Thursday, February 19, 2015

Choosing a Church... Part 1 & 2 Where to start and What to look for!

It always amazes me how in tune my sister and I can be even when we haven't talked forever for about a week.  Yet, when are able to talk it as if we are one mind, despite being so very different.  Yesterday she asked me how we go about finding a church in new towns and new places that are not full of the people that we know and trust.  Ironically, for the past few weeks I have been doing a lot of research on churches in our area.  This might seem strange since we have been stationed at Tinker for so many years.  You would think that I would have long ago found a church home.  While it is true that we have found many great churches, we just have not found the place that we are 100% sure or even 75% sure that we are supposed to join.

I look at joining a church this way.  When you join a church and go through the membership classes that churches usually have.  Then you stand in front of the church (not every church does this but some do) and say that you are joining this church family, it is kind of like a marriage.  It is your commitment to be a part of that church.  To love on and in the church.  To pray for its members and get to know them.  To be honest and hold each other accountable.  It is essentially choosing your family.

"Iron sharpens iron, So one man sharpens another." Proverbs 27:17 New American Standard

"Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend." Proverbs 27:17 King James Bible

The first thing I do is pray.  There is nothing more powerful than prayer.  Make a list of things that you desire in a church home, be specific.  Add to that list what you want to be able to bring to that church.  Pray over this list often.  Ask God to show you a church, to bring the church that He would have you to go-to your attention.  Ask for "a burning bush."  But know that even if you ask for Him to guide you with some sort of obvious sign, that may not be the way that He wants you to find your place of worship.  Most of the time, the journey is just as important as the end result, even when you take a long time to find a church.  

The next thing that I do to scope out churches is to do a basic internet search of churches in the area.  At this point, I do not put in denomination, I am simply searching for protestant churches in the area.  I will look over the different websites and see what ministry opportunities they have at their church.  I will read their beliefs.  To me, what a church believes and what they share that they believe (in their mission statement or purpose or simply their beliefs tabs) is more important sometimes than a particular denomination.  It is one of the things that frustrates me actually, that a denominational affiliation does not mean that every church in that denomination will believe or interpret the Bible in the same way.  So just looking at denomination has hurt us in the past.  Also keep in mind that there are plenty of great churches that do not have websites.  So, if I see churches listed in the area search that do not have websites, that does not stop me from calling the church and asking them if they can send me their statement of faith or tell me about the programs that they have.  The only thing I will caution about this method is sometimes, if you already live in the area and you give a church your address you may have strangers show up at your door asking you to come and visit, and sometimes they will do this multiple times even if you say that you have found a different church home.  Of course not everyone does this, but this has happened to us....more than once.  

Another method of finding churches for us is to find what churches teach certain programs.  For instance, we love AWANA and have sadly and ashamedly not been attending for a few years (which is a lot of time when thinking of my young children).  If you go to the AWANA website you can find churches in your area that have the AWANA program.  

Finally, there is also word of mouth.  If you have done everything you can, are already living in the area that you need to find a church, and you just do not know where God is leading you then look to those whom you esteem and ask them for their recommendations.  

The next step that we have tried can also draw a lot of criticism.  I have heard sermons against what I am going to recommend.  The sermons that I have heard have merit.  However, I feel that there is a happy medium.  It is something referred to as "church shopping."  But, if you do not visit a church and pray about your decision to raise your children in that church... if you do not visit a church and get a feel for the warmth or distance of the people in the church...if you do not visit a church and listen to what the preacher is teaching and what the worship and teaching focus is....than you are not making an informed decision on the most important place for socialization, education, and character development in your life. So instead of "shopping" for the church that has the best concert, or the best entertainment, or the best most happy carefree sermons that are easy and don't make you are simply allowing yourself to be led to the church that challenges you, welcomes you, shares your values, stretches you, but also makes you feel at home.  Because that is the goal here, to find a church HOME.  

So what is a church HOME?  That is going to look different for everyone, and no church is perfect.  Churches are simply a body of believers who come together to learn and act on the Living Word!  Church is not about what you get from it as much as it is what you give to God in Worship, in Learning and Applying HIS WORD, and in Being His "Hands" for others.  Being His Hands can be anything from handing out lunches to the homeless, vacuuming the sanctuary, or rocking an infant so that new parents can hear the sermon.  

2 Peter 1:5-11
5Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in yourmoral excellence, knowledge, 6and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, 7and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love. 8For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9For he who lacks these qualities is blind or short-sighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins. 10Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble; 11for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you.

As a parent (especially of young children and those with special needs) the search for a home church is so much more challenging, rewarding, and INTENSE.  Not only are you choosing where you will be influenced, but you are searching for a place where you are going to allow your children to learn about our Savior both in and out of your presence.  There are churches that do not have children's education because they feel it is important for you to have your children with you throughout worship and the sermon.  There are churches who divide age groups for Worship and Sermons from birth through youth group being separate from the main service.  There are churches who have nursery, children's church, and when you reach youth group that is when you attend church.  I could go on.  On of the churches that we love, but isn't home, has a child-watch room for under school age, and a lesson for school age until the age of 7 or 8.  While I do like the model of teaching children and youth according to their "age" it doesn't address the needs of special needs children who are a certain chronological age but are not functioning at that age and instead have a developmental age.  Some churches are fine with having special needs children join wherever they feel comfortable and will learn the most.  Other churches rigidly follow the age rules.  Some churches do not welcome special needs at all because the volunteers are not specially trained.  There is also a church that we love that has a specific room just for special needs children and it is amazing.  It attracts families of special needs children from all over the metro area, some driving an hour, to attend church that will accept and help their family hear the Gods Word without dually focusing on their children and hoping that their children are not distracting others.  

So as you can see, I brought up several factors that are vital in choosing a church.  Something that I just thought of but didn't include earlier is that as a parent that is entrusting the care of their child in the hands of strangers, it is also important to see if the church does background checks on its volunteers.  In this day and age you can never be too careful.  One of the churches that I have worked at had a rule that there always had to be two volunteers (that had background checks) in ever room.  This made bathroom breaks safe, but also protected the teachers as there was always two pairs of eyes and two witnesses if something would go wrong.  In my years as both a parent and in ministry I have seen problems arise that could have been prevented with the proper planning and the willingness of the congregation to serve families, children, and other specific populations within the church.  There is nothing worse than having a church that is full of people who come to church to sit, listen, and leave without making an impact on others.  The other huge turn off for me is a church that preaches fellowship but then is so caught up in acting friendly on Sunday's but not extending the actual heart for friendship with anyone other than those whom they have known for years.  

Without visiting a church and genuinely giving it a true "go at it" over a few Sunday's at least, you will not know what that church is really like.  On the other hand, you may have the experience that I had on the very first day that I went to church as an adult, which is actually how I became a Christian too!  However, if you want to hear that pretty amazing, literally God led story, you will have to check in tomorrow because this blog post is already long even for my wordy standards.  

So as this is a series I want to wrap this up with my point in today's discussion.  What is it that you look for in a church, and how do you go about searching for a church to attend?  Please comment below, I would love to "hear" your thoughts!  

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