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Introducing a New Blog Series: Finding Church

We are looking for a new church.

In our nearly fourteen years of marriage, we’ve never had to do this. We’ve left churches twice before, but we always knew where we were going next. This time, we don’t know. It’s a bit disorienting, to be honest. We have a ridiculous array of options. (We live in a area with anywhere from 2-5 churches every square mile.) One of our first hurdles is figuring out where to start.

little church

I’ve found some resources with advice on how to get established in a new church, (something we have done before) and on how to leave a church without burning bridges (also something we’ve done, with varying degrees of success). But I haven’t found much on the process of actually finding a church — of identifying what you’re looking for, breaking that down into characteristics that you can spot in a prospective church, working out a process, and then actually executing that process.

I know many people have to find a new church, and I’ve done it as a child with my family a few times. But this is the first time my husband and I are at the helm, setting the course, and making the decisions. He goes into this reluctant and discouraged, while I am skipping along excited about the prospect of meeting people and going on a spiritual adventure. What we do have in common with this church search, besides a mutual conviction that we must find a new church home, is that we’re writers. We both decided (independently, I might add) to write about it and share the good, bad, and ugly on our blogs. (For Scott’s take, read here.)

Each of us has our own preferences and theological leanings, so we will have different criteria and will prioritize those criteria differently. To pull a random fictitious example out of the air, I may be willing to compromise on the size of the church but insist on a specific version of the Bible, while you’ll be willing to compromise on the version of the Bible used but insist that the church be large enough to support a coffee shop, bookstore, and verse-themed golf course. But if I know you prefer mega-churches with golf courses, I’ll understand why you would find a smaller church with a parking lot instead of a lawn unsatisfactory and I won’t take it as a personal insult.

In the next post in this series, I’ll talk more about how we’re approaching this (at least for now – we will change as needed). I will try to describe what we think the church should look like, so you’ll know how I’m assessing each prospective church. My hope is being descriptive like this will reduce or eliminate the possibility of hurt feelings along the way.

A word to local readers: I won’t name any names, for two reasons. One, I don’t reveal our location on the blog. I will delete all comments that reveal our location. If you have a suggestion or question, please email me instead of commenting on the blog. Also, I don’t want to hurt or offend anyone who attends and loves XYZ Church by saying “I didn’t like XYZ Church.” Please avoid naming churches or leaving mean-spirited attacks on churches. I know all too well how much hurt and pain has been perpetuated by churches on individuals. But my purpose with this series is not to engage in church bashing. I want to keep the atmosphere constructive and positive wherever possible. I will remove mean-spirited comments at my discretion. I also will not write about the church we left. Many dear friends remain there, and we are working hard to maintain those friendships. I do not want anything I say or write to hurt them or our relationship.

As we begin our journey, what advice do you have for us? Have you ever looked for a new church? How did you go about it? How long did it take to find a new home church?

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  1. Oh, good luck, Joy!

    My family moved around a lot while I was growing up, so I attended a LOT of different churches. Some felt like home right away–some never did.

    I guess the one bit of advice I would offer is to think ahead about what your non-negotiables are, especially when it comes to the church’s view of women. I remember attending a church that I LOVED, and not finding out that they were opposed to women in ministry until I was sitting in a membership class. At the time, I was too timid to speak up and back out of the membership process. We were only there for a few years, and it bothered me, but if we hand’t moved away it would have become a much more serious issue for me over time, no matter how great the church was. I know several women in the same boat–they’re at a church that they love, but where they will never be fully accepted the way that they want to be.

    In my adult years (with the exception of the church I mentioned above) my husband and I have stuck with the Evangelical Covenant Church–it’s a very open-armed, relaxed, missional community that doesn’t make a big deal out of dogma. Worth checking out if there are any ECC churches in your area (there’s my pitch. ;-))

    • Ahhhhhh. You’ve hit on a big one for me. I have no idea what’s reasonable and what’s idealistic with this specific issue. I’ll have to see if the ECC is anywhere near us.

      • And you know I would make the same pitch. I love our denomination – but I will make this disclaimer. We are congregationally run – that’s our polity – and so the churches will vary a lot. I don’t think you’d find one that was explicitly anti-women (and if you did, I’d want to know about it) but some are more open than others, shall we say. And as with any denomination, individual churches will vary personality-wise and vary quite a lot. Nevertheless, I would say without a moment’s hesitation that it has been a GREAT home for me, for my husband and for my kids when they were growing up. We are such a small group that none of them has found an ECC church near where they live that ‘fits’ them as adults, so my daughters are Presbyterian and my son an Episcopalian. Many blessings as you search, Joy. And it will most likely take a while – sorry about that. (For official positions, check out the denominational website and look at ”resources.’ (http://www.covchurch.org)

  2. I love this idea, Joy, and I’ll be following along closely. My family (as well as me personally) has some experience in leaving churches and I know how painful yet necessary the decision can be. It’s a long story so I’ll keep that for another time. I left the church altogether during college and took tentative steps back in during grad school. I finally settled somewhere for several years, only to have to start the process all over again when I moved out of state. I am finally at a church that refreshes and revives me each week that I go. I don’t know how to advise you during this process because I’ve never had to consider my husband’s or children’s feelings. While it would have been nice to have someone accompanying me while I looked for a church, I can see how it adds another layer to the matter and how it can be hard finding a place that everyone agrees on. I’ll be praying for you guys.

  3. I’m glad that you guys are writing about your experiences. It’s always hard having to leave. It’s good to have a chance to connect in a new place. I remember leaving one of the churches that I worked at. We had a staff meeting and the pastor listed all our priorities as a church on a white board in one column, and the things that weren’t a priority in another. I realized everything that was the most important to me was on the no biggie column, and everything that I didn’t care for was on the important list. I knew then a lot of it as you mentioned was about individual priorities and calling. My life was going a different direction. I made it a point to maintain relationships as much as possible and let people know that my life direction was just different. I made it a point to look for a place with a similar passion and calling as far as ministry emphasis. I also looked for a place where I could bring the people who were a part of my life, where they would be able to find a place as well. I looked for a place that had compassion on single moms, and families with special needs kids, and others with specific needs, who really saw the kids etc, as an important part of the church family. I also looked for a place where there was an atmosphere that was conducive to being able to have honest and open relationships.

    Over the years I’ve had more or less sucess and have been at several places, but I always try to remember that the church isn’t the machine and the organization… the church is the people. Even with the pain I’ve experienced in different places, I’m thankful for each stop along the way and the people I met there who are such an important part of my life now. These days I’ve given up on the big traditional way of doing church and I’m experiencing an amazing amount of life and fellowship a few people at a time. Luckily I still have great relationships with previous pastors, etc, and still see them too. My prayers are with you guys on your journey. I’m looking forward to reading about it. I’m with you… it is kind of an adventure. 🙂

  4. Welcome back to the blogosphere!

    I changed churches a few months ago. It’s kind of a long story, so hopefully I can hit the highlights here. When my parents and I moved here in Easton, MD, I joined an LCMS Lutheran church that was literally right across the street from our house. I enjoyed it a lot. I liked the whole liturgical form of worship. About six or seven years later, though, a lot of my previously-held evangelical beliefs began to change. There were certainly things about the LCMS that I didn’t agree with anymore: the LCMS does not ordain women, they are not gay-affirming, and they generally don’t believe in evolution. So I decided to check out the local ELCA Lutheran church, and before I knew it I’m joining a new church!

  5. This is most interesting to me. I will be following your journey. We do not have the option to change churches, because we are Catholic and there is only one Catholic parish in our community. We did our church searching 25 years ago, and ended up in a program to convert to Catholicism. I will never change because being Catholic is a lifestyle, and it’s where I belong. I know of Catholics who change parishes for one reason or another, which is similar to what you are choosing to do. But we would have to drive at least 40 miles to attend a different parish, and that’s not practical. Fortunately, we love our parish, and it’s large enough that you can either get lost (some people have, and for that reason left the parish) or you can find the ministries and people that help you in your faith journey and hang out with them. It’s not a “megachurch” by any means, but we have seven Masses every weekend, so we never all gather at once. When we do, it’s a much smaller number than the actual active members. Thanks for sharing.

    • I’ve always wondered how it works within the Catholic Church. I know people around here who go to Mass at different parish, but we live in an area with several not too far apart.

  6. My family’s been down this road and it is a bumpy one. It will be interesting to see how your journey goes. I do have to say, though, that golf courses, coffee shops and book stores don’t even figure into what I look for. For me it’s the “meaty” stuff that matters.

    • Hahaha – yeah, I tried to pull the goofiest example I could think of. 🙂 Those things actually irritate the crap out of me.

  7. We left our church at the end of November (2011) for several reasons, and we haven’t yet started attending anywhere regularly.

    However, we are in a distinctly opposite situation when it comes to church options. It’s been rough for us. Although we recently had the opportunity to go to a church while we were in Denver and if I could pick that church up and move it here, or find some way to get there each week, I would.

    I wish I could offer some suggestions as to how to proceed, but I’m just not in that place right now. And the lack of options here makes it really difficult to think about the bigger picture.

    I hope you find a church that makes you both feel at home.

    • Sometimes I think it’s wise to take a break before diving into the church search. Depending on the circumstances you left and whether that situation is resolved or still unfolding, I can definitely see holding tight for awhile. I prayed for you this afternoon when I read your comment, that you would find a church community, even if it’s in a home.

      • That’s what we thought. One of the big reasons we left was burn-out. But, there are only two other major options in our community right now and we’ve been to all the “big” churches in our tiny community already.

        Thank you for your prayers, Joy. It’s been a real blessing lately to know people are praying for us. Thank you.

  8. I am currently in the process of finding a new church too, after having moved to a new town a few months ago. It is really hard but I’m also ok with not finding one right away and am enjoying visiting different churches. I actually kind of dread having to pick one.

    • That’s interesting that you like to visit different churches. I do and I don’t. I’m always curious about what goes on inside each different one, but I also need to have roots. It’s hard to put down roots when you don’t stop moving, you know?

      • I think partly because I have been a part of so many different denominations (from the time I was born) I enjoy visiting different churches. I think also because I’ve been on two different church staffs, I like seeing how different churches do things.

        And, the more time I spend visiting, the longer before I have to actually make a decision 😉

        It’s hard to make the decision too, because once I do and become involved and develop relationships with people, we end up leaving (moving due to husband’s job).

  9. If your ideas are REALLy that drastically different, you’ve got a tough ride ahead! It’s not easy to ‘shop’ for a church. I know what I would look for – but you may very well be looking for something quite different. Blessings as you go.

    • It’s more a difference in personality, so far. He is a stayer, so taking this sort of step is foreign and uncomfortable. I’m a nomad and wanderer, so staying when the going gets tough is foreign and uncomfortable for me. We’ve both been growing a lot recently, for sure!

      As to what we’re looking for, we may have some interesting discussions ahead as we try to identify that and prioritize. I’m pretty sure we will prioritize some things very differently.

  10. I was invited to our church four different times and in three different cities over the course of 3 years. I always said no because I was uncomfortable with the idea of being “invited.” 😉

    When I was finally I ready, I was in the middle of praying for a church where there were enough young people I could relate to and for a church where the Bible would be at the center. (I wasn’t a Christian, but I had been reading on my own for over a year and was in love with the Word of God). Anyway, right in the middle of my prayer a woman I had met called me, and I didn’t even know she went to church. Long story short, I had soon found the church I was looking for.

    Hugs 🙂

  11. We’ve made some effort a couple of times to find a new church. Some excitement (and trepidation) at the outset quickly collapsing into exhaustion. The thought of trying again makes me shudder. I would rather just stay where we are even if it means I tune out much of what’s said. (I’m pretty good at tuning stuff out anyway.) Well, I don’t completely tune stuff out. I’m more careful to have intentional discussions about more significant problems with my daughter afterwards these days.

    I have become convinced that 2-5 different sorts of churches packing every square mile is not an indication of a healthy Christianity, but rather more like a disease symptom.

    So no real advice, I guess, but I do wish you the best of luck. Hopefully you’ll happen upon a church where your family will find a place.

    • It bothers me how fractured and fragmented we are here. I agree — having so many different churches isn’t necessarily good, though I would prefer to have many smaller churches than a few megachurches.

  12. I’ve done the church hunt thing and it was a LOT harder than I ever expected. Partly because it was due to a move so we were leaving a church and people that we very much loved, so there was a part of me still looking to find their exact duplicate in our new location. Which of course did not happen. It also didn’t help that with switching regions we were exposed to a whole new set of denominations and had to start from scratch in figuring out what they believed in, etc.

    I think that knowing our non-negotiables helped a bit, at least it kept us on the same page when we’d look at each other one week and say “I just can’t go back to THAT church”.

    The biggest key, however, was patience. It took us 3 very discouraging years to find our church, but it has been so worth it in the end.

    • Wow. Three years is a REALLY long time.

      • Well, I think it was complicated by the fact that we both grew up in the Mennonite church and had pretty much attended them all our adult lives (except for 10 years after college in a non-denom for me). IMO it is a little harder to find something equivalent to that. There were a total of 2 Mennonite churches here, neither one with small children which was one of our non-negotiables. They just didn’t work out for us.

        And yet all things come around and we ARE actually part of one of them now…joined a church plant led by a pastor who was also pastoring one of the churches in exchange for facility use. Ended up merging our C&MA congregation with the Mennonite congregation. Sometimes I laugh to think that 8 years ago I left that church building in tears because everyone was over 60 and now we have a thriving, growing congregation of all ages.

  13. We have been involved in a new church plant since October and it has been a real blessing.
    It can be very hard and frustrating when you are in a church that you know you are to leave, and the journey of looking for a new church.
    I recommend that you do not compromise on the things that are important to you. For example we wanted, sound biblical teaching, genuine people with a heart to love God and others. Also, to keep in mind that the church is God’s people, not a building.
    As you seek the Lord in prayer, asking Him to lead and guide you in this, you can be confident He will plainly show you where you are to be, and there is so much joy and freedom when you know it.

  14. Part of the issue with church hunting is figuring out what desires we have for church are actually reasonable or realistic to want for church.

    Additionally, many of the things which may truly be desired may not be initially apparent within a church. Walking in the door, most of what you get to encounter is the basics: Their childcare, their worship structure, their preaching, etc.

    I’ve reached a point where I’m not sure that church will ever excite or interest me again… it’s a duty, and the grass isn’t greener anywhere else. Some part of me says that this likely isn’t true, but at present, it’s the only reality.

    I wish you luck on your hunt.

  15. Kristin says:

    We left our previous church in the fall of 2008 due to a move but we would have left anyway.

    our most important priority was a place where our daughter with Autism would be accepted as someone who was loved by and important to God. We wanted her viewed as someone who had a neurological condition. We were looking for that instead of being taught that it was her sin and our poor parenting that had caused her disorder.

    it was what bothered us the most at our previous church that become our most driving force in our new church.

  16. Cannot wait to see how this plays out!!!


  17. We just went through this so I thought I’d share some of the things I found helpful during our search.
    1) Make a necessity list (for us this was things like pastoral accountability, good Gospel, etc.)
    2) Make a wish list (this included egalitarianism, children’s programming, high quality music, traditional worship style, etc.)
    3) Start browsing church websites and their denominational websites to find a fit with your lists. This should narrow your search down to 3-5 churches that you can then visit.
    4) Look and feel for a sense of grace when you walk through the doors. Are the people welcoming? Are there tattooed, homeless, broken people welcomed in the pews? Does grace come through loud and clear from the pulpit?
    5) Attend you “maybe” church for a few months.
    6) Then meet with the pastor with both your wish list and necessity list as well as a list of questions you have to ask him personally. One key question: have they ever used church discipline, and if so, what were the circumstances and MOST IMPORTANTLY the outcome. Did the person being disciplined remain in the church? Are they in good standing now?
    7) Attend a board or deacon’s meeting to observe how the pastor interacts with the staff who hold him accountable
    8) Ask for the name and phone number of a parishioner who no longer attends, and go out to coffee with them.
    9)Ask to see a copy of the church budget for the preceding year.
    10) Go to dinner at the pastor’s home to see how he interacts in his natural environment.
    11) Sit in for some of the children’s church or events to see how children are treated and whether they are being presented with the Gospel.
    12) If you can’t get a straight answer about egalitarian/complementarian, ask for a list of duties women would be eligible to perform in this church.

    That might seem overwhelming. Remember, this is a list from a skeptic who had recently been burned by church! Your process might be much simpler than ours was.

  18. Wish you and your husband well in this process. As a pastor I don’t face this; well, I do, but the back side of the equation. However, before becoming a pastor, we searched for a while. We both grew up Lutheran conservative theology), and we found that doctrine, specifically Gospel was critical. It was amazing how many churches claim to speak the Gospel, but it is really sugar coated law, except when pointing at others, then it was supposed to make people feel good about themselves. We found several churches where we liked the environment, but theology was just not there.

    Now as a new (but very old) pastor in a small mountain community, I find myself helping others search for a church home; they will get the Gospel in all its sweetness. One couple just Sunday marveled at what the Gospel was, because they had only heard the alternatives. Interestingly, when I filled the vacancy here 18 months ago we brought in two young people. Since I have been here in August, we have begun seeing new people, including younger families (they hadn’t really taken in young families for 5-10 years, so a gap there). And we have a possibility of 10 baptisms this summer (all teenagers)!

    So, your journey will be interesting for me. But even more, I will continue to pray for you and your family.

    Lord God, You are a gracious and loving God, and You desire that we draw close to You in worship, and close to one another in love and service. Grant Your special blessing and leading for Joy and Scott and their children as they face the challenges of looking for a new church home. Give them wisdom and discernment. May the right place be evident to them in this process. Grant to them strength and patience in the midst of any discouragement. Raise up people who will support and encourage them; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever. Amen


  1. […] we’re searching for a new church home. This particular morning, we had tried a church that billed itself as “real and relatable.” […]

  2. […] (If you’re visiting from Deeper Story, you can read the first post in the series here.) […]

  3. […] Frank’s books “Pagan Christianity” and “Reimagining Church,” with particular interest as we are currently seeking a new church home ourselves.) I can attest to how easy it to be distracted from the core purpose of the church by packaging and […]