Finding a church is an interesting process. I don’t know if there is a process quite like it. It could be like finding a home to buy. You check out the building to ensure it has all the needed space and rooms, and then you turn to the neighbors – do you see yourself inviting them over for dinner?
Or, maybe it is more like finding a spouse. You date for a while to ensure there is compatibility and a spark – do you see yourself with this person 25+ years from now?
Through various moves in my life, there have been at least a half-dozen churches my family and I have joined. Requirements change as life passes through phases, from being single to being parents with no children to parents with children to parents with teens. Hopefully, a church has the programs and opportunities which support all phases of a person’s life.
Aging does deliver a different perspective on finding a church. In our younger years, it may be more about what the church can do for me, a self-centered approach. As we age, it may be more a more balanced approach, what it can do for me and what can we do for the church in pursuit of its mission. Through each life stage, the church is the constant.
Finding a church to call home is important. It is a spiritual base, a place to think, grow, worship, and engage. It is a place for community, challenge, commitment, and comfort. Maybe it is these 4 Cs which drive the choice in finding the right church.
Community – Church plays a role in developing a community. The community begins with the church as a whole which gathers during worship and then branches out into smaller study groups. Beyond this, the community expands into giving, serving, and contributing to others outside our immediate borders and reaches into troubled areas or poorer regions. A clear point about community and church is this: they will know we are Christians by our love (as the true, old song goes).
A church should embrace the concept of community, and members need to be active in the embrace and participate in the community. In looking at a church, the opportunity to join the community, build it, and make it better needs to be plainly evident.
Challenge – Church is not a place for complacency. A church must challenge but not disparage or threaten. Church fosters one’s inner spirit, curious mind, and meaningful actions. In our life, we need to be challenged to do better, be better, learn more, and grow as human beings. A church should be thought-provoking, action-engaging, and faith-growing.
When visiting a church, look for the energy and the open minds and the opportunity to grow in your faith and in your good works.
Commitment – A church should encourage commitment. Commitments can vary, yet they should be centered in God. This is a broad statement on purpose. Commitments differ as to what the church can do with the resources they have as well as what an individual can do with the resources they have. It is a balance, but an opportunity for a mutual commitment between all involved needs to be present.
The church needs to do its best; the members need to do their best; and all need to be good servants in leadership, church resources, and serving God.
Evaluating commitment may be based in your sense of consistency in the messages. Is one thing being said but another action being taken? Is the focus too much on one type of commitment over others?
Comfort – We all need comfort from time to time, and a church needs to deliver comfort when needed. Comfort does not need to be complex; it is a prayer, a kind word, a visit. Comfort may be needed for our bodies and spirits when they require care or uplifting. Church is not a place to be always comfortable, however (see challenge above).
The other aspect of comfort may be in the beliefs or theology of the church. Not that a church needs to be “soft” on theology or beliefs; the church needs to be comfortable in their beliefs and we, as members, need to be comfortable with them as well as be challenged by a higher calling.
Comfort may come down to having a compassionate feel to the church while also having a belief system properly centered. Reading a church’s website or other documents to understand the theology is a good starting point, and then sensing the compassion and consistency during the interactions will bring it all together.
The pastors and the church members together make the difference in each of these elements and, more importantly, all have a responsibility in each. In essence, though, church comes down to loving God and others, and respectful love to both needs to be evident in each of the 4 Cs.
It is hard to know all these things as we look at and visit various churches. No church is perfect, but part of it is a feeling or sense it all fits together as best as possible. Just as pastors are “called” to a church, sometimes members will feel the same “calling” as they decide on a new church. Making the choice and then jumping in are essential and then each doing their part. I know I am ready again.