In the TV show Seinfeld, there was a running joke that Jerry, who was known as a serial dater, would break up with a woman for almost any reason:
- Eating one pea at a time.
- Being “a sentence finisher.”
- “Shushing” him while watching TV.
- Wears the same dress for every date.
- She didn’t think he was funny.
- The way she laughed.
- The way she never laughed.
- She cries too easily.
- Having “man hands.”
As we continue visiting churches for our ongoing, seemingly endless Church Search, I’m beginning to worry we have the same proclivity.
It’s not that we don’t want to find a church.
It’s not that we haven’t been diligent.
I don’t think we’re being flippant.
But so far, it has not happened. We have not found a "church home."
And for a variety of reasons.
Obviously, some factors are deal-breakers for us. There are churches we know we can’t...won’t...visit because of their stance on homosexuality. At most, they'd see us an Evangelism Project. We're also not impressed by a welcome sign in the front, but once inside, it’s discovered there are exceptions. “You are welcome to visit, but...”
I admit, like Seinfeld, some of the reasons we stopped visiting might be considered trite—our version of “man hands.” I own the pettiness, but stand by the exits. Here are some of our justifications (valid or not; rational or not):
Invisibility. We visited one church with a solid reputation for being inclusive and affirming, but the entire time we were there, not a single person spoke to us. NO ONE! (I had to wonder if our Romulan cloaking device was engaged!)
Misinformation. We showed up to one church's early service at the time listed on their website. We sat down and waited. And waited. No one showed up. We finally found a young woman, who informed us: "Oh, we dropped the early service a couple of years ago."
Revealed Homophobia. At one church, we knew the Pastor was affirming, and the congregation seemed so as well; they had a gay Youth Minister. We attended an adult Sunday School class, and the teacher veered off topic and spent the entire class emphasizing how serious God was about those who continue in known sin. I’m not being paranoid when I say he glared at us during most of his tirade. (I know this because later, before the worship service began, one sweet lady from the class found us and apologized for the teacher's presentation and tone.) Not long afterwards, the church board voted to fire their gay youth director. (The Pastor resigned rather than do that.)
Viability. Two churches very close to where we live were on our list to visit. Obviously at one time, each of the congregations had been vibrant enough to build nice facilities, including an sizeable sanctuary. But these day, their attendance had dwindled to less than fifty, mostly older, attendees. (At one church, we were the youngest folks there.) Thirty-five people in a room designed for 300 is stark. Looking at their financial records, we had to wonder how they stayed afloat, and for how long?
"Bad Vibe." As subjective as it sounds, I don't know any other way to express it. We attended a nearby church, and when it came time for the sermon, the (very young) associate pastor/children's minister, a seminary student, announced the Pastor was out, and she would bring the message. The next Sunday, with no announcement, she brought the message again. (She wasn't very good.) So, we waited a few weeks and returned. Same scenario, except at the beginning of the service, one of the Elders invited folks to stay after the service to "pray for our church." My "spidey sense" (based on many years in the ministry) told me something was wrong at that church. (If you think that story is weird, we left one church before the service began because we both felt something was "off" about the church.)
Clergy "Concerns." If we are going to become part of a local congregation, the pastor will be an important element in the decision. Several times, our concerns about the Pastor led us to stop attending:
We visited one progressive church a couple of times, and really enjoyed the people, but the pastor was dull as stale toast. It’s difficult to imagine enduring that week after week.
At the invitation of friends, we attended a large church with a contemporary service led by a fiery woman preacher who screamed through most of her message, in an old-fashioned Pentecostal manner (though it was a Methodist church). I don’t go to church to be yelled at. (I have a father who is always willing to do that.)
There was a church we liked, and it’s one we visited the longest in our search—probably six months. It was close to where we live and there was an early service, which we prefer. (We’re early birds!) The people were friendly, and there were activities all during the week. The church was involved in several projects to do good in the community. The Pastor was a good speaker. However, he was not a good preacher/teacher. His weekly messages would ramble endlessly, and when they were done, we both wondered about the main point. One Sunday, he spent the entire message talking about the importance of supporting a specific Breast Cancer charity.
If we visit a church and like it, we will set up a personal meeting with the Pastor to learn more about the church. At three different church, we requested a meeting, but never heard back from the Pastor. In one instance, at a church we really liked, we asked three times, and never got a response. <shrug>