The past several months, I have been searching for “The One”. It’s been a surprisingly difficult search. I was sure I knew who it was when I started, but certainty eludes me now. I have many moments where I think that it should be easier, the “right” answer more obvious. If only it were that simple. Of course, I’m talking about finding a new church community.
I’ve had several conversations with people lately about the difficulty of finding a new church home after a move, a falling out, or even just a transition that makes change necessary. In fact, I’m surprised how often people just give up. Well, I was surprised before I started this journey. It’s especially difficult when you go from having deep connections and a clear sense of where you fit to nebulous uncertainty.
As an encouragement to others who may be in the same boat, I’m going to share the principles that are guiding my family’s search. Perhaps they will help you, too, if you’re in a season of searching or encourage you to restart the search if you’ve given up on finding a church home.
- Know Your Deal Breakers. First and foremost, it helps to know what you believe is necessary for a church from a theological standpoint. Disagreements in such a core area are only going to be messy. Moving beyond that, it’s okay to have deal breakers that others might consider preferences. For instance, we left our previous church because it took over an hour to drive there during commute times (roughly 8 am to 8 pm in the Bay Area. I’m joking, but only sort of). It was just not conducive to community, so distance is a deal breaker for us. Knowing these things in advance helps to narrow your search. Revisit this list as you search because it may change as you attend different churches.
- Go back. A Lot. I heard recently that it takes 6-8 meetings to begin to feel comfortable with other people. So almost every place you go is going to feel awkward that first, second, third visit. Any church can have an off Sunday in preaching or music. By committing to going for at least a month (or longer), you can actually experience what attending the church will be like over time. You also move past your own discomfort and can more accurately understand whether it will ever feel like home.
- Classes, Conversations, and Coffee. Go to the newcomer stuff before you know whether you’ll stay. Depending on the size of the church, it could be a class, a lunch, or a meeting with the pastor. Even if you’re really unsure, meeting people and getting the chance to have conversations helps you to feel more comfortable and gain a better understanding of who this church and its leadership are. Plus, they usually have free food, so that’s a bonus.
- Keep Trying. If a community doesn’t fit, find another one to try. Yes, it’s exhausting and scary. Yes, it’s hard to go through months of awkwardness only to find that you need to start again. Yes, staying in your bed on Sunday looks more and more inviting with each failed attempt. But as I mentioned several posts ago, the Bible sees meeting together as a sine qua non of following Jesus. Being a Christ follower means being connected to a local body. It means using your gifts to edify others in the church as well as receiving the encouragement, instruction, and service of other believers. It means having others who spur you on to keep the faith and pray for you when times are difficult. You need them and they need you. As the church we’ve been attending says, “Church is better where you’re here.”
I realize in reviewing this list that I didn’t single out prayer, but it can’t be overstated how important prayer is for this process. Every step needs God’s guidance. The community to which you end up connected is going to have a huge impact on your faith, so it’s a matter to talk through with Jesus. Besides, as I reflect on people I’ve known in many different churches, several felt called to stay in a church they didn’t love because it was where family members were growing or because they had gifts that the church desperately needed. Without prayer, we may find a place we’re comfortable when that’s not God’s desire for us at all. Depend on God to show you where he wants you throughout this whole process. When we ask for wisdom, God gives it to us.
If you’re searching, I join you in praying for the right community as I ask that you’d pray for us as our process continues. May you find a place where you can thrive for Jesus’ sake.
Is there a step you’d add to this list?