I’m asked often by friends and family advice on finding a new church family. This post is much longer than normal, and general advice on the issue, not specific to any one person. I say finding a church family because I despise the term church shopping. You’re a brother or sister in Christ, not a consumer. Church is family (Ephesians 1). I’m assuming you’re praying over every step. Pray. Pray. Pray! Ok, here we go:
Step 1: Leave justly!
If you’re relocating or if the church is sending you to another ministry, you’ve left justly. Sin is where things get messy. Matters of conscience even more so. It is ESSENTIAL to deal with matters. Leaving quietly to not create a mess robs you & the church of grace. If you are avoiding conflict or are being explosive, repent and work towards reconciliation! If you’re leaving on a good note, you should still connect with the church so people understand why and grow. Be a grace multiplier not a grace robber.
I am not saying it is wrong to ever leave a church family. I am implying that in North America we trend towards consumerism or conflict avoidance too often. Don’t be a tool of satan or live the sinful attitude of church consumerism. To be clear: Make sure you leave justly. Let’s try to avoid awkward when we’re in heaven moments.
Step 2: Take a good look in the mirror!
You are a saint because Jesus paid for your sins. Until you see Jesus face to face you’ll struggle with sin. Second, you are a unique part of the body of Christ. Your struggles and your gifting (often two sides of the same coin) are part of church growth. Before seeking a new family, take time to look in the mirror. How are you doing spiritually? What lessons have you learned from you earlier church ministry? Is there a new passion or calling God is giving you? Are you pursuing God or yourself?
Searching for a new church family will put you in a critical spirit. You will notice lots of things you do not like or worse you’ll overlook things because your consumerism tendencies kick in. (A big sign of that is compromising your theology for preferences.) Look in the mirror and make sure you’re very well aware of the log that is in your own eye. Church is family, meaning your job is to love and support the family. Church is not about you, but do not neglect how God wired you. God may be calling you to a particular church because it lacks what you have to offer, worts and all.
Step 3: Theology then method then people
Sound biblical teaching & theology is essential. If they’re not teaching the Bible, RUN! There is a difference between teaching from the Bible and teaching the Bible. If the church doesn’t hold to sound theology it will not be good in the long run. We act based on what we believe. Key question: How big of a deal is Jesus & the Bible to the church?
Next comes method. If method comes first, repent of ‘methodolatry.’ For example, if you’ll only look at churches with certain music or a certain program like AWANA, chances are good you’re committing to methodolatry. Don’t overlook something because it lacks a method or has a method you’re uncomfortable with. Don’t write off methods either. Use discernment, ask questions. Methodology matters. Sometimes a method that is important to you, but lacking to a church may be a result of no one to lead or support it.
People are essential. Are the people messy or are they white washed tombs? A church can be totally modern, cool, with great music, etc and be a dark, legalistic, dead church. Energy, coolness & size are often inaccurate church health indicators. (For an extreme example of why, just think of the under ground church.) You’re not the savior, but you are family. Can you say I’m here to love, support and serve these people? Solid theology and method is about supporting people in the mission of the Gospel. Healthy churches are quirky and messy regardless of size. Key question: Is the church a happy dysfunctional family?
Step 4: Examine the church
Here are three things to look out for after Step 3: Character over charisma, service over sensationalism, and people over programs. Our culture is driven by consumerism, which means you and I struggle with this too. You’ll need to attend the church for over a month to get some sense of this.
Character: Is the church more interested in who people are or what they do? This is the issue of being over doing. Look for a church that is concerned with who looks at you in the mirror each morning. Key thing to look for: Churches will make mistakes, do they own up to it?
Service: Is the church quick to love and support its church family first and then the community? It’s hard to serve the community if you’re not caring for one another. Both are essential to the mission of the Gospel. A church that isn’t outward focuses isn’t healthy. A church that focuses outwardly but neglects inward care is unstable.
People: Does the church focus on building people up or one what they can get out of people? Does the leadership seek your help in reaching the pastor’s vision, or do they help people pursue God’s calling? Is the church a business or is it family?
Step 5: Making the choice
This will be awkward because it is different. There is no perfect church because church is messy. It may not have what you want because God needs you there to make it happen. It may not be the size church you like or are comfortable with. There will be things you like and things you don’t. At this step the question is: Can you call these people family? If not, why not?
If you’ve been deeply hurt by your earlier church, a key question to work through: Can I heal here? You cannot avoid the healing process. Healing isn’t always about feeling good again, it can be a painful process. Be upfront with church leadership about the need to heal. They’ll give you sound counsel, and may even recommend a church that may be more helpful.
Finding a church family takes time. It’ll likely take 6 months to a year. Don’t rush the process. When you’re on Step 4 with a church, don’t work on creating a list of churches and then move to Step 5. If Step 4 checks out and Step 5 checks out, welcome home. For military families or others that move often, you’ll naturally pick up this process on a faster pace.
Don’t look for a church that has something for your children. Reverse the question. Look for a church where your children can be a part. Church isn’t about you and it’s not about your kids either. Activity doesn’t mean discipleship. A small church can be just as vibrant as a large one for discipling your children. Don’t fear large churches. Kids can be dynamically discipled in large churches too. We often hide our consumerism in the name of our children.
Discuss it as a family. Train your children to be mission minded. ‘Did you like’ is a bad question. What children need they often dislike. don’t ignore their input about dislikes, be cautious on how you respond to it. Children can be spiritual champions, we as adults often hold them back. Ask them if there are ways they can support and serve the church. Teach your children through this process that church isn’t about them. When you find your new family, remind your children that you’re there to love and support the people of the church.
What process do you use? What would you add to this?