The Great Church Search

This is one of the most difficult aspects of moving. Finding a new church home.

Though our home-church, the church we have been part of since weeks after our wedding, the only church family our children have ever known — that church — is not perfect (and what church is?), we do love the people. The people in that church have been our family for more than 13 years. Our pastor and his wife . . . well, words cannot even express how we love them. Those are the people who have watched us grow from just-out-of-college-newlyweds to parents and what some may call real grown-ups. They have prayed for us, held and played with and prayed over our babies, laughed with us and at us, and cried with us. We’ve served together and we’ve served each other. We’ve visited each other in hospital rooms and living rooms, and some of them even were in the delivery room with me when I was in the early stages of labor with our first baby. We’ve cooked together and washed dishes together and eaten meals together more times than we can count. And now, we’re supposed to go find another family like that?

Every Sunday since we moved, I have cried. Other than the days when our extended families were gathering to celebrate Christmas without us, I have been most homesick on Sundays. I suppose that’s because Sundays are when our other family is gathering to celebrate Christmas and Easter without us. And I miss them. I miss their hugs during the greeting time. I miss walking into a place where I know and am known.

Last week we visited a big church. Not big by some standards — there is a church near here with like 12,000 members. But it is big for us. So big that one child was in tears when we left him at his class, another was near tears, and one child was in tears before lunch because she missed home and definitely didn’t want to go back to the church where she might get lost. Their greeting time was so brief, I barely had time to shake the hands of the two people in front and behind me. The message was solid, and the people were friendly enough . . . it just didn’t feel like it could be home.

Another week we visited a church our children love. They mostly love it because they know another family whose children go there, so they are thinking built-in friends. We liked many aspects of this church, but my husband and I don’t know that we could feel at home there either.

Today we visited another church. This church is small. Very small. But the people seem so real, and we could feel a sense of family among them. I was thrilled to sense that these are a people with vision, with a plan to reach their community for Christ. My boys like the praise band with the drum set. My girls are concerned this church might be too small, with too few potential friends. This church is praying for growth and that God would bring leaders and servants. We have some questions about doctrine we want to ask the pastor, but we can see ourselves feeling at home there. Maybe.

But we were sort of expecting something bigger. Something with programs we could plug into. Instead, this church would give us opportunities to start programs, to serve and minister and be part of its growth. Is that what we want? I don’t know. Is that what God has planned for us? I don’t know.So we’re praying. Do we find a church family that already has programs we can plug into? Or do we join a family that has opportunity to start something new?

We’re trying to have the right balance as we visit and pray. We want a place where we will be fed, a place that is doctrinally sound, a place with people who will minister to us. But we also want a place where we can minister, where we can serve. We are not only looking at what we’ll get out of it, but that does play a part if I’m honest. Especially since we have children.

We will keep on praying.

How about you? When you have been faced with the opportunity of finding a new church home, how did you find a new family? How did you decide? How did you know that you’d found the place where you belong?

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12 Comments

Filed under Christianity, church, faith

12 responses to “The Great Church Search

  1. Martha

    Oh, how I can relate! When we moved away from the first church where we were “Mr. and Mrs. Borders,” it was so hard every Sunday not to compare each new one to that first one. I also cried on the way home from each church in our new town that “wasn’t the one.” It was hard not to despair!

    The story of how we found our church? Our pastors at that first church in Shreveport were trained at Dallas Theological Seminary, and we loved the teaching aspect of their sermons and practical applications. Jim checked the DTS website and found the DTS pastors that were serving here in Colorado Springs. So we started visiting those first.

    Another teacher at the high school where I was working invited us to her church. (We have found that this doesn’t happen near as much as we think it should happen. In other words, we pay attention when someone loves their church enough to want you there.)

    We visited Faith EFC in October (after moving in June), appreciated the same teaching of the pastor and were invited to lunch at the pastor’s house. (This was part of a small home-potluck thing the church was doing at the time so families could interact with others over meals in each other’s homes.) We were impressed by the home visit of an Evangelism Explosion team soon after that first Sunday morning visit and their clear questions to determine where we were spiritually.

    We didn’t visit there again until December, but some people called us by name! (It was only a congregation of about 60, but their remembering me was HUGE to me.) We stayed for a business meeting one Sunday and saw God’s faithfulness in provision but also how the leadership was planning ahead with by-laws to protect the church body.

    As we attended Sunday school, we discovered the teacher rotation at the time included missionaries and former missionaries in the membership of the church, creating a richness and depth in the body that we really desired to learn from.

    God was faithful to provide a body for us and us for a body. Moving in June and finding one in December was a lot longer than I had imagined…I mean, we were moving to Colorado Springs, the home of over 100 Christian organizations, right?

    I think you are doing so well! It must be more difficult with children. A different church every Sunday is tough on you but more so on them, I guess. We haven’t done that yet, but we will be soon! πŸ™‚

    The other thing that was so hard for me was feeling like I was grading each church on a report card every Sunday. Doctrine? Worship music? Sermon? Friendliness? Distance from home? People our age? So many things to consider. I don’t know that I really worshiped in a genuine way because I was constantly evaluating. I sure hope I do that differently next time.

    We have also talked about how it might be better to spend two to four weeks at a church to get a better feel for the body (not to mention the fact that some Sundays, esp. in summer, you don’t hear the main pastor preach). You don’t get to visit as many churches as quickly this way.

    Another thought I have had (but have not practiced) is for one of you to visit churches on Saturday night or Sunday nights, maybe without the whole family. Then if it rated a second visit, take everyone.

    Our sermon this morning was Psalm 37.
    Trust in the Lord and do good.
    Delight yourself in the Lord.
    Commit your way to the Lord.
    and
    Be still and wait patiently for the Lord.

    That’s what you are doing! Be encouraged.
    I’ll be praying!

  2. evangelicalblogger

    Ya, I just moved 2500 miles and am looking too- I think I already found a good one- it’s big enough and has programs, meetings, etc. I have been in smaller churches, three of them, and though one part of me wants to help and feels sorry for a struggling smaller church, ultimately I think it takes a lot of people to create a church community that helps most Christians, so I wonder why some churches continue on as small bodies rather than joining others- on the other hand, many pastors start that way and some churches grow into big ones. I’m sure that’s a big debate- for me, at this point, I want to be in a bigger one with a number of interesting study groups.

  3. Martha, thanks for the comments. I so value your input. Visiting different places each week is hard on some of our children. Then there is Rachel . . . “I just love going to new churches and meeting new people!” I am surprised, though, how adaptable they are. I think visiting and speaking in different churches in the months prior to our move prepared them all for this time.

    I also am struggling with feeling like I’m critiquing a church rather than worshipping God. That thought struck both Patrick and me at the end of last Sunday’s church service when we sang “Here I Am To Worship.”

    At the same time, we do want to discern whether the teaching is sound and whether the people have a vision and whether it’s a safe environment for our children. Yet I do not want to have a shopping list mentality. I know there must be a balance here somewhere.

    When we were first married, we visited one church where we didn’t feel quite at home. Then we visited the church that ended up being our family. We just knew after that first Sunday that we would be taught truth, that we’d have opportunities to serve, that we would fit with the people, that we belonged. I know that is rare, but I think I was holding onto hope that we’d experience that small miracle twice in a lifetime. πŸ™‚

  4. Evangelicalblogger, what you say is very interesting in light of a conversation I had recently. My young friend, Sarah, and I were talking about church size. She said she could never go to the church with 700 people. It’s just too big, and there is no way you could ever know everybody. I tend to feel the same way.

    In a way, I can understand the benefits of a large church. A large church has the resources (both people and financial) for outreach that a smaller church may not be able to do. At the same time, smaller churches can reach out in more personal, sometimes more meaningful ways. And if many small bodies were reaching out in meaningful ways, then it would have a far greater effect than a large church doing a huge, impersonal outreach.

    Anyway, Sarah and I were discussing the purpose of the local body — to encourage one another, to exhort and reprove and hold each other accountable, to help and come alongside and bear each other’s burdens. I suppose small groups fulfill that purpose in a large church. But I think many people must fall through the cracks in large churches. Theoretically, small churches should be able to do a better job of serving the purpose of the local body.

    At the same time, I’m certain that’s not always the case.

  5. arabella

    MyDerbe,
    I am a mother of seven children from 4-17 and I try to give you some good advice.
    Do not allow your children make decisions or to vote against you.
    Let your husband decide. He is supposed to be the head of the family. Accept his decision as (if it were) God`s will.
    Worship God at home. Read the bible with your husband. Let him preach. Teach your children. Serve your family. Pray for them. Let them pray for you. Try to live your family life as if it were a small church. Do not exspect a new church to be so much for you. It is all about Jesus and very few about fellowship with strangers. Then every church will be good for you.
    May God help you to grow inHim.

  6. crystal

    Maybe we should talk on the phone about this one…although I long to just sit with you and see your beautiful smile as we talked…

    Our church in Oregon had around 700 members (that attended the 2 different services). As someone who grew up in churches of 50-150 people in attendance every Sunday (the towns I lived in while growing up had a population of 300-500ish), the thought of a “big” church intimidated me. How would I ever get to know people? Truthfully, Rob and I got to know more people in our big church than we had in the small church in Blacksburg we attended. Maybe we were more intentional about making relationships, maybe not…Don’t let the size completely intimidate you though. Also, listen closely for God’s voice. He will direct you where you need to go. πŸ™‚ I’ll be praying for you.

  7. missy

    Wow, this one I can relate to in a very big way. We have been looking for a new church home for over a year now!! I have don’t know that I’ve ever been so frustrated spiritually, let me tell you. I have also cried on many, many Sundays. I’ve prayed and prayed and cried to God to please, PLEASE give us wisdom and direction, so far none has come. We feel aimless, in a way.

    I’ve completely turned the decision over to my husband, although every Sunday (and during the week) we both discuss the churches together, and ask our daughter what she liked/disliked about them. She’s been pretty easy to please, really, and adjusts well each visit. (Although we do tend to NOT put her in a class the first visit, as we don’t yet know anything about the church and don’t want them teaching her some kind of weird doctrine) We try to give each church more than one week just to be sure…more times than not when we like it the first week, the second week is terrible. Sigh.

    At this point, we are in a position where my husband and I sort of just want to go back to our original church, despite the (many) problems that lead us to leave it, but we also found a different church that would be much better for our daughter. So now, we feel like we are choosing between her spiritual life and our own…how do we do that?!?

    We’d prefer less than 500 people, but the smaller churches we’ve visited seem to be small for a reason…they are boring and the sermons are meatless and dry. I want to be fed on Sunday, I want to feel life from the congregation, I want to be challenged to go further in my walk with God. So far, the smaller churches we’ve seen don’t have those things and lack many outreach programs, as they would grow the church and they all like it smaller…which seems to defeat the entire purpose of a church, to reach others and bring them into the fold!

    The bigger ones we are considering (one with about 1000 members and the other with over 3000) do have those things, but lack the ‘family’ feel. At our previous church, the one with over 3000 members, we went there for six years and only had about 6 friends. I stopped going for a while and NO ONE NOTICED! Or if they did, no one called to ask why. That broke my heart. So, I’m trying desperately to find a church where there will be more accountability, more relationship, more iron sharpening iron, yet meatier challenging preaching. A balance we are struggling to find.

    Confession: I have this terrible fear that one day I’ll face a terrible tragedy and have no one to call on spiritually for help. Sounds like an awful thing to think about, but it’s part of what drives me on to find a place where I’ll have some spiritual ‘backup’, do you know what I mean??

    Sorry to go on long, especially when I have no advice to offer…I just wanted to let you know you are SO not alone with this. I know that it isn’t a small thing, that it can drain your spirit and make you feel hopeless at finding the ‘right’ place. I just hold on to the hope (for both of us!) that God has a plan…we just need to keep walking, searching, praying, trusting.

  8. Lucinda

    Jen,
    I feel for you as your are searching for a new home. There are so many “news” in your life that it is difficult to live without the most meaningful aspect of your life. Once you find this new church the entire area will feel like home.

    After reading the comments, one thought that comes to mind is that it might take several weeks of visiting the same church before you know for sure. A suggestion would be to go to the church selected and look at one aspect of the selection. For instance, the children’s program. The next week return to the same church and evaluate the next aspect. This would be a way to not have such a “shopping list” when visiting a church. You might be a little more open to being relaxed and ready to accept what the church has to offer. I will be praying that your entire family finds the same place comfortable and ready to serve and worship together.

    God will make a way for you!

    Love and miss you,

    Lucinda

  9. Nickole

    Hey Jenn!

    You might be able to eliminate some of the stress by visiting each church for a set time, like a month. You would get a taste of the regular services, Wed. night suppers, or any special events they might have during that time. Obviously, you could bail early if any “red flags” (matching sparkle T-shirts!) appear. We all know God planted you right where you belong, and He’s preparing your church family for your arrival;)

  10. ha ha ha . . thanks, Nickole. πŸ™‚

    And thanks to everyone else. I have read and re-read every word. I appreciate the advice and words of experience. And, I welcome more.

    Thanks.

  11. Believe me when I say that I would NEVER try to force my beliefs on anyone, but I’m LDS (a.k.a. Mormon), and it’s such a comforting thought to know that the church is the same everywhere I go. Really, I’ve visited many areas over the years, and I always feel welcome and a part of the service. The youth programs are especially good. I promise not to go overboard, but I just have to add that my children are turning out to be these extraordinarily splendid young adults, and I give a lot of credit to the teachings they received in church. Nothing radical…just stuff like love one another, do your best, get an education, stay out of day, honor your parents, remain chaste until marriage, etc. Okay, I’ll get off my soap box now.

    Good luck in your quest for the right “fit” for you and your family.

  12. MarlaJayne, I am so glad you stopped by. Thanks for commenting. I do not want to begin a great debate in my comment section, and I do hope everyone who comments will be respectful and reflect the nature and love of Christ. πŸ™‚

    Having said that, I believe that the LDS teachings are not consistent with my beliefs and the Bible. I believe that Jesus is God. He did not become God; He is the Great I Am, Who is and was and forever will be. I believe that Jesus became a man, a perfect, sinless man, born of a virgin. I believe that He lived a perfect, sinless life and willingly died a painful, awful death to pay the penalty for my sins. I believe Jesus rose again the third day and, later, ascended into Heaven where He intercedes for me and prepares a place for me and all others who accept His payment for their sins and trust Him completely, relying on none of their own works. I believe that when I die or He comes back for me, I will go to be with Him there. Not because of anything I have done or could ever do, but only because of Him and His suffering for me.

    I believe that the Bible is God’s Word, perfect and without flaw. I believe that God says in Revelation that nobody should add to or take away from His Word. And so I do not believe that we need another book or added revelation. The Bible contains everything we need.

    I do not think that everyone who reads my blog has to agree with everything I say. And I don’t expect every comment to be in agreement with me. πŸ™‚ I do hope that everyone who comments will be respectful and kind and loving in how we express our opinions. So, even though we don’t agree, I do hope you’ll come back and read and feel free to comment.

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