As a pastor I have come across a lot of people who are in search for a church home and who frankly, really struggle with the process. It can be a really difficult and scary journey, one that seems never ending for some. I thought it would be really helpful to a lot of people to jot down a little encouragement for those who are searching for the right church home.
5 Things to consider when searching for a new church home
1. The perfect church doesn’t exist.
We are not the exception to the rule despite what we will try to convince you over your first month. The perfect church doesn’t exist because the church is made up of people and no perfect people exist. So the question isn’t whether you will find a perfect church but once you find the place you feel God has planted you in, will you stay when you are often reminded of the imperfection of your brothers and sisters? Will you love them still? Also, good churches have bad days as do good people, so don’t toss the baby out with the bath water. That’s a ridiculous old saying (who would do that?!) and have no idea where it comes from but it sure does apply to a lot of situations in life. The truth is that its really hard to know the heart of a house in just one visit.
2. Consider how God might be starting a new work in your life.
To everything there is a season. Once I heard a wise teacher say that every person has 1-2 church moves in their lifetime within the same city, so he was not counting those that have to move often for work and thus find a new church at each stop. 1-2 moves within their lifetime! We live in a much more transient day and age than ever before. Job mobility is a major deal in the 21st century job market. And people church hop like crazy. Some “shop,” some “hop.” That conversation is for another day. Nothing wrong with looking for the right church home but I worry that we do harm to the plant that is trying to grow by regularly uprooting it. As you move into a new season, be ready for God to do some new stuff in your life. I believe God will allow you to tap into and release new spiritual gifts, unlock new passion and ultimately meet the needs of the new body you are connecting yourself to.
3. Strong and meaningful relationships take a long time to develop.
I recently read a study that talked about meaningful relationships in our lives and specifically about how long it takes to develop them. The average amount of time it took for a person to move from being an acquaintance to a casual friend was about 50 hours of quality time. To move from a casual friend to an actual friend was nearly double that at 90 hours. And to move from a friend to someone you consider to be a close friend was roughly 200 hours of quality time. I think of this in terms of the church world and I totally agree with the time. There are 52 Sundays in a year. I think after the first year at a church you can become casual friends with everyone with a mild involvement of showing up most of the weekends in a year, even though I wouldn’t classify a Sunday morning worship gathering to be quality time, though God might multiply our closeness through the Spirit. After nearly two years people start to feel like friends and after close to 4 years you can call these people your close friends. If you really want to develop meaningful relationships then you just need more time. Be intentional to water your relationships with quality time wherever you find yourself planted.
God has designed the church to be a living, moving and breathing organism of spirit-filled connectedness with a singular focus and goal, to glorify God by building one another up and pointing others to Jesus. We cannot do this apart from loving relationships. The organization is a necessary skeleton to provide structure for the body but it is loving relationships that provide the meat and muscle on the bones.
4. Know what’s open handed and close handed
Ever watch one of those shows where the couple is about to buy a house and they have all these “must-have’s”? The realtor tells them that their list is totally unreasonable based on their budget. Isn’t this a little bit how we approach finding a church? We have our list of “must-have’s" When each one of us step into a church asking ourselves, "is this the place for me?" we come in with a list of close handed items which are important to us and a list of open handed items of which we value less. Having a clear picture of what’s open handed and close handed will actually make the decision making process much easier and I encourage you to do this with your spouse if you’re married. As you begin to think about your open handed list and your close handed list I encourage you to consider that some of the items on your lists may be in the wrong list. When we do this we come face to face with our long list of preferences. We should never allow our preferences to be honored above God’s word nor the places he chooses to plant us. I have honestly grown so much in churches that didn’t meet all my preferences. I didn’t worship or serve because of the music or the style of small groups I preferred. I did so out of love for God and His people. This is the purity of heart that God desires and will always allow us to be led by God to His perfect plan for our lives.
5. Pray about it
Rocket science right?! How often do we reason within ourselves and don’t submit it in prayer. It doesn’t have to be fancy. Doesn’t have be confirmed 32 times over. Sometimes it's just a peace inside. Other times its looking at the fruit of the impact already in your life and knowing you’re in a place that is going to help you grow in your faith and in friendships too.