“Church shopping” can be an endless process that drags on forever if you let it, leaving you feeling frustrated and disconnected, but it doesn’t have to be that way!
A few months ago, I moved back home to Colorado after spending the last 7 years in Tucson. I had a church there that I absolutely loved. It was small, so everybody knew everybody, and because my pastor’s wife is one of my best friends, it was easy to be involved and connected. The regular Sunday services were great, but it was in the accountability group, the Christmas parties, the women’s retreats, the ladies’ nights out, the Thursday night worship practices, and the work days that
Then I moved back to Colorado.
It absolutely broke my heart to leave my Tucson church, and those first few weeks were heart-wrenching for me, wishing I could just transport but I also know the power in connecting with a group of like-minded believers. I know how much I need that kind of support, encouragement, and accountability in my life, so I set out to connect (side note – did you now that loneliness is twice as unhealthy as obesity is?).
Now, let me just point out that I am an introvert. It would be so easy for me to sneak into service on Sunday mornings, give a few smiles, handshakes, and “good mornings,” then make a quick exit afterward. I’ve done that before and called it church involvement, simply because I was showing up every week.
That’s not community.
The fact of the matter is, real community requires sharing your time, your talents, and your heart. It means inviting people in to do life with you – the happy, the frustrating, the challenging, and the heartbreaking.
After you’ve done the church shopping
1. Do the church shopping.
Only you know what you are looking for in a church, from denominations to certain programs.
The first thing I look for on a church website is their statement of faith because I need to know that my beliefs line up with theirs. For me, that means they are firmly rooted in and teaching from the Bible.
I also look to see if they have an active women’s ministry and some kind of small group or Bible study.
Maybe you need an active youth group for your kids, you look for certain traditions in services or a certain type of worship.
2. Try it for at least 3 Sundays.
Unless there are serious warning alarms going off, give it more than one shot.
Just like you can’t judge a book by its cover, you really can’t judge a church entirely off of one Sunday.
I was used to worshiping in a small sanctuary, led by one of my dearest friends. The new church was comparatively huge. They have a big stage with two huge screens on either side and fancy backdrops and lighting – much different than what I was used to!
I was used to a sanctuary full of people that I knew, and could basically hug my way around the room on Sunday mornings. When I walked into a much bigger church of people that I didn’t know (yet), it would have been very easy to decide that it just didn’t feel like a good fit.
When I first tried my new church, they were not their typical services. It was the middle of the summer, so half the congregation was gone on vacation and the head pastor was on a month-long sabbatical. It took about two months for me to experience one of their more “normal” services, but I’m so glad I stayed!
Give it time. Let yourself adjust to the changes before you make your decision.
3. Get Rid of Unrealistic Expectations
I have been to quite a few churches in my lifetime, and they were things I liked and disliked about each and every one of them.
My Tucson church excelled at special events like our Good Friday service because they were able to create this incredible atmosphere of intimacy and worship, which was possible because we were a small church. But because we had a small congregation, we didn’t have enough people for certain programs like a young professionals group. My Colorado church, on the other hand, has plenty of people for groups of all ages and walks of life, but “intimate” is not how I would describe the services there.
Over time, we can unintentionally keep adding those good things that we liked about our past churches to an ever-growing list of requirements for our new church. If you are planning to keep church shopping until you find a perfect place that has every single strength you’ve ever seen in a church before, you are going to be stuck church shopping forever.
Every single church can’t excel at every single thing! Just like people, every church will have their strengths and weaknesses. Make sure the church has qualities that will help you grow in your walk with God, but double check that you’re not expecting perfection.
This seems to be one of the hardest pieces – it certainly was for me this time! Showing up on a Sunday morning and throwing out a few “good morning”s is not going to give you the connection you crave.
Three Sundays in a row, I prayed to meet just one person I could connect with past the small talk. And three Sundays in a row, I showed up, initiated conversation with as many people as I could telling them how much I wanted to get plugged in, and three Sundays in a row, I left disappointed.
One day, I was writing in a coffee shop and overheard a man nearby mention church. I waited for a pause in their conversation, stepped out of my comfort zone, and asked if he wouldn’t mind sharing which church he went to. It turned out that he was extremely involved in the church that I’d been going to! That question started an hour-long conversation in which he invited me to sit with him and his wife during service, gave me a list of people he recommended I connect with, and told me more about programs the church was involved in.
I did sit with him and his wife for the next service, and they introduced me to two full rows of people around us. Those people are now my small group. I sit with them every week, we meet for lunch, and we’re a part of each others’ lives – the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Whether it’s a small group, a women’s ministry, or a Bible study, connect with a group of people to do life with.
My next step is to find a place to serve. I haven’t decided on an area I want to focus on yet for my new church, but it’s going to happen soon.I’ve helped in all kinds of areas before, from the nursery to the worship team, and it is one of the best ways to plug into a church and feel connected.
Volunteering instantly gives us a common interest with the other people serving, and when we focus on a particular ministry, we will see those people regularly and develop meaningful relationships over time. It provides that fellowship time
Your church needs you! Not just another body, but you specifically! Use your strengths to help others. Step outside of your world and touch the lives around you. It gives you a healthier self-image, it combats depression, and helps you to see that you provide something valuable to your community.
Give it time. Be intentional and put in the effort. When you are connecting with people and serving in a community, it will transform your church from just a place you go on Sunday mornings to your church home – your family.