Yesterday was another Sunday, another day ‘trying on’ a church. We worshipped, both morning and evening, at LaGrave Ave. CRC in downtown Grand Rapids. That is something like our seventh church since we’ve been here. One the one side, it’s nice to have all these options, but on the other it sure does make it a challenge.
I must say, that the term ‘church shopping’ rubs me the wrong way. It sounds so consumeristic (is that a word?). It sounds like I’m at the mall trying on pants and I keep going from store to store until I find that just right fit. Is that really how church should be? I’d like to think that most of would agree that church is more about God than it is about us.
That being said, one needs to be in a church that they are least comfortable in, don’t they? That pair of pants at least needs to be close to the correct size, doesn’t it? Again, I think we’d all say yes.
So where is that happy medium, between finding a good fit and looking too hard for something just right? I think for our family it’s come down to the following:
1. Does the church itself know who it is and where’s it’s going? We’ve been to some churches that have a very clear understanding of who they are and what they’re all about. We’ve also been to some that are going through a time of transition and actively seeking and learning about where they are headed next. After being at one of those churches, Jessica made the astute observation that our family, during this time of transition, needs be a part of a church that is sure about it’s identity and direction. I think she’s right.
2. Size does matter. We’ve visited congregations that have less than 200 members and we’ve visited congregations that have well over a thousand. While all the congregations have been inviting and welcoming, I think the smaller congregations appeal to us more. We want to be a part of church where we can be used for the edification of God’s people at that place. We want to be known and we want to know others that we are worshipping with. At one of the larger congregations we visited the information packet even stated that ‘we are large enough for you to maintain your anonymity if you so choose’. I don’t think anyone, in any congregation should be allowed to be anonymous whether they want to or not.
3. The church’s philosophy of and style of worship is important. We’ve seen as many different types of worship styles as we have churches. Some have a high or traditional view – only the organ, liturgical robes, etc. Others have a very loose and free worship style with little or no organization to it. While still others seem to have kind of a forced combination of the two. This view and style of worship seems to affect more than just the service and the music they choose. It’s not just whether they use screens or don’t. It also manifests itself in the way people dress, how they interact with each other, and even where they worship. We were at one church that worships outdoors in a tent in the summertime. I think we fall somewhere in the middle.
4. The make-up of the congregants is something not to be taken lightly. As we make church decisions it’s important to keep the kids in mind too. We need a place where the kids are comfortable as well. Do they have established youth programs (GEMS, Cadets, Sunday School, etc.)? I’m not suggesting that the church needs to be all young families, but I think a good mix of ages is important and vital to the health of any congregation. The decision of which church to attend is a family one. The temptation is to choose one that’s best for me and what might be most helpful for my seminary training, but that is too small a view. We attend church and will join a church, as a family.
There’s more that could be said…how important is location? What about women in office? Is the fact that they don’t have an evening service something to consider? Those are important questions, but I think keeping these earlier four points in mind will lead us in the right direction.
So the search continues and we continue to seek the Spirit’s leading. We’re hoping and praying that we find a church home soon. In the meantime, I’m searching for a better term than ‘church shopping’….suggestions are welcome.