The Church that Doesn’t Exist

The top ten things I look for in my perfect church:

10. A church that isn’t too far away from my home, preferably a 10 to 15 minute drive.

9. A church that is actively involved in local and international social justice issues.

8. A church that offers a wealth of exciting, informative and life-changing Adult Education options, available at a variety of days and times throughout the week.

7. A church that is thoroughly intergenerational—all students in high school and younger would be paired with an older adult mentor.

6. An engaging, exciting, relevant, progressively-oriented, open and inviting twentysomething group that is co-pastored by a young couple just out of seminary, and staffed with engaging, exciting, relevant and progressively-oriented volunteers and parents from the congregation.

5. A church where everyone loves the young people in the church and encourages them to bring their unchurched friends to church (no matter what they look like) and has no problem letting the youth group band lead in worship.

4. A church that has a traditional service, a contemporary service, a modern worship service, a perfectly-blended worship service and an alt.worship gathering.

3. A service that is not too short, but not too long either – preferably an hour and ten minutes.

2. A pastor who is theologically trained (but doesn’t flaunt it), has an appropriate sense of humor and a wealth of life experience that makes for applicable and gripping stories that bring the scriptures to life.

1. A church where those who hold radically diverse theological beliefs sit next to one another, worship together and love and respect one another and their differences.

Church shopping—you’ve done it. We all have.

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When I first started college, I was overwhelmed with the amount of freedom I felt. At last, I could choose where I wanted to go to church, and even if I wanted to go to church. I remember going to a large, evangelical “bible-church” my first Sunday at college. I went and didn’t really like it. It wasn’t a big deal; I’d just try a different church next week. The next week came—along with the next church and the music was better, but the preaching was pretty boring. Again, no problem: there was always another week, another Sunday and another church. If you were lucky, you’d find a church within the first few Sundays, but sometimes it would take months, perhaps even years.

It’s pretty safe to say I spent my four years of undergraduate education church shopping. There were a few churches where I connected for a few months, one for a whole academic year, but eventually something would start bothering me—or the worship team would have an off week, and it was time to move on. This phenomenon, known as church shopping, effectively allowed me to live in a city for four years, and never once experience the true joys of fellowship and community while belonging to a local church body.

How does this happen? Why would I allow myself to go four years without finding a place to call my “church home?” Why did I miss out on the opportunity to form relationships with both peers and members of a local congregation? In many ways, it is because I was socialized to be an individualistic and materialistic consumer who needed to look for ways I could take care of myself. Growing up in certain Christian circles taught me that Christianity was about one thing: me and my personal relationship with Jesus. Having other people around was almost like a bonus, because you really only needed Jesus.

If I went to a church and it didn’t seem to be feeding my personal relationship with Jesus, then it wasn’t the church for me. I could have gone to the most socially-active, community-focused, mission-minded church and been completely unsatisfied; what was it doing for me and Jesus? Nothing, and since that is all the Christian faith was about, that church was just missing the boat. Granted, this may be an oversimplification of why church shopping seems to be such a phenomenon among young postmoderns. However, I think modernity’s individualistic thrust, and the privatization of Christianity, have been the two largest contributing factors to this trend.

A good friend of mine used to describe how he found a church to attend after moving somewhere new: “Well, I just go find the closest Presbyterian Church in the neighborhood. That’s it.” I’m aware that this type of attitude is unusual among emerging generations. Denominationalism is on the decline; people aren’t as concerned whether they’re Presbyterian, Baptist or Lutheran. However, while I used to think this idea of my friend’s was silly, what would happen if we all simply decided to pick a church and stay there? If Christianity is not solely about a private, individual relationship with Christ, and the church’s mission in the world is not solely to help nurture that private, individual relationship, what does it matter if a certain church isn’t “meeting your needs” or if you’re not feeling “spiritually fed” there? It’s not about you. It’s about the body, the greater community. The trend of church shopping is a clever illusion, while we think it will help us find the “perfect church”—it actually works against us and inhibits any possibility of experiencing true community.

Will we ever find the perfect church? No, it doesn’t exist. We need to stop looking for it. Instead, we need to choose a church and commit to it. Just like you commit to love your partner, with all their flaws, annoying habits and bad taste in music–you commit to the church, the church body, the body of Christ. When we begin to look past those flaws, we will see God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit, and we will see a faint shadow of the perfect community that exists in the fellowship in the One Triune God. Only then, will we have the opportunity to experience true community.

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