Some things about moving are easy. Boxing and unboxing your belongings is pretty straightforward. If your relocation is for work, then you already have a job to go to. Schools for the kids are based on where you live so you just have to enroll them and drop them off. Other things are not so simple, however. My experience had been that finding good doctors and a good church are two of the most difficult aspects of a relocation.
We moved to a different state a year ago this month. Twelve months after the move, we are still looking for a church home.
Part of the problem is the sheer number of churches in our rural Georgia county located near a small (by Texas standards) city. I can’t find a reliable comprehensive listing of churches in our county, but one online source lists 48. There are almost certainly more than that, but even that number increases when churches across the nearby county line that are still within a 20-minute drive are considered.
The large number of churches presents a problem in two ways. First, it is difficult to visit so many churches without getting confused and overwhelmed. Second, the high number of churches per capita means that most of the churches are very small and have limited resources.
The number of possible churches can be culled if we focus on certain denominations. I was raised as a Southern Baptist but we have also been members at a couple of Methodist churches. My family is comfortable with both branches of the faith. Additionally, we have attended some charismatic denominations with friends. It’s a matter of taste, but charismatic churches tend to be a little too “energetic” for me. Still, we’ve tried a couple of them as well.
In my view, no one denomination has a lock on the truth, but going to a church of a certain denomination is like going to a chain restaurant in that you have a pretty good idea of what you’re going to get. If you walk into a McDonald’s, the decor may be different from a franchise somewhere else and there may be different faces and accents, but you’re going to get a McDonald’s burger and their famous fries.
The most important thing we look for in a church is Biblical teaching. I don’t want to waste time with a pastor that preaches feel-good theology or, worse yet, who says things that contradict the Bible.
A few years ago, we walked out of a church where the pastor was preaching a name-it-and-claim-it type sermon in which he said that all Christians needed to do to be healed was have faith and that, if you weren’t healed, your faith wasn’t strong enough. Lazarus would probably disagree. The first-century man who was raised from the dead by Jesus had probably seen Heaven and had great faith after meeting Jesus. However, eventually Lazarus went back to the grave and stayed there. Healing is not always God’s plan, no matter how great your faith is.
We also consider nondenominational churches. One of our favorites in our new home is nondenominational. The pastor is good but lacks formal theological training leading me to be concerned about doctrinal errors in his teaching.
Beyond a Biblical message, we are also looking for a church with something to offer for the whole family. We have a teen and a tween and need a church with age-appropriate programs that will keep them interested and engaged as they get older. I don’t want my children to be among those who fall away and I realize that keeping them in the faith will be easier if going to church is something that they enjoy as opposed to something that they have to be nagged to do and can’t wait until it’s over.
Finding a church with a good youth group is one of the most difficult aspects of searching for a church. Many churches have good programs for children but very few, at least in our area, have many high school kids. This is probably due in part to the fact that the churches as small, as noted previously, but the local churches seem to be largely failing older kids. With a plethora of other activities, churches seem to be getting lost in the shuffle.
I think it’s particularly important for my ninth-grade son to get plugged in, make friends, and keep growing into a Christian man. It’s my belief that churches are a good place to meet good people and, in his case, good girls. Teenage boys tend to be interested in things that draw teenage girls.
To all that, add other factors such as friendliness and convenience. Quite a few of the churches that we’ve visited seem like tight-knit social clubs rather than evangelical bodies. When we are almost totally ignored at churches we visit, it makes me think that outreach is not a priority.
As far as convenience, I have to work weekends fairly frequently so we need a church that will be comfortable for my wife to attend without me. Sunday morning inertia can be difficult to overcome when both of us are home, but it is even tougher when the woman of the house has to motivate herself and both kids to get out of bed and into church. The same problem applies to Wednesday nights after a long day of work and school.
I haven’t even touched on other aspects of church personality such as music style, formal versus casual, small versus megachurch, and whether the congregation feels comfortable with reactions such as clapping or just sits stoney-faced. I have preferences in these and other areas, but I don’t view them as critical.
So pray that God will direct us to a good church and that we will know it when we find it. I’m sure that there is one out there that He has in mind for us. Until we find it, we’ll keep praying, visiting, and searching.
And if we are searching, I’m sure that many other families are as well. If you’re a pastor or church member, be welcoming to unfamiliar faces. Make them feel at home. Even if it turns out to be another church member that you haven’t met yet, you still made someone’s day.
Along that line, churches should have a greeter to direct visitors to where they need to go so they aren’t forced to wander around aimlessly. Post your service times online so they know when to show up. If you have them fill out a visitor card, follow up with a phone call or letter telling them you’re glad they came. Better yet, send someone out to visit and find out if you can do anything for them. This also applies to longtime attendees who stop coming.
The irony is that even with a lot of available churches, many are not filling the needs of the community. Maybe this is why, as Jess Fields described earlier this week, churches in America are dying and religious “nones” are on the rise. I want to avoid that for my family.