Finding a church was the single most important thing we did after moving. If your family is like ours, it’s on your mind as you think about moving or if you’ve recently moved.
We arrived in Tennessee on a Sunday afternoon. It was too late to attend church that day, but it was high on our list of things to do as we started unpacking our boxes. I did what any curious, church-seeking person does these days. I stalked church websites and their social media accounts. These were the things we were looking for:
- Preaching that was true to God’s Word and not just a nice story time.
- A congregation that felt like a place where we could fit in and find friends.
- Location close enough that the people we met would live near us.
- A place where we could easily serve in some capacity.
These were the things we knew were important to us, but as we actually started looking, a few more things became evident.
The way a church presents itself online, for better or worse, caused us to eliminate some options right away. It highlighted what we didn’t want as much as what we wanted.
When Nathan and I were in Tennessee for our in-person interview, we planned to stay in town over the weekend. One reason was to attend church there. We knew no one. Getting a recommendation from a trusted friend was not an option. The other option was to research online. I found some places that were near some rentals we were considering and I browsed their websites. I also found some twitter accounts by their pastors.
After a little reading, the church we were first considering attending was crossed off the list. The location was great, but the way the pastor presented himself online gave me pause. Isn’t that interesting? He came across in a way that was full of legalism. We never visited that church and I can’t even tell you its name. If I worked at a church in a position of helping assimilate new people, I would pay attention to what people are saying about our social media presence. It’s a powerful tool and the true front door of the church. People spend a lot of time thinking through the design of a church lobby and the flow of a new visitor in its physical church building, but if they fail to give equal importance to their presence online, they are misplacing their efforts.
When our family actually moved to Tennessee the following month, we didn’t attend the church we had visited because we ended up living 20 minutes away from that church and its size was a bit overwhelming for us.
Do you know how we actually decided on our new church home? In a nutshell, this is how the process looked:
- Make a list of churches that seemed to fit us based on what we could see online.
- Visit church #1. It was nice, but we weren’t sure it was the one for us.
- Sign up for a Bible Study at that church because I knew I wanted to be in a study, and I didn’t know how long it would take to find a church.
- Visit church #2. Too noisy. No, not because the music was too modern and we’re old. The building it met in was a warehouse and the noise echoed in a way that was physically painful for my husband.
- Hear about another Bible study through a FaceBook page and decide to join it.
- Visit church #3. Church was fine. There were some people there I had just met from one of my Bible studies. The pastor was out of town though. So, it was hard to get a feel for the church.
- Visit church #4. Decide to attend there because it was close, the preaching was fantastic, and it felt like a comfortable place for our family.
We expected finding a church to be a straightforward process. In reality, it was harder than we thought.
4 months after we thought we were settled into a church, we were still unable to get connected there. The way they set up their classes for new people and how they helped get people into small groups was dragging on and on. It felt like a set-back. I was so discouraged.
So, what did we do? Remember Bible study #2 that I mentioned? I had been attending it for 3 months. The women there were kind and inviting. They became my friends. As we were figuring out that we weren’t fitting at the church we had spent the last months at, Nathan asked me, “Why don’t we go where you have friends?”
That’s how we ended up at our church where we have been for the last 4 years. I go into great detail about our journey with finding a church so you can benefit from what we learned.
Today, this is what I tell any new person looking for a church home:
- Get a headstart on the process by finding out whatever you can online before you move. You’ll eliminate some immediately and save yourself some time.
- Decide what your non-negotiable things are. Differentiate between what you would like and what the deal breakers are.
- Expect it to take a while.
- Don’t wait to be certain about a church to sign up for things at the churches you are visiting. One of the best things I did to find out what a church really was like was to sign up for multiple Bible studies at different churches.
In a nutshell, it boiled down to this formula:
Non-negotiable stuff on our list + a community where we could comfortably plug in = our new church home.
If you are in the middle of finding a church or have learned some things on the other side of the process, I would love to hear from you!
I’ve compiled a list of some of the most helpful resources, books and articles I’ve found about church health and culture. If you’re interested, you can sign up here: