Wednesday, July 27, 2005

finding a church

At my church, we're starting plans (slowly, but surely) to add a Saturday evening worship service, for a variety of reasons, which maybe I'll write another post about soon. Anyway, in planning, I was talking with a parishioner about how people end up at the church they attend. I was 'born into' one church when I was little. My parents eventually led me to a new church home when I was a sixth-grader, where I went grudgingly at first, but eventually came to love. I stayed at that church until, well, I became a pastor! During college, I attended one of the UMC churches in town, but hopped from church to church too. During seminary, we had a very strong community of worship in our own chapel. So I've never really been in the position to seek a church to call my own.

So I want to know - how do people find a church? If you've had the experience, I want to know, if you are willing to share:
How many churches did you visit before you landed where you attend?
Where you invited by someone to the church you now attend?
What were you looking for in a church?
What did you find that 'made' or 'broke' the deal for you?

Is it the music, or the preaching, or the fellowship that keeps people coming back to a church, or running from it? I'm sure it is a combination of all these things and more - but if you have some insights, I'd appreciate your sharing.
Thanks!

8 comments:

Dean Snyder said...

Elizabeth

I worked on the staff of annual conferences for seven years. During those seven years, we lived in three different communities, so we had to find churches three times.

Each time Jane and I had to think through what was important to us.

It was:
1)engagement in mission. For a couple years we lived in a conference parsonage in the suburbs and drove into the city to go to church because we wanted to be part of a congregation committeed to mission and ministry where the need was greatest.
2) diversity. We found a lack of ethnic and racial inclusion to be uninspiring. This also pulled us into the city.
3) the presence of children. I was surprised by this, but I found it hard to be part of a church where children were not much present. In one church I volunteered to coordinate nursery care because we were not doing a good job (I thought) of welcoming families with children. Isn't much of the purpose of church oriented toward the posterity that will follow us?

It was nice to have good music. We appreciated thoughtful preaching. But, if we had to, we would sacrifice all else for mission, diversity and children.

Are we abnormal?

Dean

Revwilly said...

statistic show that at least 80% of people who vistit a church for a first time come as a result of someone's invitation

John said...

Well, I chose my first church because it seemed deeply evangelical and enthusiastic about Christ.

I prayed over my next (and current) church and let God decide. He chose one that I would not have considered, but has proven to be a great place to serve and grow.

My wife has only been at thriving, booming churches, so our current church has been a great disappointment. When we move down to Orlando in a couple of weeks, she gets to decide where we go to church, as long as it's UMC.

I like the idea of a Saturday church, expecially for people who must work on Sunday mornings.

Karen said...

I have moved around quite a bit in the last couple of years, so I've looked for a church A LOT! I haven't been invited to attend any of those churches, namely because I was in a new town and didn't know anyone to invite me!

As for what draws me to churches, a variety of things. (They are in no particular order)

- diversity, although I can't say that is a deal breaker since the church I'm in now isn't particularly diverse.
- Music is somewhat important. It isn't necessarily the style, I just want it to actually be worshipful, not half dead mumbling of words!
- Preaching is also somewhat important. I want a sermon that makes sense and at least is somewhat applicable.
- theology, I do look at what a church believes. The church I'm in now is the first one I have actually joined, so I wasn't committed to a particular denomination, but I knew there were some I agreed with more, and some I couldn't attend consistently.
- kids, I have always loved kids and been active in children's ministry, so I notice how the church relates to kids. It is important that the kids are a valued part of the church and not just shoved off to the side.
- people, the people are what makes a church so that is really important. There were some churches where barely anyone talked to me when I visited, that makes me not want to come back!

The last time I moved I visited five or six churches before I found mine. I know most people say you should visit a church more than once, but I only went to each one once. When I went to my church I KNEW that it was home. And every time I go there, it just confirms it more and more. So I guess in the end, while I do look at and notice all that other stuff, I kind of just know when I'm home.

So that is really long, but there are my experiences!

Sanctimonious Hypocrite said...

The comments are really interesting. I look forward to reading more.

I assumed the question was "how did you choose the denomination." In my small town, there's only about one of each. I hadn't attended church at all for the previous twenty years, and had never attended a Methodist church.

From watching the news, I saw the Episcopals as too liberal, and the Baptists as too conservative. And I mean that in terms of baptism, scripture, and personal behavior, not politics. I don't care for arm-waving and foot-stomping; I like incense and robes; I'm sick of hearing 'Amazing Grace.' I don't hug casual acquaintances, and I find glad-handing strangers creepy.

With these things in mind, I looked through the phone book. It was basically the Lutherans or you lot. I knew a few people in each church. The Methodists won the toss, for a suitable definition of victory. Although after attending for ten years I still haven't become a member. I like the church, the people, and our preachers.

In some ways I wish I were a Catholic, but my beliefs are inconsistent with orthodox Catholicism. It would be one thing if I'd grown up in the Catholic church; Then I could gloss over the doctrinal differences and be an "American Catholic." But I don't really feel like I can attend a church if I don't subscribe to its beliefs.

Tom Harrison

minddance said...

I just started reading your blog a few weeks ago so am not sure what your church is like, but I can certainly offer my thoughts on church hunting and what we are looking for.

When my husband and I decided to leave Catholicism, we decided to go to church from the denomination I grew up with, which was Methodism. We looked up a nearby church and gave it a try and stayed until we moved out of the area.

It worked for us because it was young, energetic, and the minister was willing to try new things. And it was really easy to get small groups up and going because people were so willing to host them. Even though it was a small church, there was always something to do almost any night of the week. You could jump in immediately and know people on Sunday. And because there were so many young people, there were lots of kids so it was easy to organize stuff for them to do. It was a pretty eclectic group. Not necessarily a conscious inclusive group, but not exclusive either.

We moved to Texas and the church hunt has been much more difficult. We prefer to attend a church that is open and welcoming of homosexuals. But the problem we're finding here is that most of the Methodist churches that are open to homosexuality don't offer much for children. I will happily organize small groups or adult ed. I'll do almost anything. But the thought of trying to organize stuff for kids in these churches feels daunting because the focus is so heavily placed upon being inclusive that very little committment is given to the kids programs.

I realize if I just put my neck out there and made the effort, I could potentially help bring more young families into the church so then youth stuff would be easier to organize. But I just can't get myself motivated to do so. Most of my time is already spent with stuff involving my kids. So I've been a very hesitant to get involved in these churches because I know what is going to be required of me and I'm just not sure I want to put forth this kind of effort. I'd give it elsewhere, but so much of my time is already involved in kids activities that I'd really like to be able to spend time with adults at church, too.

I realize that this is whimpy. But I think there is an unfair expectation in many of the "inclusive" churches that because you have children, you'll be willing to organize stuff for them. But for some of us, that's the last thing we want to do. For some of us, what we need most is time away from activities involving children. Not more of it. Helping out in a Sunday School class is one thing. But organizing and marketing activities is another. It's so much work.

This seems to be true of many of my progressive Christian friends. It's really difficult to find a church that is both open and kid friendly. So lots and lots of us end up at Unitarian Universalist churches even though we'd prefer to remain in a Christian denomination. Most of us are looking for families involved in social justice and activism and want a strong community to support it. We'd prefer it be Christian, but UU's close.

I think it's easier for UU churches to focus on families because homosexuality isn't an issue at all. Methodist and Presbyterians have to spend so much of their effort and focus on battling the rules within their denominations so a committment and focus on children kind of goes out the window.

Not sure if this is what you are looking for. This may be more of a problem here in Texas than where you are. It didn't seem to be as problematic in California.

Lorna said...

Great question.

I'll get back to you as soon as I've time to unpack my thoughts and memories.

If I don't come shout ok?

Keith Taylor said...

Beth,

I grew up in the UM church that I still refer to as my "home" church since my birth in Memphis. I attended there through college until I moved away for work reasons. After I moved away I was only one state away in Alabama and came home almost every other weekend, I still attended pretty regularily. My letter is still there to this day.

I eventally got married about 9 years ago. My wife and I were married in a Methodist Church in her town since she was a Roman Catholic and it was easier for me to go United Methodist Church and talk to the pastor and use their church. That would have been alot more difficult in the RC church since I was a protestant.

Shortly after we got married, we moved again to Georgia. When we got to the North Atlanta area, I had a much harder time finding a UMC. I shopped around at UMC and Presbyterian churchs, but we just couldn't find one that we liked. They were good folks, but "something" was missing to me. I can't put my finger on it, but I just didn't feel like I was in a UMC. Maybe it is more to do with the fact that things and people in a major metropolitian are different, but after about a year, we just quit. Since that time we have been "on our own" so to speak. I read the Bible often, I pray daily, I watch services on TV, and I listen to a spirit filled pastor at lunch every day on the radio at work, but we just couldn't find a UMC that I felt right about. I still go to my home church when I go to Memphis, there is a UMC that is on TV here in Atlanta that I love to watch, but they are way on the other side of town.

Why am I a United Methodist?

(1) Well, a stupid reason for picking a denominations, but my family has been Methodists since about 1800 when Bishop Asbury visited my gggggggrandfather. His son and was ordained a Methodist Minister by Bishop Asbury in 1805. The family has remained Methodists every since. The Taylor family descendants have a camp meeting every year. They even have their own UMC. Tabernacle UMC in Brownsville, TN. The pastor is a Taylor descendant and one of my very distant cousins. As a matter of fact, my own brother was baptized there three weeks ago.

(2) In my own close reading of the Bible, my own prayer life, my own reading of Bishop Asbury's and Rev. John Wesley's journals, I still hold true to the core belief's of the UM denomination. However, that is rapidly changing. If the UM church contines shifting in a liberal direction and continues to erode core biblical truths concerning marriage, the divinity of Christ, the Bible as the divinely inspired Word of God, etc. Then I will be leaving as well. As an example, there is absolutely no way I could be a member of a UCC or UU denomination.

I went to a Roman Catholic College and there I are times that I wish I was a Catholic, but I don't agree with their dogma and core beliefs.

I most closely associate my core Christian Beliefs with that of the Assemblies of God. If you read Wesley's and Asbury's journals they sound a lot like modern day Pentecostals. Unfortunately, the modern day UM church doesn't. But, I am still hanging in there in hopes for a change.