You’re a Christian and you’re in a new place, whether that be because you moved because of work, you’ve started university or simply moved far enough across town its impractical to go to your old church. How do you decide where to go?
Okay so when I say those others don’t matter, I don’t mean you need to go to the first church that loves Jesus and stay there without taking any personal preference into account, especially if the specific doctrine is important to you. But what I mean is all those questions really are just personal preference and I think it’s really easy to get caught up in it. You can so easily slip into thinking how a church isn’t like your old church in this way or the other. And of course if this is doctrinal or a serious style clash then it probably isn’t the church for you. What I ask is; please don’t go around trying to find a copy of your old church just because it’s safe, and then go on to complain (however silently or inwardly) about how it isn’t quite there.
Long before I arrived in my university city I decided I needed to find church that I could serve God in. After my experience at Soul Survivor (details second half of this post), I also decided that if I could find a church that was dedicated to reaching out to the community it would be a lot easier for me to serve God in the way he had called me to. I had made no decisions about the style or denomination of church. I come from a Baptist church back home but have never considered myself a Baptist; only a Christian and, if pressed, one with mainly Baptist leanings in terms of doctrine. I made no decisions about the size or the amount of students.
I’ll be honest that when I got here and had to make decisions about where to try I took a couple of those decisions simply to cut the options a little. I realised a church with an especially large student presence with a lot of specific provision for them would probably lead to little to no opportunity to get involved in the church itself or mission so they got “crossed off”.
Just to add in a note here from hindsight: sorry about all the numbers from here on in but it’s the easiest way to identify different churches without telling you their names.
The CU at my university (and many others) do a “Church Search” for the first four weeks of term where student reps from each church talk about their church and then freshers follow who they want. I decided that after those four weeks I wanted to have finished trying out churches so that’s… four churches right? Well, yes, any sane person would just do four, but I was especially keen to try out lots of different churches so I did three out of four evenings too so have visited seven different churches in this fine city. They ranged from those of a congregation of less than 100 to over 300, traditional and conservative to contemporary, artsy and charismatic, a large student presence to a small one. After two weeks I had visited three and felt that even though one did suit me well it wasn’t the place for me. I thought I was being too picky and just not being happy with any of them because I was being awkward. I prayed and considered and visited two more the following sunday #4 and #5. #4 was a lovely little Baptist church in the centre of the city that reminded me of my home church in terms of style and direction. I liked it and was top so far.
But #5 changed everything. #5 is a New Wine C of E church on the other side of the city, where there are no current students. I was invited by email via Fusion (www.fusion.org.uk), inviting me to a steak dinner and evening service. Throwing a few emails back and forth it sounded like a church I could really get involved in and they are really short of sound technicians (the best way I can serve in the church after 4/5 years experience at my home church), so I went along. The steak dinner was extremely tasty and the people I met were lovely. At the service there was a 7 piece youth band who really won my over with a great rendition of Rend Collective’s You are my vision and a couple of other Soul Survivor favourites which actually sounded right! (The recreation of a festival-style worship song is usually very difficult in a normal church.) And during the service I just felt the people were there to encounter God and He was who their hearts were seeking. It struck me as a place where faith grows and is nurtured.
I went back home not sure what to think. This church is on the other side of the city and has no students; really God? Is it where you want me to be?
I had plans for the following week (now last week) as I had connections with someone at a church in Bath so felt I had to visit it; it also had a large student presence so I felt it was worth a look (#6). I also had an idea for the evening service; a student church plant of another New Wine church (#7). #6 was too traditional and not lively enough for me. I think that sentence is pretty hypocritical of me but actually I didn’t feel like it was where I was meant to be and maybe I just put it down to the “preferences” mentioned. #7 was brilliant, extremely contemporary and quite charismatic. It reminded me very much of Soul Survivor, which generally is a good thing; however I feel like for that to be a weekly occurrence it would be too overwhelming for me. Again perhaps it was a “this isn’t where I want you” nudge which I gave reason to. I spoke to one of the CU leaders who was already at #7 as he arranged a ride for me. I told him I really liked #5 and he agreed it was a great church and it’s a pity there aren’t any students there. He had a friend who is actually doing an internship at #5 and would happen to be at #7 that night. After the service I was introduced to this guy and we talked for 10/15 minutes about #5 and why I liked it, asked him some questions and only got more and more sure that it was where I was meant to be.
Over this week I’ve prayed and thought it through and decided that it where I want to go. I’m going back this morning to be sure that the service I went to wasn’t a weird fluke that never happens usually and if it still feels right it’s probably where I’ll stick.
I really want to emphasise that decision came about from praying and listening to where God wanted me. I made excuses for not wanting to be at other churches but they were just excuses to cover God telling me it wasn’t where I was meant to be.
I’m sorry about how long this post has become but I really hope it will help you if you’re looking for a new church in a new place.
I guess it can all be summed up in: focus on where God wants you to be, not on where you feel most comfortable. If that’s the first church you see then great, but don’t be phased if it isn’t.
Anyone else gone through this? Any thoughts, comments, questions or disagreements?