I'm moving to a new city and dread looking for a new church. I haven't had to go through this for a long time since I've been at my current church over twenty years. Any suggestions on how to start?
- L. from Grand Rapids
This will be good for you (Part 1)
First I will say that I agree with you that looking for a new church doesn't top anybody's list of favorite things to do. It is hard and often awkward and very time consuming. After all, you can only visit one church a week. Sometimes you can know within five minutes of entering a church that it is not the one for you but now you are stuck. You check it off and then have to wait a whole week to try another one.
I think it would be a great idea for churches to provide a video of their service and tour of their facility with a message from the pastor stating their doctrine and vision. You could gather up the videos and pop them in your player and make a lot faster progress. Since that probably isn't going to happen any time soon, let's talk about the daunting task ahead of you.
Even though I just agreed with you about the difficulty, now I want to tell you that this may be the best thing for you. Hopefully you are moving to a new city because God is calling you there or you feel it is a decision he played a hand in. A move is a very important event and should not be undertaken without much prayer. Therefore, if this move is of God, he has already gone ahead of you to provide for all your needs, including a new church.
Since you have been in your old church so long, maybe a change will be good for you. Maybe God has new things to teach you or a new place for you to serve. Maybe after all this time you are in a rut and in need of fresh springs of life. With that in mind, don't necessarily look for a clone of your current church. Pray and see if you feel a new direction.
You don't mention if there are other family members to consider. If there are, pray together as a family and be sure to consider what God may be doing for each person. See this change as a wonderful new adventure with great things in store and don't forget to pray over every step.
Next: What are you looking for in a church?.
Define your objectives (Part 2)
I once had some very good advice from a pastor when I found myself in the position of church shopping like you are. Though it was simple advice, it was harder to implement than I first imagined. Still, in the end, it yielded great results.
Write down all you are looking for in a church. Writing it down helps you zero in and define those things that are really important to you. For instance, maybe you have been in a mega church but the pastor never really knew you and this time you would like a smaller more intimate setting. Maybe you are ready to be plugged in and have your gifts used and you want a church that will have an opening for you. Maybe you need a church with stronger teaching gifts or maybe a stronger demonstration of the work of the Holy Spirit.
Does it matter to you how far you have to drive? Write it down. Do you only like a particular worship style? Write it down. Pray over your list and ask God to help you tweak it so it matches your heart and his.
Whatever you write for your personal preferences, be sure that the church you ultimately decide on has sound Christian doctrine and a healthy congregation. You will eventually find out that any church you go to is not perfect since people aren't perfect but the foundations should be firm and right.
Next: Get out there and dig in
Just Do It! (Part 3)
With prayer and your working list of attributes in hand you are ready to start visiting. Ask a lot of questions when you move to your new city. Real Estate agents, co-workers, new neighbors, staff at the retail stores you visit - ask about churches everywhere you go. Check to see if there is a Christian radio or TV station in the new city which may have helpful resources.
When you visit a church, keep an open mind. The service you visit may not be typical and you will have to go back. Talk to as many people at the service as you can. Take all the literature the church offers or seek an information desk for any brochures or sample tapes they have. See if the church produces a statement of faith to make sure you are in agreement on doctrinal issues.
Trust your gut feeling because it is usually right. If you are drawn to a certain church, volunteer for some activity to give you a flavor of what the church is like behind the scenes. Ask yourself if you feel challenged in this church to walk more closely with the Lord. Ask if you can contribute meaningfully to the church. Ask God to confirm to you if this is the right church for you.
Change always produces a tension but change is how God often moves us along in his plan for our life. Sometimes we would never step out and make changes unless forced. Try to replace the dread you feel with a spirit of adventure because no doubt good things are in store. How do I know? God is ALWAYS working ALL THINGS in our life for good. "The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made." (Psalm 145:9) Be blessed and happy AND growing in your new church!