Note: This is part of an ongoing, periodic series.
It’s been several years since we began our search for a new “church home.” Some might think that’s a long time, and there have been a comments that suggest we’re too...picky or demanding, or seeking perfection. I've compared it to the problems Jerry Seinfeld had with the women he dated. Others have casually commented that we could go to any church, so I’ve put the question to them “Could we go to YOUR church?”
I’ve had a few question why we even bother at all.
When we began our search, we had some specific ideas of what we were looking for in a church. In order to avoid wasting our time, before we’d visit a church, I would do some research prior to attending. Obviously some churches were not even a consideration, based on the denomination. Usually, I could tell by the name of the church if it was a place we would want to visit...or a place that would want us there in the first place. One thing I’ve found, the WELCOME sign out front is not (NOT!!) the determining factor. It's often not even true!
I think there are (at least) two valid reasons the process is taking so long:
- When we find a church we like, we'll visit for several months to help make an informed decision. In most cases, it’s not possible to get a valid perspective in one or two visit.
- Visiting churches is exhausting, like an endless Dating Game. There's been several times we’ve suspended our search (for weeks or months) and just stayed home on Sundays.
We’ve been to lots of churches.
In some cases, especially if we'd been attending for a while, it wasn’t easy to leave. And it’s always tough to start the process over again. We've been doing it so long now, I’ve noticed a discernible pattern in the timeline from First Visit to the decision to stop attending.
Anticipation / Expectation. After a while, it would be easy to become cynical and jaded, but we try to go to that first visit with a renewed...perhaps naïve...sense of optimism. We go in excited and hopeful.
Observation. From the first visit, we do lots of surveillance. This is mostly fact-gathering. It involves everything from the diversity of the congregation (e.g., age, race, gender, etc.) to the information provided in the Sunday program. We look for whether the church is involved in community outreach, the services they offer, groups available for engagement and interaction (e.g., Bible studies, home groups, etc.) We gauge the openness of the congregation to new people. (As difficult as it to believe, we’ve been to several churches and no one spoke to us.)
During the service, we listen to the music and the participation of the congregation. We especially pay attention to the Pastor and the message. While we recognize the Pastor is not the primary reason to attend, that role is often central. There have been a few occasions when we stopped attending because the Pastor was either unapproachable, unavailable or (don’t judge) too boring to hold our attention.
Investigation. After one or two visits, we will begin to branch out beyond the Sunday service. We’ll attend classes (e.g., Sunday School, Bible studies), go to events (e.g., Pot Lucks), and check out targeted groups, such as Couples or Seniors. At some point, we might ask to meet with the Pastor. This stage can take weeks or months.
Realization. Eventually, we just know. And so far, it sadly been the same disappointing conclusion: this is not our “church home.”
During this process, as this reality slowly dawns on us, there can be a variety of emotions that hits us, almost like the stages of grief outlined by Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross back in the late 60s.
Denial: No, this can’t be happening...again. If we just keep attending, it’ll get better.
Anger: This is too difficult! We're never going to find a church. Is there something inherently wrong with us?
Bargaining: Maybe we can ignore the boring pastor. If we stay, perhaps we can fix the problem. So what if the people never talk to us...
Depression: I'm done visiting churches. Who needs church anyway? I'll just stay home and read my Bible.
Acceptance: Okay, this is not our church home. <sigh> Time to move on.
And the search continues...
Author’s Note: As I write this, we've been visiting a church for several months. We've gone through all the "stages" mentioned above, except for the final one.
As always, we are hopeful.
Could this be...the one?