Section 1 – Looking for a New Church
There may come a time when you find yourself looking for a new church. This may be for a variety of reasons, however, whatever the reason, it can be a tough decision to make.
Choosing a new church requires a great deal of thought and reflection about the church that suits your needs. This will involve carefully looking at the options available to you, and a great deal of prayer, so that you can select a church that has a core doctrine you agree with.
Why are you looking for a new church? Have you relocated to a new residence or have you become aware that something is lacking in your present place of worship? Possibly the doctrine of your existing church has an element that troubles you, or your understanding of faith has outgrown what your church offers. Very few people have a static faith all their life and it is not uncommon for people to review their beliefs and find that the particular denomination they belong to, is a mismatch for an individual belief.
Thinking about why an individual should, or should not join a particular faith reminds me of a story from Iran. In Iran, the majority Islamic Faith has a strong dislike of another religion that rose within the country, the Baha’i Faith.
Islamic leaders have such a hatred of that faith that they destroy Baha’i Cemeteries, ban Baha’i children from higher education, and close down Baha’i-owned businesses. The Baha’is have been persecuted for many years and many have been killed. Many stories about the Baha’is are spread among the Muslims by Islamic Mullahs, spreading disinformation about them.
Anyway, a group of Baha’is was meeting in one city and a Muslim came in and sat at the back. He came for two consecutive weeks. On each occasion, he was approached by members of the community and invited to take part in worship. He politely declined and said he just wanted to sit and watch. The same thing happened the third week, but this time when he was asked, he replied that had attended three weeks and in all that time there had been no dancing naked around the room. He went on to say that he was very disappointed as his Mullah had assured him that was what happened at Baha’i meetings. Finally, he inquired when the naked dancing was going to start!
Sometimes we do not understand other denominations and we base our decisions on information garnered from biased and inaccurate sources, or we make assumptions that later prove to be false. When looking for a new church we must take our time to understand the doctrine of the denomination/church, and how they put this into practice. If we carelessly join a church without any investigation, we may find ourselves disillusioned and that disillusionment could drive us away from Christianity altogether.
Section 2 – Personal Experiences
For around a year I lived in Ireland, a strongly Catholic country. One thing I soon realized in my village was that if you did not belong to the Catholic church you never got to hear about community activities, you were an outsider and could never properly become part of the community. I was not a Catholic and when talking about my beliefs with friends one or two of them agreed with the spiritual aspects of my faith but could not bring themselves to make that leap and leave the Catholic church.
We seek to be part of a community when we join a church. It should feel like home. In rural Ireland that meant the Catholic church. In other countries establishing that sense of community is much harder. Does the church you are considering offer the community that you are seeking? Some of the more successful churches in America today are those which offer a whole lifestyle.
The next church I experienced was in Bulgaria. A fellow British guy and I were living in the coastal resort of Varna, where we decided to go and make friends with members of other faiths/churches. We found a branch of the Church of Jesus Christ and Latter-Day Saints, and we went along to some of their meetings. We made it abundantly clear that we had our own faith and did not want to join their church, but that we wanted to share some worship with them. People were so very friendly, there was even a translation service set up so one member of their congregation sat at the back and spoke into a microphone, translating Bulgarian into English for us in our ear-pieces. After the service, they would split into discussion groups and we were allowed to join and made very welcome, comparing their interpretation of Jesus against ours. We had many happy visits to their church during our time in Varna. Had I been looking to join a church in Varna, they would certainly be high on the list of possible, because of the love they demonstrated to everybody. Compare this to another church we visited where nobody took the time or trouble to speak to us.
To look at doctrine I will go back to my teenage years in England. I had a friend who did dielectric testing who belonged to a house church and he invited me along. I guess I went along simply as an act of friendship but on arriving I was made welcome by everyone, in particular an attractive young lady about my age. I have to be honest and she was the reason I kept going back, and over time I got swept up in this community and got baptized.
This was where it started going wrong. The pastor and the senior members of this church seemed intent in isolating me from my parents. They called them sinners and said they were a bad influence. This started to put my guard up. I also noticed that generally, when preaching, the pastor seemed to be filled with hate of anyone who was not part of the church.
I still have visions of him seething with rage, and vitriol. I just knew this was not the loving church that I was looking for, and I stopped going. It was to be 40 years before I came back to religion because of this church. To them, I guess their approach and interpretation of the words of God made sense, but it didn’t to me.
· Finding Your True Faith
Forty years after my experience of the house church, my wife was diagnosed with cancer and given five years to live at the most. This starting me thinking about spiritual matters and I was open to thoughts that I had not explored for a lifetime. I found my current faith online, and before I had even met a member of that faith I knew from my studies that this faith made sense to me. Where the house church had hate, my new faith had love. Where the house church saw themselves as apart from the community, my new faith believed in unity.
I knew within days that this would be my spiritual home, but remembering the mistakes I had made in the past with the house church, I studied, and I arranged to go and visit an elderly lawyer who was a member of this faith. I attended his home once a week for five weeks and then I knew, and I became a member of this community of faith.
There are a great many resources online where you can explore different denominations and faiths. Places where you can find out the truth, unlike the Muslims who had fallen for propaganda. Be certain that you understand fully what the community you seek to join, really believe, and how they put those beliefs into action.
Section 3 – How YOU can find a Spiritual Home
In the last section, we looked at what I have learned through personal experience. I wanted to include this so you would understand my journey and my guidance for you. In this final section, we will look in detail at how you can find a spiritual home where you feel comfortable and will thrive.
The Church is People, not Buildings
The Bible tells us very clearly that the church is not a structure, it is not a piece of architecture, it is a body of believers. Hebrews 10:25 makes it very clear that the members of the church should regularly meet together. Are the members of this church people who you would want to spend time with? Do they share the same outlook? Recent studies have shown that the United States alone has some 450,000 churches. Even a smallish town will typically have six or seven choices. Focus on these six or seven communities and decide where you best fit.
How Does the Church Regard the Bible?
Some people believe wholeheartedly, often against scientific evidence, that the Bible is literal history. Others believe that the Bible uses language to explain complex ideas understandably and is not intended to be taking word for word. Both groups of people have equal respect for the Bible but they understand it differently. If you are someone who is more liberal with their interpretation of the Bible and you join a church that takes the Bible exactly as it is read, then you are going to crash on the rocks. Many churches will have a website and will post a doctrinal statement on them. Make a point of reading them.
Is Church Just a Place to Attend on Sundays?
Some Christians like to attend a weekly church service and that is their only interaction with the church all week. Others expect to be involved in a community that may meet several times during the week carrying out different activities. They take pleasure in working with the community and learning together. If you are a Sunday-only Christian and find yourself pressured into doing far more, then you will not be comfortable.
Another Great Divide
Some believers see charity as an important task for the church to support. They expect the pastor to live a simple lifestyle and to dedicate himself to the comfort of others. Others seem to thrive in a mega-church with expensive buildings and a pastor who becomes very wealthy, living almost a jet-set lifestyle. Some enjoy the showbiz and environment of these megachurches, while others prefer a more spiritual and simpler approach, spending most of the church income on caring for the sick or the poor.
Visit Each Church
If your small town has six to seven churches before you make a final decision about which church to join, visit each one on a Sunday in turn. What sort of welcome do you get? How does the worship feel? Do you feel at home with this community? A church should notice when someone new sneaks in at the back, Someone should make a point of welcoming you.
Website and Social Media
You can find out a lot from the website of a church, and even more from social media. You can get background and an idea of how the church functions before you pay a visit. Is there genuine love shown in social media posts? What activities do the church-run? How involved is the membership in the church activities or is the same person or couple doing everything.
Finding the right church is important. If your faith is important to you and you want to feel truly a part of a community, then it is worthwhile investing some time and effort into finding the right match. Spending a few weeks checking out each church, in turn, can be an interesting experience in itself and is a sure way to help find your new spiritual; home.
What you do not want to be doing is constantly moving churches every few months, spend just that little bit of extra time now to find a place where you will feel at home.