by Mary Napier
My husband and I are slow movers when it comes to important changes in our lives. When our kids were young, we contemplated leaving the church tradition we were both raised in to raise our children in a less liturgical, more evangelical church. As life-long Catholics, it was a big decision, so in our typical slow-moving and cautious style, we attended two churches every Sunday, getting up and going to Mass then going to a semi-non-denominational church with an exciting enough children’s ministry that prevented our kids from balking at the thought of going to two church services each week. After a year of doing double-duty, my husband and I agreed it had become obvious where the Lord wanted us, and we left the Catholic Church for our new evangelical life.
We were faithful attenders of our new church for the next 30 plus years. The church, like many others, went through several changes in leadership, sometimes peaceably, sometimes not. Still, we stayed. We were involved in Children’s ministry, prayer ministry, life groups, men’s bible studies, women’s bible studies and the various and sundry activities that make up the life of a healthy church. It wasn’t a perfect church, but it was a good one, and it was, as we had initially decided, where the Lord wanted us. We came to believe that the primary consideration when choosing to attend a church is not how good the preaching is, how friendly the people are, or how many ministries or groups they have that I can connect with. These are all important and should be explored, but this is the question that needs to be answered when trying on a new church home: Is God calling us to be here?
Retiring, downsizing and relocating to another state brought us once again to a place of searching for a new church home, a place that would answer “yes” to that important question. This time, as tech-saavy empty nesters in the midst of a pandemic, our church search bore no resemblance to our church change those 30 plus years ago. Faced with an abundance of choices in the suburbs of a mid-sized midwestern city, we made a list, visited two churches and promptly curtailed our in-person visits as the covid numbers soared. We took our list to the computer, “visiting” a different church each Sunday. We “dressed” for church, taking “come as you are” very seriously. We sat on the sofa, armed with computers, Bible apps and the hot drink of the morning. We worshiped and we listened to the sermon via YouTube, with one of us knitting though it. At the end of service, we talked about the feel of the service in general, the teaching, the worship and whatever we could see of the church structure. We would decide if we wanted to “revisit” or cross it off our list.
We have faithfully “attended” church each week since we moved here. (We former Catholics are really good at this.) We have “visited” over fifteen churches and have narrowed it down to what looks like our Final Four, ones to visit in person…someday, in a post pandemic world. Here are some things we have learned in our search:
- The Church is a big, big place. There are a lot of individual churches out there. We screened by going to church websites, looking at the “what we believe” tabs to check out their theology. The “about us” tab gave us some clue to the demographic age and size of the church, showing the age of staff members and how many staff they have.
- We could shop for church any time, any day. We have limited our “visits” to Sunday morning, but can easily go back and listen to a whole sermon series of any pastor that catches our ear.
- Several of our favorite churches had last minute preaching changes due to positive covid tests, but we couldn’t tell much about masking or social distancing protocols from watching on line…which might be a good thing, maybe, since we don’t plan on attending in person until post pandemic. It helped us not to make judgments that wouldn’t have been an issue in a non-pandemic church search.
- We found out a lot of information about small groups – what they do, where they are – and what outreach activities the church is involved with. What we couldn’t find out is how we would personally fit into and mesh with any of them. Again, that will wait for post pandemic interaction.
- We had to tell ourselves to keep an open mind. One of the churches opened their worship with Kool and the Gang’s “Celebration”, complete with an on-stage smoke machine. (We had said we would never attend a church that had a smoke machine.) We rolled our eyes. Granted, the church was celebrating their tenth anniversary that day, so we stuck it out. We loved it and that church made our Final Four.
We have lived in our new city for almost six months now, and in our slow moving, cautious way, we are inching toward our new church home. We still have solid connections with our old church family, so a text, an email, or a phone call will get us instant prayer support or fellowship when needed. Still, we look toward the day when we will visit our Final Four, seeing and talking to the faces that are just backlit heads at present, filling out connection cards with pens, in person. We look forward to meeting pastors and drinking church coffee and wincing when the worship band is too loud. We will go through this in-person stage at our own deliberate pace, with one ear tuned to the quiet voice that is not an audible voice, the one that will say, yes, this is where I’m calling you to be.
Mary Napier is a former stay-at-home mom and retired church admin person. She and her husband recently moved to a suburb of Minneapolis because the Chicago area just wasn’t cold or snowy enough. When she isn't blogging God-related perspectives on current topics or writing her family’s spiritual history, she enjoys reading, knitting, fishing or tying flies. You can read her eclectic ramblings in The Angle at marynapier.blogspot.com. or follow her family’s spiritual history at habanrus.blogspot.com.
Love, love, love this! As a ministry couple, we’ve never had to “church hunt” (or even house hunt–there’s always been missionary housing or a parsonage!). As we contemplate retirement sometime in the next 5-7 years, it might be our first time for both, and your reflections are very helpful. I recently heard a retiring missionary say about his return to the U.S. and entering into a new season of relationship to the church, that he doesn’t want to find himself on either of two extremes–apático (apathetic) or crítico (critical). Your wisdom and the lesson you have learned help to navigate a path between the two, I think. Thank you.
Thank you for your comments. Yes, putting what God wants for us in a church ahead of what we want for ourselves in a church helps us avoid falling into the apathetic/critical trap. And it takes the pressure off us to find the “perfect fit”. God knows what we need in a church body. He may choose to place us somewhere we would have judged to be too “tight”…or too “baggy”.