“How do I find the right church?”
Maybe you’re new in town. Maybe you’re new to the whole church thing. Maybe you just need to leave the church you’re at.
Whatever the reason…
Finding a new church to call home can be frustrating.
But, Dawn and I believe finding the right spiritual home is worth the frustration because:
- Christ designed His followers to function and grow best in congregations.
- The church you belong to will have a lasting impact on your — and your family’s — spiritual growth.
- Your church is the vehicle through which you share in Christ’s mission (see Matthew 28:19-20).
- One day you’ll be in need, or sick, or depressed, or dying — and you’ll want to know your church will be there for you.
Dawn and I recommend this strategy for finding a new church home:
1. Write Down Your Motives
Try starting with this sentence: “I want to find a new church home because…”
Then write down all the answers that immediately come to mind. It’s important to be honest, and uncritical about this step. It may be that you don’t like the new pastor, or that your teenager isn’t connecting. Maybe you’re concerned about your current church’s message or mission. Maybe there’s a scandal. Or, maybe you feel you just can’t forgive someone.
2. Write Down Your Priorities
Next, complete this thought: “The most important thing to me about a church is…”
Again, write down all the answers that immediately come to mind and try to be honest and non-judgemental with yourself for now. Maybe you want a church with a particular doctrinal tradition, or one that focuses on social justice issues. Maybe you want people your age, or a musical style that appeals to you. Maybe preaching matters most to you. Maybe it’s the denomination. Maybe it’s the children’s programs. Or, maybe you just don’t want it to be ______.
3. Ruthlessly Examine Both
Now lay your motives and priorities out in front of you and read them over. Then, close your eyes and pray. We suggest you pray something like this:
Father, I bring all of this to you. I know that even the best of my motives fail to bring the honor due your Name. I know that even the wisest of my priorities fall short of the wisdom of Christ. Purify my motives, and grant me Christ’s wisdom. Guide me by Your Word and Spirit to find the right church for me, for the right reasons.
Now, we suggest you use a website like BibleGateway.com or YouVersion.com to search the Bible for anything related to your motives and priorities in finding a church. Try searching for words like church, elder, deacon, mission, ministry, disciple, authority, body, message, gospel, grace, doctrine, or teaching. Really dig in. This will help you develop a biblical picture of what church is supposed to be about, as well as your role in it. Then, let what you find begin to reshape your motives and priorities. (Caution: You may discover you need to stay put.)
How This Looked In Our Lives
After 13 years as members of Perimeter Church (Perimeter, for short). Dawn and I reluctantly decided to move on. Our search took the entire summer and into autumn. It required a lot of discussion and prayer, both as a couple, and with our youngest daughter, Heidi. (The older kids have moved on). We visited multiple churches, multiple times, and only recently moved our hearts and minds from visiting to home.
We had only one, unusual motive: Dawn’s peace of mind.
Over the last few years, our church has been slowly migrating toward what I call a more concert-like approach to the Sunday morning service. This included darkening the worship space and using colored stage lighting. Many churches are embracing the trendy concert approach even more than our church. The darker atmosphere may feel familiar and set a mood of intimacy with God for some people. But for Dawn, who struggles with anxiety and depression, it felt just plain dark and eerie. Upon entering the darkened auditorium, her mood would sink as she wrestled with her thoughts, and often had to excuse herself to sit out in the brightly lit corridor.
But we didn’t just leave. We believe church membership is based on the biblical instruction that all christians are members of one body and belong to one another. Our church membership is a covenant relationship that we didn’t take lightly, and couldn’t break, lightly.
So, we met with one of our pastors and explained our dilemma. He was very compassionate and understanding, and agreed with us, both that our church shouldn’t change just to accommodate us, and that we should move on with their blessing.
Now what? We loved Perimeter, but we had to go. It was important to us to find a new church that:
- focused on the gospel, discipleship, and mission
- belonged to the tradition of Reformed Theology
- had a similar liturgical approach to worship like Perimeter
- emphasized lyrical content over musical style
But we also wanted it to be:
- brightly lit
- in, or very near, our community
- a place where our youngest daughter felt connected
That’s a pretty specific set of requirements, isn’t it? It made our search long and somewhat frustrating, which is a sad by-product of all the division that exists within Protestantism.
We committed all this to God in prayer. We asked His guidance and wisdom. Ultimately, we settled at Ivy Creek Church (a daughter-church of Perimeter). It is further away from home than we wanted, but it meets the priorities we feel convinced of by Scripture, is nice and bright, and Heidi felt connected on our very first visit. Our next task is to get fully connected and find a way to serve.
If and when you find yourself in a church search, remember:
- Write down your motives
- Write down your priorities
- Bring them all to God in prayer, study
- If appropriate, discuss your situation with your current pastor
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