How to Find a New Church Home and Make Your Family Part of It
From Butterfly to Bee: How to Find a New Church Home and Make Your Family Part of It
Now, finally, here's a subject I know something about.
Choosing a new church home is the easy half of it:
1. At first be a church butterfly. Visit around.
2. But find a church within a mile or two of your home, especially if you have children looking to go to Sunday School and pal around with friends. Church-going is a long and steady commitment. Better at the beginning to avoid any impediments like a long drive on a day off... especially if that long drive involves commuting choristers and pageant actors during the week.
3. You can make some quick, if not always accurate judgments, about a church fellowship in an hour of worship. What is the ratio of grey heads to babbling babies? The latter provide a good clue to the church's present and certainly its future. Grey heads bespeak leadership and money. Babbling babies suggest vibrancy.
4. Can you hear the worship leader, and, when you hear him/her, does it ring true, down-to-earth and up-to-heaven? Protestant worship is largely, if not entirely, auditory. A lousy sound system is deadly for worship. The preacher doesn't have to be able to preach like Peter or pray like Paul; he/she should, however, be clear, direct, authentic and, for the icing on the cake, imaginative.
5. Is the room cool in summer and warm in winter? Air conditioning is no longer a luxury; it's a necessity for worship from May through October. Unless, of course, you mean to take a four month vacation every summer from God and church friends.
6. If you are partial to good music, check out the hymn books. The presence in the racks of supplements is ominous: they usually mean the pastor is fond of praise songs, which are the worshiping Christian's equivalent of the circus-goer's candy cotton, lots of sweetness without much nourishment. The musical taste represented in the racks usually carries over to the choir loft. Although I am oversimplifying matters, watch out for services overloaded with musical selections with 6/8 rhythms and those that sound like something from a John Denver album.
7. See if you get a personal invitation to Coffee Hour... assuming the church has a Coffee Hour. If it doesn't, you can check it off your list because that's the place, Coffee Hour, where the real peace gets passed around. Congregants who want their church to grow will be open and welcoming and will have developed strategies, formal and informal, for corralling newcomers. I can almost hear the church growth angel intoning, "Give them coffee and they will come."
8. Expect a follow-up on your visit within days if not hours. A phone call, a letter, Email, even a visit. If nothing or no one appears, then you know the church, even though it may care, is not very well organized nor intent on encouraging newcomers.
Making your family a part of a newly chosen church home is simple enough, but it requires from you attitudes and strategies with which you may be uncomfortable:
A. Be friendly, above all else, be friendly, outgoing, engaging, warm, smiling, and modest. In a small book of aphorisms I studied as a child, I found this chestnut everyone knows, "Laugh and the world laughs with you. Weep and you weep alone." Or like the sign at the dry cleaners: "A smile is the one gift you can't give away without getting many more in return." Jesus almost said, "How blest are those of a gentle spirit, they shall have the church for their possession."
B. Sing, if you are able, loudly, on key, and with enthusiasm. Everyone around you will notice and, seeing an unfamiliar face, will make a point of speaking with you. Actually, it doesn't matter that much if you sing off key but with enthusiasm: you will get noticed.
C. Ask questions. About the organ. About the pastor. About the church's history. About the stained glass. In other words, show an interest. Christians (at least those Christians with whom you want to be associated) love to share the specialties of their church.
D. Come on slowly. If you are a go-getter, pull in the reins. No one in any organization of longstanding appreciates a recent arrival who comes on like gangbusters. Hold something in reserve. Don't put all of your excellences in the front window. Let them be surprised down the road at just how wonderful you are. Church membership is (or should be) an enduring commitment. Whatever your gifts, they will be flushed out and utilized with the passing of time in the life and witness of your church.
E. Be generous. Money talks, even among the saints. Besides, Jesus makes it a rule that our hearts follow our money, not the other way around. A generous pledge means you take your commitment to the church very seriously. Other Christians respect that... provided you never, never mention just how generous it is or use it to leverage influence.
F. Participate. Worship, to be sure, first and foremost, always and ever. But join the smaller churches within the church, the fellowships formed on the basis of gender, age, interest, and need. Getting to know Christ should, perhaps, not be confused with getting to know Christians; but the connection, God and others, is tighter than most theologians account for.
Pastors come and go. (Sometimes not frequently enough!) And though I would be among the last to diminish the importance of the pastor to the quality of a church's life and witness, I would also be among the first to insist that a vital and vibrant congregation is the clue to church growth, a veritable honeycomb whose sweetness draws in workers (and a few drones too! they also need God) from pastures far and wide.
Find the honey and then join those who gather the nectar. CCRWH