I'm in Atlanta on study leave for the purpose of visiting churches. Why do I do this and which churches do I visit?
My professors in college used to say that it didn't matter what you studied; any subject could prepare you for success in the world because what you really need to learn is just two things: how to analyze a problem and how to communicate a solution. So you could be an English major who becomes an investment banker or a history major who rises to be a CEO.
That's the approach I take when studying churches. I'm not looking to blindly replicate what they do. That's futile - their situation is not my situation. At the same time, just as one can study Lincoln's decision to replace Gen. McClellan in the Civil War and learn from it, even though I'm not fighting wars and not leading cavalry, I can learn from observing the issues churches are facing (publicity, encouraging discipleship, lighting, sound, children's ministry) and try to discern how they've analyzed these problems and developed solutions.
How do I pick churches to visit? I tend to visit only two types of churches: highly successful churches and startups. Why? Because I believe that these are the churches most likely to be actively engaged in problem solving. Too many mainline churches are basically coasting. They are not confronting their problems realistically or with any sense of urgency.
My weekend plans call for me to visit five churches; two on Saturday and three on Sunday. My Saturday churches are FUSIONChurch, (http://www.fusionchurchatlanta.com/) a startup of the Seventh Day Adventists, and Perimeter Church (http://www.perimeter.org/) a congregation of the conservative Presbyterian Church in America that was founded in 1977 and now attracts over 2,000 families per weekend.
My Sunday morning visits will be to two of Andy Stanley's campuses: the parent North Point Community Church (www.northpoint.org) and Buckhead Church (www.buckheadchurch.org); I can't wait to see their high-def videocast of the preacher's message. Sunday evening I will visit the high-powered startup: Passion City Church (http://www.passioncitychurch.com/). This startup is the first time noted speaker Louie Giglio has tried to be the pastor of a church - and he recruited Chris Tomlin to be his worship leader. They aren't even holding worship every week yet. I can't wait to see it.