Who knew that finding a church would be so hard?
For the first time in 28 years we found ourselves living in a large city, looking for a church where we fit in. The intervening 28 years we've lived in four small communities in largely rural counties. In each of those communities we easily found a church to call home. Two were small churches (fewer than 100), one was mid-sized (between 300 and 400) and one was quite large (over 2800).
When we decided to relocate to the city - a move prompted by the job offer that was too good to refuse - we anticipated finding a church close by. We were looking forward to making new friends, becoming involved in outreach and ministry in the community, and worshipping with like minded believers.
Before we started our church search we put together a list of what we'd look for in a new church:
- Friendly people.
- Uplifting worship
- Expository preaching
- An outward focus
This doesn't look like we've set the bar too high, does it? We've been around the block, so to speak, with church. We know what churches can do well and what they can't, so I think our expectations are reasonable.
I think most church visitors - like us - feel strongly about a friendly church. I did some Internet research and discovered that some churches work hard at church visitor retention. But the churches we've visited have mostly bombed on this regard In most of the churches we've visited there was no genuine greeting before the service and in every one of them there was no greeting whatsoever after the service.
Hardly a way of exceeding a church visitor's expectations!
I have my doubts about the outward focus on a church that does a poor job of receiving and welcoming guests who wander into their services. If they are so unaware of church visitors who come with some motivation and need, how will they connect with people out in the community?
Most of the churches do a pretty good job on having good quality music and worship time. The talent varies from church to church, but we're not looking for professional musicians. If we find a church that has that level of talent that would be fine - as long as the service doesn't become all about the show.
Before we finally found and settled on a new home church, I was gravely disappointed by the quality of preaching we'd heard. Most of what we heard from the pulpit was shallow, "moralistic, therapeutic deism" that was largely divorced from the biblical text. Just awful.
Several pastors were expository preachers but their sermons were dry. They didn't do a good job of helping the audience move from the "then and there" of the text to the "here and now." In other words, they didn't explain how the same doctrines that were applied to the original audience (the people to whom the Bible book was written to) applied to me. The world of the Bible's original audience is different than my world but the biblical doctrines will apply in both worlds. The question the pastor needs to help me understand is how it applies to me.
How about you? Are you a church visitor looking for a church home? How will you know it when you find it?