The Great Church Hunt: The Search for a Church
Have you ever searched for a church? Seeing as we recently moved to the other side of the world, we have been hunting for the right church to commit to as a family. I hesitate to use the term ‘church shopping’, however you get what I mean. My husband and I have never really church hunted before. But this time we wanted to have a good look around. You know there are even apps around to help one with this whole process! But we just comprised a mental checklist and I looked at various church websites to get a feel for the heartbeat of the church. On our list were the requirements that the church be:
- Committed to biblical truth and missions. We also wanted to be discerning about the doctines that the church teaches.
- We also stipulated that the church be gracious, and a place where there is loving community.
- We were looking for a place to belong, a place to be known.
- We also wanted a church with a thriving Sunday School and Youth Group, and a critical mass of children that our children can grow up with.
We live out in the countryside, and so we began our search for a church in a nearby town and city after visiting our local village church which has only one service a month (and is also very traditional). So we set about visiting around six churches and two of them made the short list to the next round! All the churches we visited were different denominations, but all were denominations that we were familiar with, and we took the premise that it’s the same God after all! There will be no denominations in heaven!
I was initially reluctant to go to another inner city church, as I have spent a large part of my life in inner city churches and have found that sometimes it is difficult to have community when the congregation comes from all over a city. However of the two small town churches that we visited, one just didn’t feel right and the other didn’t really have a critical mass of children. Last Sunday we went to the church that my husband grew up in which is a large and very vibrant C of E church. And they were so friendly. They had the welcoming of visitors down to a fine art. I’ve started going to a Monday morning women’s bible study at this church and they told me that no matter what decision we make about church, the group is for all women, regardless of what church you go to.
We also took into consideration the feelings of our eldest child. And the church that we have chosen to go back to is one that he is really enthusiastic about. Yay! And if the kids are happy, I’m happy. Sure it’s a 25 minute drive into church, but that is doable. So for now we have decided on an inner city church. I’m glad that we have decided on a church for now, as I didn’t want the whole process to take a year or so. I want to be in community. But here are some thoughts on church hunting:
If you are in church leadership, you may wonder what people in our culture are looking for and how you could best welcome them into church. I think many people in our culture are hungry for community and connectedness. For church leaders, it’s important to get the balance right between engaging visitors to make them feel welcome and giving them space so they don’t feel pressured. Churches need to be friendly but not pushy. One of the pastors we met put it rightly – ‘I realize that you might want to have a good look around, but you are always welcome here.’
Obviously a church can’t spend all its time trying to make visitors happy. If a church tries to become what it thinks people want, then it may risk watering down the gospel. And a danger for church hunters like us is that we can easily move into a consumer mentality. When we look for a church, we can think about it like we are visiting someone’s home. We can be gracious rather than evaluative. Rather than focus on the things that we don’t like, instead we can affirm what the church does well. Perhaps the music isn’t quite our cup of tea, but they do pastoral care really well. We can seek to worship rather than evaluate. And we can look for a church where we can serve. After all, we go to church to give rather than to receive. I also think that we need not worry about our ‘fit’ with that church. Sometimes we can worry too much about ‘fitting in.’
I now have a new appreciation for what it is like to be a visitor to a church, and when we find a church home I want to make it my mission to be friendly and welcoming. It can make such a difference to a person’s day if someone has a simple chat with them at church. But of course, for community to flourish it needs to go deeper than this. In our hunt for a church, we haven’t been hunting for a perfect church, just a welcoming, healthy and vibrant one. It’s a difficult thing, finding a church that will spiritually feed all members of the family, and also be a place where you can impact the church and have a role. And it’s even more challenging if you have been hurt in church. That’s most of us, right? If you have church hunted, what have been your experiences? I’d love to hear from you.