Are you having trouble finding the “right” church? Are you looking for an amazing preacher? Do you find yourself visiting one church after another looking for a tight small group experience in an adult ed class or in a church small group ministry? Is your spirit aching for great worship and good fellowship with people?
You are not alone.
There are many of us, in college and out, who know how you feel. But there is hope; it’s not found in a particular church, but in a person — you!
When my husband and I left grad school, friends, and a close-knit InterVarsity chapter we knew we needed to find good Christian fellowship right away. We also knew that it would probably be in a church, but we had no idea how to find the “right” church that also had the solid biblical teaching we had experienced with InterVarsity.
Our coming into the kingdom was through the prayers and help of Christian friends in college. We had been nurtured in Bible studies sponsored by the InterVarsity chapter. Our whole Christian experience had come through these regular studies, retreats, and conferences. During our final year in college, we did attend a church occasionally, but we had no real roots in it. Because of this (and the fact that neither of us had had much contact with a church while we were growing up) our quest for a new spiritual home was difficult.
Before we began our search in our new city we prayed: “Lord, let us know the church by the welcome we receive from the people.” Simple, direct, to the point. God answered it directly, but not so simply.
We visited two congregations that seemed cold and unwelcoming before we found ourselves in the second row of what eventually became our church. The pastor was not outstanding, the choir was nonexistent, but after the service it took us a full hour to get out the door. People of every age introduced themselves, asked us about ourselves, and even invited us to dinner. We were overwhelmed by their warmth and interest — and by such a direct answer to our prayer.
Six months later we joined the church. We had gotten to know a few people, had become involved with Sunday school, and had grown especially close to one couple. This couple nurtured us and cared for us through our struggles and really kept us in the church for the first two years.
One of the first things that struck us about the members of our new church was their reluctance to change. We often thought, “If we would offer to teach them how to study the Bible inductively, why wouldn’t they come to our study? Yes, they have children, but why can’t the kids stay up until nine o’clock once a week in the church nursery while they study with us?” The answers were not obvious.
Hungry for fellowship, we went to church activities but often felt out of place. The people were all very nice, but it was hard to communicate. Because we had no children, we couldn’t enter many conversations (who wants to hear cat stories when you have kid stories?).
Then two things happened. We found a prayer group outside the church, made up mostly of young people who met our needs for spiritual growth and fellowship. We also suddenly discovered a different church that seemed to meet all our desires for fellowship and had a really meaningful worship service. We were excited by this new church; we were even ready to leave our first church. But God said no.
God did not use any drastic means to keep us in our church. He just spoke very clearly to both of us, asking, “Are you willing to put your heart into the church to which I first called you — to be faithful to it and its people? Are you willing to serve them?”
We searched ourselves when we heard these questions, and we began to see that our attitude had become a barrier which kept us from truly integrating ourselves into our church community. We learned several things:
- We hadn’t been willing to accept the spiritual diversity in the church, to recognize that just because people couldn’t make it to our Bible study didn’t mean that they were less “Christian” than we were. Their priorities were different than ours, but they still knew and loved Jesus — perhaps more than we.
- We had been “spoiled” by the excellent speakers we had heard at the many InterVarsity functions we had attended. No, our pastor would probably not win a public speaking award, but we found that as we opened ourselves to the Lord speaking through him, and were faithful in praying for him, the messages often spoke directly to our specific needs.
- As soon as we put our hearts into our church and opened them to the people there, looking for the common ground in Jesus and sharing failures and victories in our spiritual walk, all sorts of new relationships opened up.
- We finally accepted the fact that because a church is made up of imperfect people, we would never find the perfect church. However, as we learned to be servants to those around us we discovered a much greater awareness of the blessings in a caring church community.
- As we were open to serving, the Lord directed us to the one group we had always felt we could serve best — college students. But it was our commitment to serve anywhere that enabled God to open the ministry in which we felt most comfortable.
Be open to God’s vision for you and your church fellowship. His vision is often so much greater than ours could ever be. And don’t be discouraged by the bureaucracy sometimes found in churches. If God has given you a vision he’ll see it through any committee. It takes time to really feel a part of a church family. But as long as you’re willing to give your heart and be a part of a church that is not an InterVarsity chapter, but a unique fellowship with different needs and people, you’ll discover a new depth to your Christian walk and new challenges for growth. The church needs you today. Go and serve!