It’s been said that if you ever find the perfect church, it won’t be perfect anymore once you add yourself to the attendance. True. Someone recently asked me how to find a church they’ll be happy with. It’s really not that difficult of a question really. How do you find the perfect church, the one where you are supposed to be? These are not the days of Jesus delivering the sermon on the mount or of the disciples going out into the world and starting the first churches. I dare say that what we have today is nothing like the “churches’ described in the Bible.
As a child I attended the Catholic elementary school and church in our neighborhood. That’s what people did back then. You lived in a neighborhood with people who were living there before you were born. They knew your parents, where you lived and who your siblings were. Everyone knew each other. My school and church were both about a block away. I didn’t have to decide where to attend. It was pretty much laid out for me. Until the day we moved away it was not a question.
Fast forward to now. We live in a world where people constantly move. Each time we do, churchgoers are faced with “shopping” for a place to attend. Once again, when I was asked how to find a church, I basically explained that you would use the same strategy that you would for deciding on a Realtor, school, doctor or lawyer. Now, with the internet and social media, you can look up information about the churches in your area. You may have to visit a few and more than once. It’s entirely possible that you will hear the name of a church in your sleep or have a vision guiding you to one. I’ve not had it happen but that doesn’t make it impossible. So in the meantime you have to do it the old-fashioned way. You ask your friends about theirs, look at internet websites and visit as many as you can.
What I’m going to say next isn’t going to sound very spiritual but I believe it’s true. You must find a place that you like. Over my lifetime I have attended many churches of varying denominations, nothing weird, all were mainstream. Some of them were recommended by friends while others were stumbled upon. I’ve heard it said that leaving a church is a bad thing if not related to a geographic move like a job relocation. Every church wants to maintain and grow its membership. None of them want to see the numbers go down and often genuinely express concern that once you leave you may give up going to church altogether. But, that’s not what this post is about so I’ll move on.
Some of the things I am about to say are going to rub some people the wrong way but that’s okay. I have visited several churches in the past few months and know what I like and don’t like. Does the Holy Spirit guide us to the right one? I believe so. At the same time we are humans and if you try to remain at a church you don’t enjoy then you probably are not going to stay very long. Will you find the perfect one, that suits all your needs and desires? Probably not, but you should be able to get awfully close. When you find the right one, God will give you grace to ignore and not even realize the little things that would otherwise bother you.
Let me tell you how I choose a church and you can dismiss me as superficial and unspiritual but since it’s Sunday it occurred to me that I’d like to write about this.
When our family was still pretty young, one day we pulled our van into the lot of a church we had heard about. As we unloaded our kids, one of the staffed walked from the building over to us and greeted us even before we could reach the building.
Tip 1: If there is not adequate parking it could be frustrating. I get a bad feeling if I see vehicles circling the lot unable to find a space, then arriving late for the service because the closest parking was at the hospital a block away.
Tip 2: See if the building and property are well-kept. Not immaculate, just properly maintained. It’s a good indication of how they will care for people. Not always, but much of the time.
Tip 3: We were surprised to be greeted at our vehicle. That was an unexpected bonus. When you get inside, besides the person that may have opened the door for you, at least one person should notice you and say hello. If not then I would say it’s a bad sign. I’m not just talking about the first time you visit either. Caution: If you make the first move to greet someone and you always have to be the one to initiate a greeting, that’s not good.
I have been in many churches and served in positions of leadership more often than not. This being the case I may know more things than the average member, maybe not. This may seem petty, but once you get inside, you can decide if you are going to freeze or sweat, be overwhelmed by the sound system or have to find seats so you can be close enough to hear the speaker or worship leader. Are you going to sit on a rock-hard folding chair for a couple of hours?
Tip 4: Decide if you are going to be comfortable. Will you be happy if you can bring a sweater or jacket along or are you going to be one of those asking an usher to change the thermostat? Are the chairs just right or are you going to need to carry a cushion with you? Do they have a nursery if you need it, a children’s service or youth group? Is it too dark, too bright? There are lots of other things that only you would be able to list. It may not sound spiritual but if you intend to join or come often you should check all these things out.
I’ve mostly attended southern churches. I can’t speak of northern preachers nor can I compare the two. I have a feeling that there are some differences in the speaking styles. I have been to churches where the pastor or guest speaker should not have been using a microphone. Since he/she insists on shouting the entire sermon, no one is going to have trouble hearing. You know what I am talking about.
Tip 5: Personality and style shouldn’t be everything but you should enjoy the sound of what you are hearing as well as the content and the spirit. A pastor should be a skilled speaker even more than many other public speakers. Bad speaking habits can be tolerated up to a point. They shouldn’t interfere with the message. If you don’t enjoy being asked for an Amen every few seconds perhaps it isn’t the right place for you. If the most used word is “um”, if he has to say the same thing 5 times, if you are required to repeat everything he says and if most of the time he/she is weeping, well you decide.
I wasn’t around when Jesus preached. I dare say He was fascinating to listen to. I know he was not supposed to be anything special to look at. People were willing to sit all day on rocks and sand with little food and in the hot sun. We are not accustomed to that. We live in a time where churches are nice climate controlled buildings and you are out in time for lunch. In my visits to various churches I’ve encountered as many styles. You have to pick the one that suits you.
A word about serving in the church. My wife and I have almost always been and usher, deacon, board member, class or youth group leader, and the list goes on. We’ve always become “members” once we knew we were in the right place. If within just a few visits you are asked to fill a position, the church may have high turnover and be in the “needy” category. There is nothing wrong with serving or being asked to serve but everyone who walks in the door shouldn’t be looked at as fresh stock.
A word about membership. This might really ruffle you. My family has always joined and become members of where we attended. Some had elections for the pastor and board members and you could not vote if you weren’t a member. I’m rethinking my position about joining a church. When I became a true Christian, when I say true I mean not just a label I place on myself (that’ll have to wait for another post) I believe I joined “the church”. I’m not sure that I need to “become a member” of a local church. I don’t remember reading anything in the Bible about taking membership classes. I’m not sure that it’s biblical to say “I am of (fill-in the name of the church or pastor)”.
A word about giving. Our tithes and offering went to that church. Churches need your money to pay salaries, keep the lights and air on, help the poor, maintain the building, etc. If you attend somewhere and don’t give financially, it’s like eating at a restaurant and not paying for your meal. Since leaving my precious church, I have only been a visitor at many different ones. Even though I’m not a member, I always give a tithe and offering as though I was. I do believe that God blesses giving even though you may not see an immediate return. By giving where ever you happen to be that day, you at least pay for what you are receiving. I don’t mean a buck or a token offering. I mean whatever a tithe is if you were attending regularly.
I’ve been to churches that were on a fairly rigid schedule due to having several services in a row. A pastor can’t afford to digress and meander down different roads if there’s another crowd waiting for the same sermon. I’ve been to others that will preach for a long time and never make their point.
Tip 5: You should look forward to the message and the music. If either one feels wrong then you have not found the right church.
Tip 6: Just because it’s a church doesn’t make it all okay. I’ve been to churches where I could barely wait until the service was over. I’ve sat, frustrated and confused, wondering what the point of the sermon was and what was going on with the worship. Don’t settle.
Currently I am attending a church where the worship team sounds professional and I look forward to and understand the message of the sermon. I am greeted by more people than I can count, when I get there and when I leave. I’m not saying it’s perfect because there is no such thing. You may have to visit several churches multiple times to find the one that is right for you. It’s not just a matter of agreeing with the doctrine. If you don’t look forward to the entire service you need to keep looking. If you don’t look forward to the next week then you probably are at the wrong place. It may be right for the person next to you but not for you. Everyone, every worship leader, preacher and everyone who attends, can have an off day but it shouldn’t be routine.
I’m no expert on churches or Christianity, just a person with an opinion and this blog as a forum. I like to hear what others think as well. So feel free to comment. Maybe it will help someone.