Ahh, “Church Shopping.” It sounds so unholy.
But when you move to a new city, and go from church to church trying to find the right one, it’s does start to feel like you’re shopping…sometimes for something that doesn’t seem to exist. One of the best ways to get “plugged in” (I hate the phrase “plugged in,” I think it’s tacky and cliché and overused, but I don’t know a better alternative) to a new place is by finding a church family. But, believe me, I know that it can also be one of the hardest!
When I moved from my hometown in Maryland to North Carolina for college, I nearly spent my entire four years between different churches. I would go to one place consistently for a while, and then something would change and I would hop to the next. I got my Sunday dosage of praise music and teaching, but I never felt like I was a true part of a church community.
So when I moved from North Carolina to Austin, it was hugely important for me to find the right church. I was willing to shop-till-I-dropped (Jesus would’ve revived me–after all, I was shopping with a cause ), but I was totally unwilling to settle. Because really, I don’t know how long I’ll be here in Austin. A few more years, maybe, or another decade, or more. I’m just not sure yet. And I desperately wanted a church community for the long haul.
And while my method isn’t perfect, I think it’s a pretty fair way to narrow down options and find the right church match for you.
(Side note: What if ChristianMingle.com wasn’t for Christians to meet one another, but for Christians to find the right church? WOW. This needs to happen, fast. #brilliant)
Here’s how to church shop when you move to a new city (at least this is what I did):
1. Decide what you’re looking for.
It’s really hard to go shopping when you don’t know what you’re shopping for. Ever ventured into the mall to buy a gift for someone and spent hours and hours (and hours and hours) wandering and browsing, attempting to find something to spark an idea? Yeah, it’s exhausting.
You don’t necessarily have to have a checklist for what you’d like to see in a church home, but it certainly helps to write out your thoughts. For me, for example, this is what I was looking for:
- Pastor who preaches truth boldly based on scripture; I want to leave the service thinking and questioning–no watered down sermons
- Strong worship
- Highly accepting of different ethnicities/socioeconomic status/religious background/etc. and vocal about this acceptance
- Youth ministry that I could volunteer in
- Large pool of young adults like myself
- Multiple service times for flexibility’s sake
With those criteria in mind, I was able to start the next step…
2. Get on Google.
Luckily, the world wide web links us to virtually anything we need in a matter of seconds. It’s really easy to find information out about local churches–everything from their mission statements to online sermons to their distance from your home can be found online. Check out the churches’ websites, their online sermons or podcasts, read their mission statements, check their Facebook and Twitter pages (if you’re looking for a more modern church)…do your research.
This isn’t to cast judgement at a church’s online presence; it’s to get a genuine feel for which house of the Lord is the best fit for you. Just like when you were looking for a college, or finding jobs to apply to–it’s important that wherever you choose is the right fit.
Just by Googling, I was able to narrow down my church list to about five places. A lot more manageable than say, 20 or 30.
3. Attend a service at each location.
It’s imperative that you actually attend the church itself, even if it has an online campus (as many do). You want to get a sense of the people who attend and the general vibes put off by the place. Enjoy the service, but also take mental notes. When I attended several churches, I mentally jotted down whether the congregation was younger or older, if there seemed to be singles or if everyone was married, the way people interacted with each other, the worship music, the sermon, etc.
Even if you fall in love with one church, it’s a good idea to check out another place as well. You just never know!
4. Attend a second service at your favorite churches.
No church is the same every week, and you could have unknowingly visited on a very off-beat week or a surprisingly great one. Always give a church a second chance–just like choosing a college, it’s probably unlikely that you would visit just once before attending!
At the second service, don’t pay quite as much attention to what’s going on around you; instead, fully immerse yourself in the service and worship, and evaluate how you feel once you’ve left. Are you filled up spiritually? Are you thinking about what the pastor said? Whatever you would like to get out of the service–did you get it?
After attending a second service at your favorite two or three churches, you should pretty well be able to narrow it down. Usually, you have a gut feeling about which place is right for you.
5. Talk to the church members.
Once you’ve decided on a place, it’s important to throw yourself into it. It’s only then that you can know whether it’s a good fit or not. Try out a small group, volunteer in the nursery one Sunday, ask to get coffee with one of the hospitality team members, fill out the little perforated form in the bulletin.
There is almost always an entire team of staff and volunteers who are specifically assigned to welcoming newcomers. Talk to them! Let them know why you’re at their church, ask them questions, see how you can get involved. Don’t be afraid to ask the toughies–“It seems like the congregation is mostly families with children; are there any young adult groups?” or “Is the worship music always so traditional?” or “Where do you all serve in our community?” for example.
6. When you’re ready, get involved.
I should say that some individuals want to spend quite a bit of time at a church before they truly “jump in!” (Another saying I don’t like.) That’s totally understandable…it makes sense to really get to know a place before investing in it.
That being said, it has been my experience that throwing myself into the church (joining a small group and starting to volunteer) has been an excellent way to meet new people and start to feel like I’m a part of the community. And community is a really, really good thing.
If you’re not sure how to get involved, but you’d like to, refer to #5.
7. Make your church your church home.
After you’ve done your research, tried out several churches on multiple occasions, spoken with members of the congregation, and gotten involved, you will probably feel quite at peace and settled at whichever church you’ve decided on. (If not, don’t be afraid to start over!) If you’re interested, most churches have programs (like a six week class, for example) where you can dive deeper into the church and its beliefs and then become an official member.
It’s no rush to become a member; but over time, as your comfort grows, you’ll probably want to commit yourself to a particular church and become a member instead of a long-time visitor. I have yet to become a member at the church I’ve been attending regularly here in Austin, but it’s something I’d like to look into in the next few months. (I love my church here, by the way!)
All throughout this process, it’s a fantastic idea to pray and contemplate each option. Nothing about this process should feel rushed or stressful–it’s an important decision to find a place that you look forward to attending, so allow yourself time to find that place. That being said, what works for someone else may not work for you.
Definitely go to church with friends. Definitely. But also be honest with yourself if you can’t imagine attending that church regularly. Church is a very individual experience, and as much as it may be fun and convenient do go with your friends, you probably won’t feel as fulfilled as you could if you found your own place to call home. Remember that you’ll make friends once you get involved!
Blair Lamb lives in Texas with her handsome husband, Riley, and their precious puppy, Charley!