Why Finding a Church is Hard, Hard, Hard (Even for a Church Girl)

The only way I’d be more of a church girl is if my mom birthed me while she was teaching Sunday school. That didn’t happen, but it could have, I think. Most of my afternoons growing up were spent playing “school” in the churches where my dad preached, stealing left over communion grape juice, and getting my fill of the local gossip by reading the notes the high schoolers threw away after services.

When my dad left the ministry when I was sixteen, slowly church was no longer an obligation; it was a choice. And for five years, the choice to attend was not one I frequently made. At 21, a friend invited me to hers and after resisting time and time again, I caved. I felt a specific call on my life not to just be the church-going Christian I always was, but to pastor, to commit my life to ministry. At the age of 23, I started full time vocational church work. Going to church was now part of my job (and it wasn’t necessarily a bad part of it!)

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Burnout and time, production meetings and countdown clocks, entitled members and abusive supervisors began to overcast the joy I found in ministry with a grey cloud of skepticism and bitterness. This cloud came and went; not every church I worked at was terrible. At 29 years old, I was ordained and sent out by that church to pursue God’s call on my life to pastor by writing and speaking.

So much life happened in the last four and a half years. I’ve spoken at nearly 100 churches that are not my own and I have loved each and every one of them. When Tim and I got married and lived in the Davenport area, it was surprisingly easy to engage with a small church plant. Tim knew the pastor for almost a decade. It was in the mall…by the Sears. There was no countdown clock and they gave so much money away and every week there was a prayer meeting. Other churches and ministries could use the space. People wandered in for counseling or to use a prayer room. Oh, and the coffee house next to it was a part of the umbrella ministry and you know coffee is just as important to me as doctrine.

I kid.

A little.

It was not perfect but it was home for us for those nine months we lived in the Quad Cities. Now we are in Tennessee, complete with baggage from working at churches (and honestly, a tinge of resentfulness that creeps in from time to time), and with two different backgrounds (I consider myself a Baptipresbopalian who favors long liturgy and singing prayers and an altar for weekly eucharist; Tim is a non-denominational somewhat reformed guy who is spirit-led and hates the countdown clock as much as I do). Thankfully, we both desire a church that holds the Bible as its teaching, is crazy-intentional about prayerfulness and discipleship, that doesn’t want to be the biggest, baddest church but solely seeks to be the church God is calling them to be. We appreciate diversity, financial responsibility (holy cow, are we learning so many churches are millions of dollars in debt!), serving the local community, and being known.

Clearly, I realize that sounds like a “What Makes a Church Perfect in Our Book” list but it’s truly not. We’ve been praying for months to find this church, and wow, is it tough.

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We live in a world of messaging, analyzing “What does this say?” to anything we hear – church related or not. When I get handed a bulletin printed on fancy paper and as the countdown video flashes sweet images and scriptures on LED screens and I see the church is $6 million in debt, what does that say? When I google “Small church, Franklin, TN” and the top result is a church that says “Come check out our new building!”, what does that say? When a church hands me a program on simple green paper printed from a copy machine and under debt, it says “zero,” what does that say? When a church website says, “We don’t get in your face and won’t impose on your life,” what does that say? When a church lets the homeless sleep in the church, and when a homeless man died on the steps of another church just miles away, what does that say?

As an introvert, this process is particularly difficult. I see the appeal of the large churches and am drawn to that, knowing I can sneak in and out and hide and nobody has to talk to me. That’s a temptation, but one I must fight. We went to a small, 60 person church yesterday and I literally wished I brought my anxiety medicine because I knew they knew we were new and would talk to us. Tim, who’s a bit more extroverted than I am, loved that people came up and said hi and were very warm and welcoming. I hid behind him like a toddler and darted out as soon as I could.

If it’s hard for me, a girl with a very active and intimate relationship with Jesus, who is an ordained minister, a girl who speaks at churches half of the Sundays out of the year, who grew up in the church and worked in churches for almost a decade to feel anxious visiting churches, how much more do those who are far from God or far from the church feel? How does a church welcome those who are extroverted and those who are shy? I appreciate the honesty of the churches who print their finances each week, but if a non-skeptic like me sees a big debt and has concerns, what would a skeptic think?

If you’re in this boat with us, trying to find a church home – not a perfect church – but one who shares important doctrinal values and a methodology consistent with the way God has wired you, you are not alone. Tim and I pray for us, and we also pray for you as you walk this journey. There is nothing Satan would rather do than to disconnect us from other believers, discourage us, and disappoint us so that we slowly walk away from serving and loving and being encouraged and taught and teaching. Stay on the course with us. And we will continue praying (and ask for your prayers, too.)

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive, off-topic, hateful or rude. Let's be grown ups here!

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55 thoughts on “Why Finding a Church is Hard, Hard, Hard (Even for a Church Girl)

  1. Anne,

    This post was terrific. I read it from my pastoral perspective and it made me think what is my church projecting to others? It also made me reflect when my wife and I were looking for a church. The best thing I can say is to rely on the leading of the Holy Spirit. He will guide you and your husband. You will both know when you are at the place where God wants you to be. I will be praying for you guys.

    – Jonathan

  2. I am thankful that in my 40 years I have never really had to find a church. I was a pastor’s kid. Then there was college which probably should have involved the intentional finding of a church but which as an introvert without a car usually meant just going to wherever my roommates were going.

    Then as a grad student who was employed by a local denominational association I was expected to attend a church of that denomination. There was only one that was reasonably close. I stayed there another 10 years after graduating. Then I moved to be closer to my wife’s family and we went where my wife’s family went. (The shift was from a 40 or so per week church to a 5 campus mega church which was a pretty big deal.)

    I honestly have no idea how I would attempt to find a church should I need to someday.

  3. For me (like you) as one who has worked and lived on the “inside” for more years than I care to admit, there is always that suspicion of what lurks behind the curtain. Regardless how much we try to push that thought away, the reality of it always makes its way to surface.

    Nevertheless, you are on target Anne. Do not let the enemy of our soul ever push us toward disconnectedness. We cheat ourselves and we cheat the body of Christ in doing so. You are of great value to the body. As someone mentioned earlier…sense the leading of the Holy Spirit…regardless how mystical that may sound. He is faithful.

  4. Great article,
    I just moved to Tennessee and went through the same thing. I LOVED my church in Oregon. Once I grieved my old church, I found one I really like in Brentwood called Grace Community Church. I will be praying you find one!

  5. In the exact same boat Anne, being hurt as a minister and a missionary in the community. I can love and serve others easily, but finding that place of intimacy and trust is hard. Going out and filling pulpits about half the time, makes it hard to find a place to plug in and be real. I praise God for my “home study group” that shares accountability and the deep prayers and discipleship, but I long for a church connection that will be a place to plug in when I can.

  6. It’s both hard and not hard at the same time. The basics have to be solid and it is important for you to feel a connection. After that it is just adjusting to new believers and a new situation. For me, it is the introvert side that struggles. I don’t want to have to put the effort out to form new relationships while on the other hand I want those connections desperately. But, as a believer I know I should be able to work with and love just about any of my fellow believers.

  7. Hi Anne Marie. I recently wrote a blog post about people who stayed away from Church because they were looking for a perfect church (http://herstheword.blogspot.com/2013/10/all-of-us-are-church_30.html). They were prone to criticise the Church and other Christians because no one was as perfect as they were. When I first read your post, it sounded exactly like that. But then when I went through your post again, I realised that it wasn’t that you were being critical, you just had valid concerns you wanted addressed. Also, you weren’t staying away, you were actually going to church, truly seeking to find a place to call home and put down roots. But I hope you understand that nothing is perfect. And maybe you have been called to put whatever is wrong to rights. I pray you do find that place your heart is searching for.

  8. Thanks for sharing so eloquently. Your flair at describing what so many deal with, gives pause and deep thought, to what I now will contemplate, when I new faces in church. When one has grown roots over the years, we forget this struggle. Thanks for bringing this to light.

  9. I know it’s about 20 miles outside of Franklin, but may I offer a suggestion? The church body I serve has a church in Colombia, TN called Christ our Savior. I don’t know a whole lot about the church itself, but I would encourage you to check it out. Their website is http://www.coslutheran.com. Blessings on your search.

  10. Hello Anne,

    I have been walking a very similar journey and have been questioning many of the same items that you have been addressing in your blog. I have concluded that very few people approach this conversation with the directness and transperency that I have found in your posts and the brief conversations we have had. Frankly many ministries are doing there damnedest to mimic the business they lust after and I have found most of them to be full of crap. Continue to press on the norm and search for His presence. Thank you.

  11. I can totally relate to having a difficult time finding a church. I have not been able to find a church that cares about both local and global ministry. For a few years I have felt God nudging at my heart to minister to the people in the town where my work is because there is a lot of bad substance abuse there. I finally gave in this summer and am trying to plant a church there. I pray that you and Tim will find a church where the both of you can minister and be ministered to, but if not maybe God is calling the both of you to start a new church in your town?

  12. so i couldn’t figure out how to reply in line….. sorry lol…

    off the top of my head… unchurchable….
    around our family, we like the saying, ‘all kinds of churches for all kinds of people.’ i think we, like you, have seen lots of valid different expressions of Church, and that is a really healthy thing. but we’re also pretty futuristically minded – so sometimes it seems cynical when we ask, how is this church going to be relevant in the next X amount of years. that last one is the toughest for me personally. it can seem like an unfair question. but i want to find a church that can answer it.

  13. Stop looking. You are the church. i believe people are looking for a believing community to live life with. Not more meetings. We just settle for that. Peer pressure, approval from the pastor. We as believers dont need permission. If you want to learn how its done. Watch how kids and young adults (teens) do it. They are the best connectors in the world and can develop communities to belong to at a drop of a hat. There is an amazing world out there for you to experience. Dont settle and start now.

  14. We are right there with you! Just moved to Nashville after serving with same pastor for over 16 years… Out if church ministry, but still serving in ministries as our vocations. Searching high and low for a real place to fit and it ain’t working! Been here since July. Desperately miss our faith family. Praying for you and watching and waiting.

  15. This post hits so close to our hearts as well. I never dreamed it would be so hard. After all, God is everywhere! With my husband’s work we move about every 3-4 years. We both grew up with different denominations and different experiences. I came from a small country church and my husband was from the big city experience. We have both experienced various churches but have a basic set do common beliefs and principles we were looking for. After moving and searching out several churches we actually started looking within ourselves to find out what was wrong. We were praying for a good place to land but as time went on we started to think maybe we were the problem. Were we too critical, trying to find what we had instead of opening up to new. We came to the conclusion we weren’t wrong with our beliefs and continued on with the trial runs. We finally landed at a good place for us only to move a year later. This move was now 3 years ago and we found the perfect place right away! You definitely have to keep searching and it will come. Bless you on your journey.

  16. Anne, it’s really good to see this many comments on your blog in this short a time! (Even tho I agree with what you said about not wanting to fall into the trap of measuring your ministry by numbers. Still, I say Yaaay!)

    My family and I have all decided that we don’t care much about what denomination a church is, but we DO want to find one that whose people (1) love God with ALL its heart, (2) love their neighbors, not even just as much as they love themselves, but as John writes, as much as Jesus loves us! And (3) that’s willing to work with the other churches in its community to put that love-of-neighbors into practice.

    But, as you and some of your commentors have said, finding one like that is hard! I’ve succeeded ONCE in my life! And that was a long time ago. May God give us more!

  17. Hi Anne —
    I wondered if you might be interested in a church plant? The church community I’m part of in Illinois sounds so much like what you describe here. They aren’t millions of dollars in debt. They focus on local AND world missions (abolition international, blood:water & big dent.) They have a vision of church not being a place to go, but rather a way of living your faith out every day of the week. Everything they do reflects that vision. Anyway, if you’re interested in hearing more about them or getting in contact with the launch team, feel free to email me! ( jkeurich@gmail.com )
    My family and I moved to Illinois from Portland, Oregon a few years back and I get how hard it is to find a church — we had to look for months before we found a new church home. I’m also an introvert and came out of a small, mission-oriented church (the Evergreen Community, I think you spoke there/ had a backyard bonfire thing a few years back?) I was ready to give up, thinking we’d never find a church family who shared our vision for what church could be. The many awkward church visits can be so difficult, and exhausting! I’m so grateful we stuck it out and kept looking. It’s so true that no church will be perfect — but I think it’s important to believe in where your church is headed and that they are making sound decisions. I think it’s wise for you to be intentional about finding one that is right for you and your husband.
    Anyway — I hope that despite this being a hard season, that it brings you to many, many good things through the search!
    Jeannie

  18. hahahaha. i forgot to mention that the church I’m attending in Illinois is planting a church in Nashville in the near future — that was the whole point of that post. Love that I somehow forgot to clarify that.

  19. I’m right there with you. We’ve lived in our current town for a year and a half, and we still haven’t found a community that feels like family. We could relate to the different church background/preference thing, too, though our interests are sort of coming closer together as we’ve been married longer (I guess that’s a good thing :). So yeah. Hard, hard, hard…

    I can vouch for Grace Community (mentioned by another commenter) as I attended there as a college student in Nashville. Good people.

  20. Thank you for your transparency Anne Marie!
    We are new in Franklin and debating whether to continue home-churching or look for a place where my husband can fill in as preacher and/or music minister. I look forward to being in touch.

  21. I am currently in this scenario. I kind of fell away from attending church regularly I guess because I was hoping my husband would attend with me and he was always stuck working or didn’t want to go. When I moved to my community over 15 years ago I just picked a church on the recommendation of some friends. I got married there, my kids were baptized there but it never really felt like home. They also have financial issues and spend money on strange priorities in my opinion. I started longing for a church more like the one I grew up in. I tried several around the community but nothing felt right. Finally attended one this past Sunday that seemed like a fit. The lady beside me could tell I was new and after the service took the time to tell me about how much she loved the church and she had just been there for year and a half, having moved from a bigger church (same scenario as me). I am taking that as a sign from God that this is probably the right fit! I think I’m finally home!

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  23. I hope that anybody who comes to new church for the first time would feel welcome. I understand that this is sometimes difficult, not everybody likes being greeted in the same way. I would say, don’t get discouraged! Everybody wants to get to a point where they feel comfortable. If you survived the first time, you will survive again. Practice makes perfect!

  24. Wow! You read my mind! My husband and I are struggling with the same issues. It is nice to see that others out there hold the same values and reasonable expectations. But why is this so hard to find? I wish we lived by you so that we could start a church. Thanks for your post.

  25. I needed this so much. My heart is so big when it comes to God, but I am haveing the worst time finding a church home and it scares me sometimes.

  26. This is a really interesting read for me this morning; a Sunday morning after/during my time trying to grasp ahold of God (or let Him grasp me as may be more the case) and wrestling again with the possible specter of finding another church. For about 4 years we have been attending a very open style church with evangelical roots, a quite amazing rock band, beautiful (and very hip) set design, a funny and very gifted pastor who gives great biblical messages sounds good right? And this after a decade 1/2 in a large, traditional, Southern Baptist church where our kids went to private school, I was a deacon (they were desperate) my wife led the high school senior SS class etc, etc. which all went down in flames for us when a new, authoritarian pastor came in and tore everything up just because he could. And this while everyone in leadership just stood and dutifully let him do it in the spirit of not being divisive. So we looked and found the place we needed at least at this time. And it’s been good for a time, yet now we see there is an untouchable feeling between the leadership team, the church body and a palpable lack of connecting among the body too. It’s as if everyone is a stranger and after the service there is a mad dash out the door. They do not have “membership” or Sunday school classes but a volunteer led, small groups model is the intentional structure. I actually enjoyed that but my introverted wife…not so much. You see we would get into a group and she would end up leading because she is a gifted public speaker and natural group leader. But when the next season came, nobody else would step up and take their turn leading. Neither of us do well with all the expectations placed on us in friendship nor in church relationships/ responsibilities and this complicates things as well. We love to have friends and be a friend, and serve (where led by the Holy Spirit) but with so many people and situations it seems that once you have connected, all these expectations arise and obligation sets in. Then friendship and serving eventually becomes impossible. I wonder if we are just weird? Is it unrealistic to think it possible to have meaningful friendships in the church without losing your freedom? Didn’t Jesus die to make us free? Why doesn’t being a Christian feel free? I can’t even say this in most Christian circles without being judged by others in the church who think I’m being un-Christian, selfish and unwilling to be a slave for Jesus. I’m beginning to wonder if they’re right? Maybe we just don’t belong? Maybe our sin and selfishness run too deep for the blood of Christ to cover us? Surely not! So we begin a search for a church again for this new season of life. Traditionalists may call us church-hoppers I suppose but I don’t recall reading about the sin of church hopping so much as I have read of sin in judging others. We are nomads of sorts I suppose but who says this isn’t God’s plan for us? He does what He does with this lump of clay and it’s A-ok with me. Because of Jesus, it is good with my soul. Perhaps you and your husband may be cut from the same common cloth set aside for His holy purposes? Peace to you and grace!