How to Go Church Shopping
September 17, 2009
Church hunting. Church shopping. Finding a church home. Whatever you want to call it, it's a necessary process for most of us as we step out of the churches where we grew up and into the unfamiliar. For the first time, we're faced with making the "where do I go to church?" decision on our own, without much input from parents, friends or even a sturdy community.
And there's that word: "community." Every time the word "church" is used in the Bible, it implies a group of people and never a building. So whether church-shopping Christ ians attend a mega or a storefront church, what they should search for is a community to enter int o, not a building to frequent. “ We aren’t crea ted to be as isolated as we are,” says Whitney Stevens, whose recent move brought her to a multi-cultural church in the heart of a city . “ But i t’s harder to be involved in a community, it ’ s not as comfo rtable, you don’t like everyone … but you grow and grow.
“I t makes things a lot more difficult because it is lonely to go to some place by yourself. And I'm social!” she continues. " I f I was going by comfort level and feelings, I probably wouldn’t have gone to church. It made me go out on a limb and meet people. ”
W hen shopping for most products , most people have an idea of what they want. Just like some people will always buy Chuck Taylors because that's what they've always bought , some people settle into a church because it is a familiar denomination or style. That's not necessarily wrong, just like Chucks aren’t a bad thing; but choosing a community to enter into is a more serious decision than how you will look on Saturday night.
So wh y should someone choose a church ? For Pastor Nick Nye of the Veritas Community Church in Columbus , Ohio , the answer is all about family.
“ It’ s the people that you're comm itted to, the fact you are committing to something outside of just yourself, to the cause of the G ospel ,” he says. “ [You should look to find] a place you [can be] invested in. I think people should have an attitude of want ing to find a real home, not just a hotel room for the night [a place where they can say ,] 'T his is my family, my home, where I protect and defend and where I invite people to.'"
The community thing
Community and how it is expressed has as ma ny forms as there are fast-food joints; travel from place to place and the landscapes and styles change . Even how someone finds a church is changing and evolv ing with the advent of social networking and online community. Think of how people would search for a church; instead of the Yellow Pages, they're much more likely to consult Google or other online tools. Websites have become more important than ever for churches, so s ome like Discovery Church in Orlando , Fla., are trying to take community into the website, making it interactive.
“Taking our cue from LifeChurch.tv, who pioneered this idea, we have church online,” says Discovery online pastor Bernard DeLoach. “ Just like the lobby of church, the chat ‘lobby’ is opened up 15 minutes before church. T he s ame conversations happening in the lobby of the church happen on the chat board. We have connection groups online, too, with someone leading them and trying to go deeper.”
It is no coincidence all these churches are trying to build community, but t here needs to be a purpose for the community . So what is it ? Is it simply to get together once a week and praise God together, or is there more?
“ P art of the church’s role is to be among people, for the community , reaching out and spreading the name of Jesus, showing what it looks like to live a Christ-centered life,” says Matt Bubalo, a marri ed mental health tech who recently moved and found a church home of his own . “There's a need for a blend of action and doctrine.”
Finding Christ and Christ crucified
As churches get more creative in attempting to attract new members with catchy websites and more programming, what are the essentials someone should look for? Sunday services are changing as fast as culture changes, offering a dizzying blend of church forms, music—everything from the latest praise music to ancient forms of taize—developing programming for kids and many, many more options, all of which will affect how someone chooses a church. A nd that's just on Sunday.
“[People need to ask] n ot just 'where is the cool band, the cool preaching, the r elevant music,' any of that junk,” Nye says. “ Wha t place is preaching the Gospel, what church is all about Jesus Christ and Him crucified, not just, 'Hey we have all these flashy programs and kids ministry.' Is the program tak ing the place of Jesus, of the G ospel? If I was new, I would go in with the mindset of 'I will take a church that has a bad band or pretty crappy kids min istry that preaches the Gospel.'"While the Bible seems to make it clear that we are intended to enter into community commonly called "church," what is the responsibility of that church?
“ Our chur ch has three rhythms,” Nye says. “C ommunity service (serving the world, our community, the down and out, up and out), learning (discipleship and study, hearing the Word preached,
preaching the Gospel to each other) and mission (advancing the Gospel, church planting, global missions). Those are three things that every church should have as [part of] their DNA . ”
For DeLoach at Discovery, one of the things he sees as necessary
is connection groups. In these smaller groups that meet outside of the Sunday service, people have the opportunity to dive deeper into each other's lives.
“I think they are critical to any Christian walk,” he said. “In the REVEAL Study (a church analysis study) , we found involving other people in his or her life causes a person to continue moving forward in their spir itual journey . I'm married , which is community, and I also have frien d s and it is [these connections that] spur me on, even though by nature I am an introvert. ”
Embrace the familial messiness
And, of course, m ost churches won’t fit exactly into the ideal mold. Because of size, budget, leadership or any number of factors, churches mimic our human condition as Christians: fallen but striving to follow the Master. So what responsibility does a potential church-goer have toward entering into the messiness of community?
“ I think it's a difficult thing, weighing a church that suits you, where you will be spiritually fed, b ut also a place where you can impact the church, a place where you can have a role,” Bubalo says. “ It is the [ John F. ] Kennedy quote applied to church: ' Ask not w hat your church can do for you but what you can d o for your church.' You don’t just want to be a consumer. ”
The challenges involved in weighing all these options also involve the fact that it is a place that is new; goodbye to old friends and hello to the awkward conversations that always involve the same questions: “What do you do?” “Who do you know at this church?” Finding a church is not always comfortable or ideal, but families are never perfect. I f the church you find reflects a community seeking after God, it may not always be easy, but it will always be worth it.
Chris Rule is an editorial intern at RELEVANT.