(Question) What Are You Looking For?

coffee28.jpgHave you ever found it difficult to find a church?

I have talked with many, many people who have found this to be very difficult.  Single.  Married.  With kids.  Without kids.  Young.  Not so young.

Yes, I do realize that some people look for a church with a consumer mentality.  There are some people who seem to approach this issue like they would any other consumer need.

Yet, I am convinced that there are many, many sincere Christ-followers who, for a variety of reasons, have found it difficult to find a church in the town or city where they live.  Perhaps you have had such an experience.  Or, you may have been in conversation with a friend who has wrestled with this.

Let me add one more concern here.  Here is a recent college graduate who moves to a new city because of a new job.  She thinks she has found a church, but her parents don’t feel comfortable with that church.  Or, her friends can’t figure out why she would consider being a part of that church. 

The question(s):  Why is it so often very difficult to find a church?  What are some of the factors at work here?



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19 thoughts on “(Question) What Are You Looking For?

  1. I wonder if perhaps you are underestimating the power of the consumer mentality in the West, even among serious, devoted followers of Christ. All of us have been spiritually formed by a culture whose very survival depends on inculcating the consumer mentality into its people.I think a large part of the problem stems from two facts:1. There are a large number of churches in any given locality in America.2. People feel they should find the best church (or close to it) of the bunch, based on a long list of criteria (e.g., theology [including minutiae], programs, worship style, size, buildings, leadership structure, personality/charisma of the leaders, etc.) Add in things like what family and/or friends think of it, and could anyone choose?To put this another way, I think most of us approach finding a church with an optimizing/maximizing mindset. I think we would be better served by a satisficing one.

  2. We are about to move out of state and begin the process of finding a new congregation.  Honestly, I’m not excited about it but feel an urgency as we will only be in this town for one year and are having a baby partway through.  Otherwise, I had thought it would be a nice year to explore & enjoy a sabbath from "commitment." Finding a congregation is hard because of many things, including your consumer-driven culture.  We want to find places to belong that are easy and we don’t have to work hard.  We want to find places that are deep enough but not so deep as to push us, as those relationships are the ones with the highest wounding potential.  Most looking for a church these days are looking for a place to fulfill the idea of church rather than actually belonging to the body of people.  Some are looking for a place to attend where they can go but not get hurt.   When I was younger, we attended a church with which we eventually left but not until after some time.  The issues were clear: they discounted the power of God through prayer, they preached more about the 7 deadlies than Jesus…but my parents taught me that you don’t just quit easily.  We spent more than 2 years attempting to work through these very core issues and eventually left only because there was no attempt on the other side to work.  I learned that there are many issues to be let go of, but others for which you stand up and fight.  All this was in the context of the idea that we can’t leave easily because this body really is our family & in leaving we are doing something to this smaller body & the larger body of Christ.  When I talk to people these days, there is less of an understanding of family within the congregation & even less of the global body to which we are all connected.  I think these are all issues pertaining to why it’s hard to find a congregation.   I will stop now!  It’s good to be reading you again Jim, I always appreciate your prompts & thoughts.

  3. I’m also in the process of moving and finding a new church and it is very difficult because I find myself comparing the new churches to the church that I left. That isn’t very good because I felt that my former church was exceptional and it is important to realize that every church is different. Jim (and others) how do you decide what church you should be a part of?

  4. When I took a sabatical from Ministry I looked for a church that was authentic.  A church that taught the word that was applicable and didn’t want a church that focused on non-essentials but had a passion for discipleship. 

  5. Jonathan,You may be right.  I may be underestimating the power of the consumer mentality in the west.However, I am curious to learn from many people who have told me of their difficulty in finding a church.  Perhaps consumerism is a part of that, nevertheless I want to learn what other factors may be a part of this difficulty.Thanks very much. 

  6. Jennifer,It is good to hear from you again.  Thanks very much for your reflections on this challenge.  It is helpful just to overhear what you are thinking about as you consider a new church at this point in time.It is also helpful to overhear your experiences when you were younger and how your parents dealt with the church situation.I hope that your move goes very well.  Thanks very much. 

  7. Matt,Good question.  Probably the one thing I would suggest (and I realize this will reflect my own sense of priority) to anyone in terms of finding a church is to:1.  Look for a church that takes the Bible seriously.  Do these people just talk ABOUT the Bible, or do they take seriously the Bible as the word of God? Do they seem to be the people who seem to be making a real effort to both understand and respond to Scripture.2.  Look for a church that takes Jesus seriously.  Do these people really seem to desire to know Jesus as he is revealed in Scripture?  Do they desire to be authentic Christ-followers no matter where such a commitment might lead? I realize that there is much more involved in this than what I have mentioned.  However, this is a start.

  8. One more thought here:  we don’t live in a deep culture & for those who are looking for real authenticity (as someone mentioned earlier) it is really hard to find.  It is especially difficult if you have been in a congregation where you have had that & then move and feel as though you can’t find one.  

  9. I suppose there are many reasons its difficult to find a new church.   My husband and I have been at our church for about 6 years now.  It is full of really sweet people and they are all very nice to my husband and me, but I always just feel like I’m at someone else’s family reunion.  They spend a lot of time talking about earlier years and things that happened "back when."  Many of them have gone to church together most of their lives, or at least most of their adult lives.  They raised their kids together, have shared joys and sorrows together and, quite understandably feel much closer to each other than they do to someone new coming in.  I think when this is the case, if you want new people to feel at home and a part of things, the focus needs to be on what we all have in common rather than events and experiences of the past. 

  10. After preaching for 30 years, I resigned last year from a church I’d served for 15 of those 30 years and went to work with our son in a completely different line of work (we are both licensed funeral directors). Janice and I started looking for a church to attend and the local coC was definitely NOT going to be a choice. We visited but there was nothing there to attract us … very unfriendly place though we know and love the preacher there. So we started looking and it was a very difficult time in our lives. We found so many churches to be very much like Connie described … we were at some other family’s reunion (great description, Connie!). I think every preacher and ever elder should have to try and find another home church … it might revolutionize how we see the person looking in on "us."

  11. I’m really struggling with this right now.  I love the church I’ve grown up in…BUT there are a number of reasons I want to branch out now (which I think would look different than someone who is looking after moving to a new state, etc.)One thing that make me nervous about my church–something I wish I could find in a new church–I KNOW our staff is completely overwhelmed, and that really scares me.  I know a lot of churches these days are understaffed and a lot of staff are under paid…late this evening our secretary called my mom about something and I wondered WHY she was working so late.  I keep waiting for everything to fall apart!  And so I guess…maybe I’m looking for a church where the staff has more support…or the staff is less popular?  (I adore our church secretary)…maybe I could just find a church with a really, really crummy pastor =)

  12. From the perspective of the veteran mainline pastor…


    1. A lot of churches do well enough at making church members, not so well at making disciples. There is a lot of confusion over what it means to be a church member, and how that may or may not be the same as being a disciple. These are not necessarily synonymous, but in today’s world many assume otherwise.
    2. A lot of people may choose churches based on what they perceive the church can offer them, or give them – rather than on what they can bring to God and the body in that place.
    3. A lot of times there is a club mentality, an inward focus among otherwise very delightful, caring people, which makes a congregation into something very difficult to break into for newcomers.
    4. There is a confusion that church is something that you “go to,” rather than something the people “are.”  As in, “the church is not a building, the church is people.”
    5. Teaching and doctrinal things are very important; devotion to Jesus is most important.

  13. Pastor Glenn brought up some of the very reasons I so strongly considered (and finally decided to leave) leaving paid ministry. The consumer mentality of what do you have to offer me, both in the membership and in those who were looking for a church family was all but impossible to overcome and that drains heavily on a preacher’s heart, soul, and energy. The most talented / gifted people seemed to have an "only when it’s convenient to me" mentality rather than a servant mentality and as much as I tried to move us out of that mindset I came away feeling a complete failure in that aspect.

  14. Jennifer– I am glad you added this additional comment.  I think you are right.  Whether the word, "authenticity" is used or not, it is what many, many people want and even hunger for.Connie– I suspect your sentence…  I always just feel like I’m at someone else’s family reunion.…resonates with many who read your comment.  I suspect a lot of people have experienced much the same.  Thanks for this.  Greg–Thanks for your comment which comes out of your recent transition.  I too like Connie’s phrase and expect that many have had this same experience you did when visiting churches. 

  15. "The most talented / gifted people seemed to have an "only when it’s convenient to me" mentality rather than a servant mentality and as much as I tried to move us out of that mindset I came away feeling a complete failure in that aspect."  (from Greg)
    Greg, Maybe some of what you were seeing in your church members is that those of us who aren’t in full-time paid ministry with a church don’t see our major focus for ministry within the church setting.  I see my major focus as being with the folks I am with every day, mostly in my family and work setting.  I do not feel compelled to respond to every call from the pulpit for workers to do this or that.  At one time I did feel that compulsion to show up for every occasion, but over the years found that I just couldn’t physically or emotionally keep up the pace.  (You probably already have an understanding of this since you’ve left full-time paid ministry, but I just thought I’d mention it.)

  16. Pastor Glenn,I appreciate your observations and think that you describe what is reality in so many churches.  Thanks very much. 

  17. For my family (I’m the oldest son of five children), we’ve struggled for years to find a good church in our extremely liberal hi-tech metro area. The churches that we have visited tend to be 1) snooty; 2) worldy; 3) dead; or 4) all the above. Because of our conservative beliefs and our decision to homeschool, most churches treated us like we were not good enough to be in their upper-middle class "holy social club." We just want to go to a church that preaches the full gospel and has friendly believers who will welcome and not condemn us. Sadly, we’ve not found one.
    Therefore, we’ve been home churching for the past 5-6 years as a family by listening to Pastor Dave Patterson’s weekly sermon at The Father’s House in Vacaville, CA via iTunes. We consider this to be a legitimate church in our situation because we are all believers, pray together, and grow in our faith as a family. However, we still really want to join a biblical local church someday–and we’re seeking to relocate to the Midwest where the Church is much more alive than in our metro area.