Sunday, May 27, 2012

Church Search Chronicles

'Church' photo (c) 2010, Chris Lexow - license:
My mind changes at least every 5 minutes. The URLs all start to run together.

Conversations with Joy sound like, “Wait. Was that the one where the pastor’s sermon video was total slapstick?”

Or, “Was that the one that had the Starbucks kiosk?”

Or, “Was that dot com or dot org? Dot org is pulling up a convalescent center in Grapevine, Texas.”

Yes, we’re in the throes of our first-ever church search.

Well, sort of first-ever. We’ve been part of 3 churches in our 13-year marriage. But the church changes in our past were all organic moves that didn’t require a lot of hard work to discern. They were all blinking neon lights that the Lord graciously made crystal clear to us at the time.

This time, though, things are much different. We’ve jumped off a ledge, and are still dazed and confused. Square one. The slate is clear. No big phone calls asking us to fill a huge ministry gap for a fledgling congregation. No exciting merges with a body that needs a building. No blinking neon lights. It’s just me, Joy, 3 confused weepy kids … and good ole’ Google.

We’re taking this very seriously. We have a short list, a long list, and a longer list. We’re weighing many variables, in multiples of 5. It’s complex, and painstaking.

No one is ever good at church searches, because you’re never the same people you were for the last switch. You come at it with one more piece of baggage, which changes your strategy and approach altogether. So we need prayer.

I’ve already resolved that this not be a search for the perfect church. Such an organism doesn’t exist, for one thing. And secondly, we’ve made that naïve assumption before, and been sorely disappointed. This time, the going-in strategy is what can we live with, and what can we live without? For instance:

  • We’re prepared to overlook doctrinal differences on non-essentials if there’s a strong external bent to reach the community, and the world. We can’t do inside baseball.
  • We’re turned off by intellectual acrobatics, and turned on by action-oriented hearts who are living out their faith in manifold ways of love. We’ve spent years in the seminary simulator, and it has some definite drawbacks.
  • We’re open to any size, as long as we can open up to the same few families on a frequent basis. We hate being anonymous.
  • We’re fine with high church liturgy, contemporary, or anything in between—as long as the worship doesn’t have a candy-coated veneer. We don’t wear masks, and have a hard time relating to people who do.
  • We’re OK with less formal sermons as long as the Bible is preached accurately, and given its proper weight and authority. Slapstick sermons spontaneously trigger our gag reflex.
  • We can't live with a church that is a mucked up cocktail of politics and patriotism, with a side of Bible. Period.

We’re decidedly not church consumers. So when we visit new churches, we’re looking for oars lying around. What looks like a place where we can put our gifts to good use—encourage, and be encouraged?

I’ll try to keep you all updated on this interesting journey. This is only the beginning. And who knows—maybe something I’ll say will be helpful to you in your current or future church search. You can also hear Joy’s side of the story over on her blog.

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.”

My purpose here is not to engage in church bashing. I want to keep the atmosphere constructive and positive wherever possible. 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.

If you pray for us, please ask God to give us the wisdom to discern the very best place for us as a family—where He can use us as a family for His glory. That’s our prayer.

Back to searching. What was that URL again, honey?

How about you? 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?


  1. Thanks for sharing, Scott. Too bad you don’t live in the mountains north of LA, we would welcome you!


  2. I love your list, Scott - sounds like you have agreed on the basics about what is and is not important/mandatory. Many blessings as you proceed. Are you going to talk at all about why you've made this decision - and why your children are weeping about it?

  3. Here's how we did it...

  4. Thanks for sharing, Scott. We are praying for you.

    Here's a sympathetic church search story, from our own experience.

    When we lived in Minnesota, we went through two church searches. In our first search, we kept a spreadsheet to remind us of which church was which (because they did tend to run together in the mind). The spreadsheet listed the name of each church and our measures of its various aspects (location, size, quality of preaching, etc.).

    Of course, I wanted a 'standard' against which we could measure the candidate churches. So, I created a spreadsheet entry for the "Ideal Baptist Church" and I put in ideal aspects for this fictional church (< 3 miles away, ~250 people, great preaching, etc.). In this search, we did find a church, and were there for three years.

    Then we began our second church search. After thinking about it a bit, I remembered that I had made a spreadsheet - did I still have it? Yes! As I scanned through the document, I was immediately drawn to the Ideal Baptist Church entry - and honestly, I was so caught up in its description, that I totally forgot that the entry was entirely fictional.

    I called my wife over and excitedly began describing this beautiful church family and its many wonderful attributes. She graciously reminded me that I was enjoying a product of my own imagination. Oops!

    Best wishes in your search - may you find your Ideal Baptist? Church.


    After the

  5. Stopping by from Joy's and my husband are in the exact same place. It's an interesting ride for sure! Looking forward to seeing where it takes you guys.

  6. Best Question to ask, Where are the oars, Same question we asked and found a church that has oars lying around, not the best sermons, music, or the closest to home...


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