I've come to the conclusion that finding a church is similar to dating, a practice with which I was never comfortable, never enjoyed nor ever felt proficient. And it's sometimes like Online Dating—unpredictable and impersonal.
Personal Note: I don't doubt that this method of dating can work to find a lasting relationship; I know couples who met through an Internet Dating Service. (While my partner and I didn't use a dating site, we did meet online, and we've been together for 16+ years!)
Consider a few of the similarities I've found in the Church Search Dating Game:
Vague or Misleading Online Profile. Everyone's heard those stories, or perhaps had the experience, of meeting someone who is nothing like their dating profile. Or learned after a few dates you don't have much in common, aside from belonging to the same Dating Service.
We've found that it can be just as unreliable with "church dating."
I’m sure there are others besides me who like to do some research before I try a new business, buy a new product...or visit a new church. I’ve been surprised at the lack of pertinent information many churches choose to provide online. There's usually a basic website, but in many cases, it’s not maintained, and it’s outdated.
Examples: I found a church listed in our community, but could never find anything more than a short blurb about them on an old blog that hadn't been updated in several years. No service times were included, so we never attended.
We visited one church, and the pastor featured on the front page of the website had been gone almost a year.
We were excited to visit one congregation that touted diversity as part of their mission, but as we've discovered, that word typically applies to the more "comfortable" forms, such as race or age. (If they have one Hispanic person, or an Asian, they consider their church diverse. If you have a few parent with children, along with more mature members, they think they are diverse.)
We went to a church that listed an early service, but when we showed up at the publicized time, we were the only ones there. After several minutes, where I pondered if we'd missed the Rapture, we left.
I hate to sound curmudgeonly (I am a Curmudgeon, but I hate to sound that way!), and I'm aware that a a website takes time, energy, some money and a volunteer (or staff member) to manage, but it's often the first...and perhaps last...introduction and impression a potential visitor would get of the church when deciding to visit. Again, I'm also sure this comes from my many years in PR and Communication, but isn't the church in the business of communication? (That extends beyond the pulpit!)
Promote your congregation.
Tell us about your staff, especially your pastor.
Put some pictures.
Talk about what you believe.
First Dates/Chemistry. Many years ago, I tried online dating. I posted my photo, a description of myself, my interest, etc., and within a week, arranged a meeting. No sooner had we sat down, my date asked “Would you be willing to shave your beard?” (I wanted to ask: "Before appetizers?")
He'd seen my profile picture...with the beard...before agreeing to the date. He'd agreed to the date with the sole intent of wanting to change me, not get to know me.
Obviously, there was no second date.
In our Church Search, we've had numerous "first dates." Unfortunately, first impressions are not always accurate representations. People are on their best behavior to impress; all smiles, and warm greetings of “We’re glad you are here.” However, in actual experience, we've found that some congregations don't (or won't) go beyond cordial.
It’s difficult to communicate the (indefinable?) “spark” that can turn a casual meeting into an actual relationship (dating or church), but we visited churches and knew quickly there was no connection, though we always try a few services just so we don’t judge too quickly. (However, we did leave one church even before the service began; we both intuitively sensed we shouldn't be there. It wasn't logical or rational, but we both knew it.)
Long-Term Potential? In our search, we’ve visited a couple of congregations and marveled they could survive. One small church had two morning services, but the total attendance was less than 90 people. Their budget showed a $1,200 deficit...every month.
Can such a church continue to exist?
Would we be "widows" soon, and have to begin the "church dating" again?
Set Ups. As in dating, there are always those who want to help set you up. (“I know the perfect person for you...”) I have dear friends who have graciously invited us to attend their mainstream church.
“We’d love to have you.”
“Everyone is welcomed at our church.”
"Our Pastor has never preached against homosexuality."
I'm humbled by their desire to include us, and appreciate their willingness to help, but knowing the church they attend, I think they're being a bit...optimistic. Or naive. Usually when I receive these invitations, I thank them, but challenge them to go back and ask their pastor about his/her beliefs on being Gay and Christian. Find out how the Pastor would respond if a gay couple visited. Ask what would happen...specifically...if the gay couple wanted to join the church. Then press the issue to learn if the Pastor and the church would be open to allowing an openly gay person to serve in leadership—as a Sunday School teacher, a deacon, etc. In most cases, I don't think they will like what they hear. (It's not that I'm trying to cause problems...or curmudgeonly...but at the same time, I feel it's important for them to become educated and aware.)
Call Me, Maybe? Here’s what surprises me: outreach appears to out of style. Most of the churches we visited made no attempt to follow up afterwards. (I always fill out an Information Card, so we can talk with the Pastor later.)
No letters. No email. No phone call.
We attended one church a couple of times, but weren't comfortable with the distance, so we didn't return. We never received any kind of acknowledgment of our visit, but several months later, got a solicitation letter for the annual pledge drive. ("If you can't thank me for my presence, don't hit me up for money!")
Last year, we visited a nice church near our house for more than six months. We liked their early, Contemporary Worship service, and began to get involved. I attended a Bible study during the week, taught by the Pastor. We hoped this was "The One." But after a while, we had to admit, there was no...connection. (There’s that “chemistry” thing again.) So we stopped going. We never heard from anyone about our absence. <shrug>
The search resumed!
Since finding a church is similar to online dating, perhaps I should have a Profile.
Something like this?
Sincere guy, NOT looking for casual encounters.
I want a serious, long-term relationship.
I’ve had a couple of bad break-ups in the past,
and my heart is a bit fragile.
So can we take it slow?
I don’t want something one-sided,
where all I do is listen while you tell me what I ought to do.
I don’t want to be your sugar daddy,
nor do I want to be your project.
I want this relationship to be mutually beneficially,
with each of us sharing ourselves with the other.
Before making this significant commitment,
I want us to get know one another—to see if what I bring to the relationship
is compatible with what you bring to the relationship.
I want to know if we are a good fit.
Note: This entry is part of my Church Search series. I encourage you to check out the others for the fullest context.
So if it's so difficult to find a church, why bother?
In my next entry, I’ll close this series (for now) with some of my thoughts.