As I write this, I’m in a seemingly never-ending battle with the flu in our home. Sadly enough, these six days of fevers have one silver lining. We didn’t have to make the excruciating decision of what church we would visit on Sunday. You see, my husband and I have been searching for a new church for months and the process is wearying.
Leaving a church (as well as joining a church) is not something to take lightly. There are many bad reasons to leave a church and plenty of people who end up becoming “church hoppers.” As Christians who uphold the biblical commitment to a local body of believers, you should always make the decision to walk away with great discernment and prayer. It should be a painful, difficult process, but it is sometimes necessary.
I humbly admit that I’m still figuring it out, but I’ve learned a lot along the way. Whether you’re searching for a church for the first time or recently made the difficult decision to worship elsewhere, I hope what I’ve learned will be helpful to you.
Stick to What’s Important
The most important thing to look for is a church that is orthodox in its beliefs and teaching. This means it upholds the core doctrines of our faith as Christians. These core doctrines are the deity of Christ, salvation by grace, salvation through Jesus Christ alone, the virgin birth, monotheism, the gospel, the inerrancy of Scripture, the Christian sexual ethic, and the Trinity. If a church strays from these, run the other direction no matter how friendly the congregation is or how much you love the worship.
Instead, search for biblical teaching from the Word of God and a rejection of any heretical views. Core doctrines of Christianity are absolutely essential, but you may also consider views on baptism, doctrines of grace, spiritual gifts, gender roles, and other secondary theological concerns. However, if we can’t find a church that matches all of our theological convictions, we should remember what’s essential are the core doctrines of the faith.
Set Realistic Expectations
It's easy to say preferences shouldn’t matter when church searching while sitting in the comfort of one you love. It’s a whole different story once you’re the one searching. I was surprised by how things like worship style, church size, small group style, and children’s ministry popped up as preferences I didn’t know mattered to me. I’m learning to die to them—it’s harder than I thought it would be.
Having realistic expectations is helpful when searching for a church. We’ll all have to sacrifice certain preferences and less important theological views when we commit to a local church body. No church is perfect because no church-goer is perfect. Having a heart that’s willing to let go of certain desires will go a long way in finding the right church.
What’s helped me in this is not simply looking at what a church can give me but praying that God would lead my family to the church where we can serve and be used for his glory. This shifts the focus from what a church can do for me to how I can engage within that local body of believers.
Give it Time
When my husband and I left our church of ten years, I knew it would take time to find the church God was leading us to. Very few people find a new church immediately.
Sometimes a church is obviously not the right place for your family. In these cases, you can move on quickly to the next one you'd like to visit. However, in most cases, we’ve found it helpful to visit the same church for four weeks to get a feel for how they function as a local body before making a final judgment. Joining a church is a weighty decision. It’s wise to learn as much as possible before choosing to covenant with a church. Once you find a church you hope to join, attending a membership class is another way to learn as much as possible about their specific beliefs and their specific focus or mission.
As time goes on, it can be wearying. It might feel like you’ll never find your new church home. But God wants you in community, and he will lead you to the place he has for you. He’s with you even now in the unknowns and searching.
Remember God Goes Before You
The biggest encouragement I've found as I’ve walked through this season is that God is with us in the unknown. Our Good Shepherd is leading us on this journey, and he will not forsake us (Deut. 31:6).
He will tend his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs in his arms;
he will carry them in his bosom,
and gently lead those that are with young. (Isa. 40:11)
You and I can trust God with every bump in the road along the way to the community we hope to find. One day, each of us will look back on this season of life and see his faithfulness to us in the wilderness that is searching for a church. For now, we ask for his help to trust him with every step. Our Good Shepherd goes before us, and he hems us in (Ps. 139:5). Although the path may be long and winding, we are never without the hope of his faithfulness.
Meet the Author:
Brittany is a follower of Christ, wife to James, and mama to Theodore and three babies lost through miscarriage. She longs to encourage women to think and live biblically, making Christ their ultimate Treasure. You can find more of her writing at https://brittleeallen.com/ or follow her on Instagram @brittanyleeallen.