It’s been about two and a half months since we moved. We’ve visited six churches so far, but the search feels more tiring to me than it did the last time we had to look for a new church (2012; you can read about it here). I’ve told two new acquaintances that I am just not sure what I am looking for this time. Last time, we had a checklist; it worked well. We ended up in a church that had what we were looking for and we made some good friends there. But for some reason, even the thought of making a list this time feels tiring. It’s not like the church will be perfect; none are.
We’ve visited churches that have liturgy and responsive readings and sing hymns. We’ve visited churches that have bands and others with organs or piano. We’ve visited churches where there is communion every week and others where it it less frequent. There’s been grape juice at some, wine at others. They may or may not have a tagline to advertise their brand. Their websites tell us what they believe and what to expect. There are groups and programs and sports teams. Some churches have had 20 people in attendance; others have had hundreds. In some, people have been welcoming and friendly; in others, we’ve been ignored. We haven’t heard a bad sermon.
And still, I am not sure which one is the best fit.
It’s hard when I don’t want to act like a consumer when deciding, but it’s too easy to do. I look at the websites, the bulletins. They tell me exactly what they have to offer me, what the next steps to take are, and then I’ll belong. They are all excited or glad I’m there. I can “connect” or “get plugged in.” And if I don’t? They don’t really say–but I’ve been in enough churches to know that if you don’t sign up, volunteer, get involved, then you aren’t seen as really being a participating member of that community. You’re not “buying in.” You’re not truly being a part of community.
But what if finding a church isn’t about ordered next steps? What if it’s not about finding a place where more and more activities are added to my life?
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” –Matthew 11:28-30
If this is true, why does it seem so often that church is not a restful place? Why does church seem difficult, not easy? Why does it seem that there are heavy burdens connected with church?
The sermon I heard yesterday was about finding one’s identity in God, and not external factors (such as social media, our jobs, etc.). I question, though, how this applies if one’s identity in God separates a person from the way (most) everyone else thinks church should be done. We see large churches with large budgets as the ones that are alive or growing and small ones as dead or dying. Why?
Jesus told us that where two or three are gathered, he is there. He had only 12 close disciples that he spent time with. And he didn’t have a praise band or colored lights. And we have no idea if he was “a great speaker.” By today’s standards, that’s a failure of a church.
I remember a group of people I met with two or three times a week for Bible study a few years ago. For about 3 or 4 years, we met regularly. We went to different churches in different denominations. Some of us didn’t even attend church. In that group though, we grew as friends more than I had in the churches I attended then or have attended since then.
Is that church? Many would say no. There was no singing, no offering, no greeting time, no power point, no three-point sermon, no jokes. No ordained people to make it official. It was simply sharing a meal and learning together. We were in community with each other, just as we were, not as anyone else expected us to be. I think one of the differences between that group and church as I’ve experienced it for some time is that in that group, we were individuals who came together to be a part of a community, rather than a community who discouraged people from being individuals. Maybe that’s what I’m looking for: a place where I can be me and be accepted for that, instead of having to conform to what is best for everyone else.
Does such a church exist? What are your experiences?