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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Search for Church

I’m beginning to think that maybe I’m a bit of a commitmentphobe. I’m not anti-commitment relationally, I’ve been committed to my hubby since our second date. But I’m afraid of commitment when it comes to church these days. Maybe I’m just wishy-washy on making a choice. But really, like in dating, I’ve been burned before, and I fear getting dumped by the next church we join.

All my life I attended weekly Mass. (More on that here) I grew up and belonged to the same parish for my first 18 years of life. Then I went to college, shopped around the local Catholic churches and chose one to attend and remained loyal to for the duration of my college years. When I graduated and moved back home I bee bopped around and then I met Mark and we did a little church shopping until we decided on a local church. The church we attended was small, and in many ways restarting, but it was filled with love. The reason we decided to keep going to that church had less to do with the services and doctrine and more to do with how welcome we felt there. The pastor and his wife sent us cards and invited us over to their home. The members were warm and sincerely interested in us. It was easy to make this community our church home.

Then we moved and we realized it was not reasonable to commute 45 miles every Sunday to church (though we did for about 2 months). We were invited to a church near our house by a new friend and started attending. We liked the sermons and were impressed by how much Scripture we received. There were a few doctrinal issues we had and we weren’t into the over-the-top worship, but figured these were small issues. While we never felt a strong sense of community and it was actually difficult to converse with people for more than 1.75 minutes before they interrupted you to go talk to someone more important, we decided that would get better once we became members. So we went through six weeks of membership courses where we had to miss Sunday services, but it was all worth it when we stood in front of church and received our certificates. Then our phones started ringing off the hook and we received voicemails from people we had never met. Evidently these were church leaders looking for volunteers. We were more than willing to volunteer, but it was a bit overwhelming to be solicited by people we had never met, and to be asked to do so many things and miss so many services after we had just missed 6 in a row.

But we trudged forward, we were certain we would feel that sense of community once we got more involved. But then there was the pressure to join the same gym as everyone else and purchase supplements from members who were involved with a so-called Christian supplement company. This seemed strange and put us off a bit. But we were still determined to make this church our home. I don’t want to speak badly about this church (and maybe I already have) but the straw that broke the camel’s back was when Mark and I encountered hardship and our faith was questioned because of it. This was hurtful and after the pastoral leader heard through the grapevine that we might be upset (I think that might be called gossip) she arranged a meeting. I’m not going to go into details, but that meeting was the last time Mark and I stepped foot inside that church.

So we decided to bee bop around town. Its kind of exciting, dating all the cool churches. Sometimes the churches are a little too cool for us. The one that looks like a nightclub and the pastor wears jeans and a hoodie- not our style. Less because of t it’s cool factor and more because no Bible was read during the service, but they did stream verses across the screen like breaking news updates on Foxnews. Also there was no sense of community and I told Mark it felt like Catholic Church with K-love music and less reverence and even less message. We’ve also attended the church I talked about here. I was sure this was where we belonged, the pastor was warm and his sermons were full of love. They had multiple out reach programs but lacked discipleship. Mark is pretty excited about a church we attended last week. They are all about bringing back old orthodox traditions with the more modern spirit-filled, faith-based ones. We were met at the door with a warm welcome and explanation of their service. It seems like a church that fits Mark and I, but I worry about their lack of outreach ministries. Am I expecting too much from a church? Am I over thinking this like I used to over think everything back in my dating days?

Haven't quite found the church with a light show.
One morning, while perusing the google list of non-denom churches in town Mark and I got into a discussion (err argument) about why we wanted to attend church or the purpose of finding a church home. Mark stated that we have bookshelves lined with all the great preachers and teachers from the last few hundred years. We have 10 or more Bibles in 4 or more different translations. We have drawers full of worship music, we have CDs of sermons and internet live streaming from our pick of churches around the world. Are we really in need of solid teaching and Biblical interpretation. We don’t want to brag, but Mark and I are confident in our Bible literacy- we do a lot of study. Do we need a church to teach us more about the Bible or about Jesus’ love? Do we need a concert-like worship experience every week? We can worship in our home and we attend LifeLight every year. So if we don’t need a church for sermons and worship, why are we so desperate to find “the right church”?

Community. Fellowship. Discipleship. That’s basically it, we want to belong to a community of like-minded believers. We want to be able to discuss the books we’re reading. We want to belong to a Bible Study group again. We want more opportunities to serve. We need people. So maybe I should stop visiting churches with my checklist of 50 things I need in a church and just start looking for that feeling of love we had at our original church.

This welcoming committee is a little intimidating.
What do you look for in a church? What are you experiences of looking for new churches? Have you been dumped by a church before? Is any church really the right one?


  1. I hear you loud and clear! We just went through this for about 2 years. We are now home but it wasn't easy. It was harder for me, I was in leadership and I have lots of good friends but my husband wasn't comfortable and our oldest son wasn't being treated well. Our kids went from being excited to go to church, to all the sudden whining and crying because we were going. That was enough. We'd taken the kids to this one church for VBS in the summer. We live in a tiny town (3000 people) and the kids LOVED it and the adults were super friendly and sweet! So we thought, okay let's check it out. Beats 25 mins to church when we can go to church here in town and be there in less than 2 mins or walk when it's nice. My kids LOVE where they are love love love. My oldest is happy and all the kids are STRETCHING. My daughter helps lead children's worship on Sundays and I have SHY kids! They would have NEVER done these things at our old church. New church is out in the community. The middle schoolers did a local missions trip during spring break and it was awesome. I've made good girlfriends already. Husband has made some friends including the pastor who shares his love of hiking and camping.

    So no, I don't think you are expecting too much. When you are home, you will know it. It's a feeling you get :) It should be a community. You should feel like extended family. The hardest thing is making 6 of you happy :) I feel very blessed to see that we have that! Not only that but I was asked by the youth pastor to write next year's bible studies for the youth! Old church probably would not have ever done that but he did :)

    Please feel free to stop by: Trailing After God

  2. I used to want to be apart of the progressive churches but more and more I'm finding all that really matters is the community. My wife and I barely attend Sunday mornings anymore, often because we'd rather be together than sitting quietly in a service. We were apart of a community group (not necessarily a Bible study) that dissolved - that was more church than anything else I've been apart of. This sounds judgmental but I don't really consider Sunday mornings church, or at least in the usual way they are done. I have no interest in being apart of the cool church in town that throws the majority of its time, energy and resources into their Sunday morning shebang - it's misguided in my opinion. I'm also like you in that I'm well taught - and what I really need is fellowship.

  3. All of the above is great if you find it - and those churches are out there. But really, I'll take either/or. There have been seasons where hubby and I needed rest and found a healthy church with solid teaching, and great community - a place where we could be fed, encouraged, and edified. We also study a lot on our own, but that doesn't mean we can't learn a lot from a wise, godly teacher.

    But then there's the rest of the time (most of the time): We try to find a place that needs us - a place we can really serve and invest, a place that could do much more and be much more with us than without us. A place where we can disciple people, and support and encourage the leadership. In those situations it's up to us to feed ourselves...but then we get to help create the kind of community that will be positive for all those poor, frustrated people out there church shopping! :)

  4. We just went through church hunting and ended up in a small church with a strong sense of community. The fellowship of believers is very important for us and the church as a whole. The body of Christ is just that, a group of believers joined together to perform different functions as a whole.

  5. It's good to know that we aren't the only ones to have to go through some extensive shopping. ;)

    You said that I will know when I'm home by the feeling I get. I don't trust my feeling- we became members right away at the church that dumped us so I'm wondering if we should have a trial period before committing. The first church we visited after we left that church I was sure was "the one", but we decided to make a more educated decision. Also, having spent 24+ plus years going to Catholic Mass many times when a church feels like home to me, it's because it feels Catholic ;). Which isn't a bad thing, but I don't know if that's the right reason to choose a church. I think this is going to take a lot of prayer and surrender- God can figure this out, because I am way to conflicted.

    Thanks Mel!

  6. You have an interesting take on church Charlie. I have been going to church every week for as long as I can remember, I start to twitch if we miss too many- it's just something that I need. My husband gets into moods where he doesn't really see the point - but I think that's more of his rebellious nature.

    I agree that too much energy and resources go into some of these services. Church should not be a production every week. And I firmly believe that those resources and energy is better off promoting the kingdom in the community. Christ said it only takes too or more gathered in His name. I think simplification is the way to go. And I'm hoping it's the next new thing. Church like the apostles had- like you describe- is much easier than most church leaders understand. All it takes if people, the Word, and love. Because I'm pretty sure even the Bible tells us to fellowship, but it didn't say anything about attendance records.

  7. Oh yes, I agree, we can learn a lot from a wise, godly teacher. But I think no matter how novice or misled a pastor is, every now and then, all pastors hit it out of the park. And its always exciting to be in church when there is a great sermon, but I really long for community and place to be involved.

    It sounds like you and your husband are led or called to certain churches, and I think that's what I'm looking for to, to be called somewhere where God needs me. Thanks for your interesting perspective!

  8. Thanks Luther! It feels good to know others have looked fervently around for a church and found the community they were looking for. Fellowship is very important, it's awesome that you have found a place where that is promoted.
    Blessings Luther!
    PS Are you back from Arizona? How did everything turn out with grandma?

  9. Oh that's hard and a good point :) I do think you'll know when you get to the right place. If there's something missing like sense of community, keep looking. Because even if the sermons and worship are great, you will eventually become discouraged by that missing link. I think when it all comes together, you can sense it and God will make it obvious to you. That's been our experience. We spent 2 years looking and often kept going back to our old church out of discouragement. I had the sense of community there but my husband and kids didn't. It was a HARD move for me. So finding a place where all six of us are happy to attend is pretty awesome! God will place you where you need to be.


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