We live in a world that has become very mobile. Most people will not keep the same job throughout their adult lives. Indeed, many don’t keep a job more than five or six years. People come and go. Neighborhoods age and transition at an astonishing rate. It’s a reality of our world. And in this world, many people - perhaps even you one day - will find themselves facing the interesting task of looking for the right church.
It’s a hard thing, finding a church that is right for your spirit and soul. And I have nothing whatever to say about that task. I’m sure you’ll manage. If you really want to find a church, you will.
What I want to talk to you about is what happens AFTER you find your church. Because as difficult as it may be to find the right church, it’s even harder to become an integral part of a community of faith. Many people find a church they like and begin attending, only to leave months later, wondering why they never felt like they were a part of the church family.
Sometimes the church is to blame for this. Churches are very much like families, which means they all have varying levels of dysfunction. Some churches become so inwardly focused that they have a hard time helping newcomers fit it. But you and I don't have the power to change churches, so let's talk about you. I have five suggestions that I think will help you find deep friendship and community in any reasonably healthy church.
First - Attend worship on Sunday mornings.
I know that sounds ridiculously obvious, but it needs to be said. When I was a pastor, I was amazed at the people who would show up at our church, become very excited about joining, and then attend maybe once a month or so. They would pop in on a Sunday morning, sit on the back row, and leave quickly. If that is your pattern, I’m not going to scold you for it. But let’s be honest about this: you are never going to find deep and intimate friendships at church if you don't attend. If you plan to become part of a church, make attendance at the main worship event a high priority.
Okay, I had to get that one out of the way. But let's assume you plan to attend worship at your new church most Sundays. So let’s move on to some other things.
Second - Take the next step.
Every church has certain events that take place at times other than Sunday worship. There might be dinner on Wednesday nights or a Bible study at someone’s home. There might be a pot-luck meal after church. People new to church might think that these things are less important than Sunday worship. But these gatherings are often the times when people really get to know each other. Perhaps you can’t attend them all, but make an effort not to miss these other events.
Third - Be outgoing, but don’t rush things.
Church relationships follow common human rules of relationship. Whether we gather for sacred or secular reasons, people follow some typical emotional rules of behavior. People don’t want to be hurt, so they will hesitate to invest themselves in the life of someone who may be here today and gone tomorrow. It will take some time before you are accepted into a faith community. Take the initiative. This is hard for those of us who are introverts, but do meet and greet people. Just don’t be in a hurry. Hurried church relationships are like hurried romances. They generally don’t end well.
Fourth - Find a place of service.
Church membership should be about serving Christ in our world. If you approach your new church with the attitude of discovering what the church can do for you or your family, you won’t get much out of it. Find a way to serve the community. Volunteer in some way. It can be as simple as picking up hymnals or helping at a bake sale. Service to Christ’s church is good for your soul, and it has the added benefit of being another signal to the members that you want to be a part of their community.
Finally - Submit yourself.
Christianity is 2000 years old. Many of the rituals and traditions of various churches are hundreds of years old. Even small rituals that are specific to your new church may have ancient roots. You may not understand everything at first or fully appreciate the symbols and liturgy, but submit yourself to them. You may have much to learn. You should be a fully participating part of a faith community for a few years before you start making suggestions about what needs to change.
These are just a few ideas for you to ponder. But having spent many years as a pastor and watching people come and go, I think I can say that if you faithfully follow these five suggestions, you’ll find yourself becoming intimately connected to your new church.
I wish you all the best on this journey of faith and faithfulness,
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