are unsure as to what is appropriate attire follow the rule that covering more of your body is always more appropriate than covering less. Find out from your friend who invited you, or try to observe those going in and out of the church in question and dress accordingly.
You may be asked to remove your shoes or be given a head covering when you enter. Graciously accept these practices and respectfully attire yourself as requested. This does not mean that you are converting to their religion, it simply means that you respect their dress code.
Ask Questions Before You Go
Try to find out as much about the church service as you can before you attend. This will help you not be surprised by what you see. It will also give you an understanding of the different parts of the service. The more you know the more you will be able to sincerely participate in the parts that you can in good conscience.
Sometimes you don’t know what questions to ask. You will be confronted with things during the service that you did not know to ask about. Your friend who invited you may have told you a great deal of what you would experience, but because many things become routine to them, they don’t always know what you are going to find surprising; therefore, they don’t know how to prepare you for some aspects of the service.
My recommendation is to keep your eyes open and don’t sit in the very front of the auditorium. You want to be where you can see how others are participating and take cues from them. This may not be possible if you are a guest and are asked to sit at the very front. Try to have a congregant sit right beside you who will help clue you in to the rituals that may be new to you.
As an aside, don’t sit in the very back either. During the synagogue service there were times we were to turn around and face the back wall. If we were sitting on the back row we would not have known when it was time to turn around and face the front of the auditorium again.
Don’t Feel Obligated to Participate
While I felt comfortable kissing the Mezuzah at the Jewish synagogue, I do not feel comfortable making the sign of the cross when entering a Catholic church or ending a prayer. To me the one (kissing the Mezuzah) is about respect to God and His Word, and the other (the Orthodox sign of the cross) is about respect to a tradition and religion. Therefore, I don’t feel obligated to cross myself and honestly feel uncomfortable doing so.
You will have to decide which practices you will not participate in while visiting another denomination. No one is offended by your respectful lack of participation. They would be more offended by you feigning a belief in a religion or practice that is insincere.
Consider Not Going
That’s right, sometimes the most appropriate thing to do is not go at all. If you cannot go in good conscience and be respectful of the other religious practices, then the best thing to do is to not go at all. You don’t have to make up a fake excuse to your friend. Tell them you don’t feel comfortable at this time attending their service. There may be a time in the future that you would like to do so, but now is not that time. Continue to build a relationship  with your friend and ask questions to show your genuine interest in their beliefs. There may be a time when you do feel comfortable in participating. There are also some places that I don’t think I would ever feel comfortable visiting, but I can still try to be a Christian friend to those of other religions so that I can show the love of Christ to them.
Have you visited a church service that was very different from your own place of worship? Did you find some elements that you liked and wished your church would implement? Share those thoughts in the comments below.
More reading: Why Are There so Many Denominations?