Six weeks ago I uprooted my life and moved cities. Along with friends, family, netball team and job, I also left my home church. I withdrew from my responsibilities on rosters, resigned from an elected position on the church board, and farewelled many – those I knew by name and others just by their encouraging face I saw from the front.
Finding a new local church is a priority in my new city, almost equal to Operation: amigos. (You can read what I think about only making friends in church.) In the last six weeks, I’ve visited eight churches. Different brands, different sizes, different buildings. In fact, of the eight, only two met in a purpose-built building, one of which was a warehouse (FYI, that was the hipster church. It also had wooden pallets. #hipster).
I grew up in the church and I’ve been part of a number over my life, the last for the better part of a decade. I’ve served in many church and parachurch organisations, some that involved visiting other churches. In summary, I feel pretty comfortable in most brands/labels/denominations of church.
But that doesn’t make first time visits (with the aim of finding a new home) easy.
I’ve learnt so much about the local church over the past few weeks. I’ve been encouraged. I’ve been disheartened. And I’ve been challenged. I chatted with a few friends who have just been through, or going through the same process before writing this. These are our shared reflections. I hope you gain from them.
NB: Don’t read “I” as Melanie Pennington. Read “I” as “potential visitor to my church”
It’s hugely encouraging
Irrespective of the number of people, the style of music or the volume of said music, I knew I stood with brothers and sisters. I may not have known their names, but through the songs we sung, the book we read and the prayers offered, it was evident we shared a common goal. I stand united with them. The local church is not defined by its geography, but by the necessity it is in our lives. You can move cities, but still the local church remains – a people meeting together, supporting each other in one name, for one purpose. Jesus.
- Be defined by Jesus in everything you do
Parking is the first hurdle, finding the front door the second, a seat the third
I almost gave up on a church because I couldn’t find a legal parking spot. In the end I parked illegally, walked to the entrance and asked where to park. I ended up paying for parking because the 10mins I had allowed to park and find the entrance had lapsed and the service had started. Another church I drove by twice before I spotted a small A-frame with the church logo. Three others I wandered around looking for the entrance to the auditorium. I was inside the building, but the challenge was to find the door! Another, I arrived about 5 mins late (see above) and I had to sit in the front row because there were no seats left. And it wasn’t that it was full, it was there weren’t enough seats put out. And I wasn’t about to haul a seat off the stack.
- Visitors parking
- Instructions/maps for where to park
- Directional signage
- Welcomers/ushers should be more than paper movers
If you’re not online, you’re
My old church’s website sucked. Before I left I was helping build a new site from scratch. It’s not easy. I know websites and they aren’t easy. Who is it for? What information does it need? Who will update it? So much to think about, but here’s the hard truth: it’s the first place I went. Actually, Google was: “evangelical / Christian / bible-based / bible + church + suburb.” If you don’t have a website, I can’t find you.
Once on the site, I want to know where you are, when you meet, which service is best for me, where to park, what you believe and who your staff are. I also care about your Facebook page. If you don’t update it, delete it.
- Go to your church website. Count the amount of clicks it takes to find the service times.
- Meet in a school hall, warehouse, or performance space? Submit a location and listing on Google maps.
- Update your Facebook page or delete it. Really.
- Go to communicatejesus.com. It is one of the best resources I’ve found on church websites (and social media).
Time is money valuable
Unfortunately people are busy (but not me!) and time matters. Starting and finishing (or telling people when it will finish) on time shows you value them. Visiting a church is huge ordeal. It takes time and energy to find a church, research it and then plan a visit. It then takes more time to find a parking spot/entrance/seat and strategically plan how long before the service you will arrive. Lingering in the foyer before a service is awkward. Sitting alone in church is awkward. Be assured I have thought about how long before your service I arrive. And waiting 13 minutes for your on-the-hour service to start only puts a bad taste in my mouth. Flipside: I’ve also timed my arrival to allow myself enough time to find entrance/seat and should someone notice my visit, talk to me. If only a regular arrived on time/early to greet me.
- Valuing people means valuing their time
- Start when you say you’re going to start (or explain why you started late. “Windows decided it wanted to update at 10.28am this morning”)
- Finish when you say you’re going to finish
- Get to church early. (This is a huge one for me. I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t caused my minister’s a small amount of stress over the years because I would arrive late when rostered to be involved in the service).
I could go on, and I will go on. (Did you notice the ‘Part 1’? Bahaha) Not as a rebuke, but as a gentle and hopefully helpful reminder about what it’s like being new. I am also writing this so I can revisit it in 6 months, 12 months and heck, God-willing, 6 years time to remind myself how I can be like Jesus in my local church. Standing with open arms, ready to accept and pursue anyone the Spirit stirs to visit the local church.
Stay tuned for Part 2: Welcoming, it’s more than standing at the door thrusting folded A4 sheets at people