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Things I’ve learned while LOOKING…for a church home.

September 24, 2009

Missy and I have been looking very hard for a church home lately.  Since leaving church staff over 15 months ago, one of the biggest concerns in our family is a church home.  Since I travel and spend so much time in churches, having a church home for my own family is extremely important.  We have visited 14 churches in the past 15 months.  Some have been a single visit and others have been a couple of months.  We have felt at home a couple of places, but the needs of our family (Spiritually and physically) weren’t met.  Since we don’t feel called to Children’s Ministry, we need to have people involved in the LIFE of our 4th grade son who DO feel called to minister to him.  As a staff member, I would have dismissed families like ours as not Spiritual enough and needing more Spiritual discipline.  I confess!  I used to think that.  I REPENT OF THAT NOW.  I’m that guy who can’t find a church.  I know what I’m looking for but I can’t find it.  I am on my knees constantly begging God to show me where we need to wind up, but we’re not there yet.  God has a place for us to attend, soak from, pour out in, and partner with.

So, in our infinite hunt for the proper church, I thought I would take a few minutes and share some things I’ve learned while looking for a church home.  I’ve gone back and read this post.  It’s pretty sharp and pointed.  I come across sounding like a guy who only finds fault and won’t settle.  I don’t know if things will change soon for me or not.  I don’t know if I will trim my non-negotiables to where they will include your church but I do know I will not give up until I find the place God wants us.

1.  Great communicators are common. Most teachers and/or speakers feel their communication gift is second to none.  I would have to say I have put myself in that category.  I might not be the best, but I’m good.  I’m confident in my abilities to communicate the truth of God’s Word in a way that is understandable and applicable in the lives of people today.  After visiting different churches we have heard unbelievable communicators.  Some were beyond expectation and a couple were…ehhh…so so.  I have been challenged to grow, been amazed at the exposition of these communicators, and been humbled at the amount of great communicators out there.  I USED to think you could build a great church around a great communicator, but I have seen the absolute “bunk” in that thinking.  It takes so much more than a great communicator to keep a family at a church.  If you’re a teacher or teaching pastor, take your job for the utmost sincerity.  You really are the front door of the church, but you are not the ONLY front door.  I can love listening to you, but if you don’t have a team around you that owns the church’s vision, mission, and passion you speak with…you are nothing more than a weekly guest speaker with a regular paying gig.

2.  Your Children’s Ministry is the front door invitation for me and my family to COME BACK. I ask my son every week what he heard…not what you taught!  Have you ever taken the time to listen to one of your teachers?  I would recommend you do it.  You might be surprised.  I ask my son what he hears because that’s what he’s learning.  He doesn’t catch necessarily what you mean for him to hear, instead, he catches what you say and what his 9 year old brain comprehends.  He might like the couches, the video games, or the songs you sing, but what is going to get us back is hearing the Bible come to LIFE in him.  We are doing everything we know how to do to make our house a safe Spiritual place.  We are looking for a place to call home that will partner with us and a place that has a vision for how a child should grow in Christ.  If he can tell us all about the ball game from Friday night, who your niece is dating, or why we shouldn’t watch television, that doesn’t mean anything to us compared to him getting in the van saying, “Dad, do you know about the  guy who worked as a tax collector and was called by Jesus to be one of His disciples?  You do?  You knew it was Matthew?  Why haven’t we talked before about it?  Let me tell you what I learned about him today…”

3.  Don’t advertise something you don’t have. I have fallen so much for a flashy website or even a video that makes your church SEEM so inviting.  I have seen a slick piece that introduces a top-notch Children’s Ministry with a Disney-esque stage and light show…only to be let down.  If you advertise Six Flags over Jesus I expect to see at least one roller coaster.  If you say your student ministry gathers students from all over middle Tennessee, understand I believe that statement for face value.  To have one student outside your community isn’t really what I would say reaching a region.  Be who you are.  Present yourself honestly and accurately.  I don’t want your laundry list of junk, I will find that, but understand I really do take things to heart.  I guess I’m too trusting and would be horrified to think you would mislead me or even worse, that you would think you really are something you aren’t.  Just like your LIFE, your church speaks tremendously as to who you really are at the core.  One side note to this…if you advertise a ministry on your website and don’t have it, intend to get it started, or are going to let it die a slow painful “church” death…take if off the website, don’t send me a computer generated email stating you will get back to me if things ever shape up for hat ministry.  It really is a chaffing point for guys like me.

4.  Special Needs Ministry…ever heard of it? Ever thought of it?  Yep, I’m one of THOSE parents.  I have a special needs child and I can’t find a place where both he and “we” fit in.  It’s difficult knowing my sixth grade son can get people in the public school system to work with him and teach him how to spell words, but we can’t find a church willing to partner with us and teach him about the Bible.  Imagine bringing your child to a ministry and being met with, “we don’t have a place for him.  He’ll have to go to service and/or class with you.  Give me your name and if we can find someone to take him we will get in touch with you.”  NOT GOING TO HAPPEN.  Don’t call me, text me, email me, and promise me you have something “in the works” when you don’t have a clue what to do.  Don’t let me think people are chomping at the bit to get involved in the LIFE of a special needs kid, when the reality is you’re bribing them with a 50% off next month’s tithe if you help out in this area deal!

5.  Student Ministry is either regional or communal. Face it, your student ministry is either based around kids in your area or kids in your region.  If it wasn’t you wouldn’t do the things you do.  A community church can invite the neighborhood schools to wear their colors and not have 35 different combinations show up.  A regional church will encourage students to go and make a difference on their campus without promising the Student Pastor will be at everyone’s See You at the Pole event.  I don’t care which one you are, I simply want to know which one you are.  If I want my 13 year old to have friends at church he has at school I will choose a community church.  If it doesn’t matter to me I will choose regional.  I have a 13 year old son who is off the charts intelligent, who is friendly, and who has talent that blows me away.  He WANTS to plug into your ministry and I of all people want him there.  I want to plug in too.  I spent 12 years doing what Student Pastors do.  I LOVE Student Pastors and want to be their source of encouragement and love.  I want a student ministry that is more than games and hang outs.  I want something that will FORCE my teenager to come face to face with what he’s hearing at home…the importance of Scripture, God’s plan, and following Him as closely as possible with friends that hold you accountable.  If you have a vision that includes or adds to that, let me know.  I want to be a part of it.  Don’t make your student ministry a hide and seek with truth.  I shouldn’t have to worry at the end of the day if my son is being challenged to grow in Christ or not.  If he doesn’t get to stuff marshmallows in his mouth or isn’t picked for the dance off–that’s fine.  I want ministry over fluff.  Disclaimer:  that last section was written to me 10 years ago.  If it fits someone you know, pass it on to them.

6.  If I ask you to contact me, feel free to do so. As a staff member one of the weakest points of ministry for me was follow-up.  I hated getting treated like a telemarketer selling coagulated blood.  I’ve had so many phones slammed in my ear for calling a “visitor” I really hated doing it.  When you hand me a piece of paper, I actually CHOOSE to fill it out or not.  If I choose to give you my personal information I’m giving you permission to call me.  I’m really surprised at how many churches have never contacted us after visiting.  It’s become a game now.  I fill out the card just to see if and when you will call.  I might ask you questions about your church, ministries, or even what you would want me to know about your church.  I will be polite and I will be honest.  I won’t promise you I’m coming back…because I don’t know if I will or not…

7.  Parents really do care about what their kids are learning. I say this again, I ask my sons every week what they HEARD!  Do you?

8.  Music matters…even to those of us with no musical talent. I’ve been to churches that sang for 20 minutes and it felt like 3 hours and I’ve been to places where they sang for an hour…notice I said “they” sang…because I didn’t…where it felt like 20 minutes.  It doesn’t mean I don’t connect with God through music, it means I have my own issues during music.  I’m self-conscious and hate my own voice.  Don’t scowl at me if I don’t sing along.  I notice things like that.  I have often wondered why God gives musical talent to so many (especially in Middle Tennessee) while I get NONE.  I also wonder why someone feels it necessary to add a little more “spice” to a song than the church down the street.  You’re BOTH singing the exact same song!  It’s ok.  I don’t expect you to write your own songs.  I don’t mind if you do though.  I notice how your up-front people act.  Why would you put the guy with the perpetual frown in front of me to lead me?  Do you think I want to worship the God of frown-guy?  You think that makes me think what he’s getting from God is going to help me?  I don’t expect fake and super happy, but have you watched your own worship service lately?  Why would you let the lady who has absolutely no personality on the praise team?  “They have good hearts,” you say.  “You put your best foot forward?” I ask…  As a non-musical person, music still matters to me.  It moves me.  It encourages me.  It even draws me closer to God and leads me to worship Him.  Don’t fall into the trap of filling a position with a warm body.  Remember, your music is a front door to who your church truly is.  If you’re traditional…be honest about it.  If you’re contemporary…great!  If you’re confused…chances are I will be too and won’t be back.  One recommendation.  Watch your worship service with your staff team.  Let the non-music guys critique the music.  See what the people on your staff REALLY think.

9.  Did I mention Special Needs? Seriously, it’s an overlooked area people.  Yes, we talk to “others” in “our” circle.  Make one of us feel welcome and you’ll probably have a bunch of us.  THAT is scary and most churches truly don’t want to go there.  Don’t lie to yourself or me because you think you can fake it.  I KNOW IT’S HARD…don’t fake it.  You’ll fail if your heart isn’t in it and I’ll leave madder than ever.  A group of parents of retarded kids adds a whole new dynamic to your church…they’re needy, hurting, and messy.  The wrong combination for most churches today.

10.  The welcome begins in the parking lot…seriously!! If you describe yourself as a friendly church, how would visitors describe you?  I have visited places that made me feel like a long lost brother and those who have made me feel like the weird Uncle no one wants to admit to having.  My favorite visit was one where I was really excited about going to a specific church.  One I knew was gonna rock!  When we asked someone (with a giant “Let me help you” name tag on), “Where do we take our fourth grade son?” and the response was a stare, a point, and her turning to a child beside her and resuming her in-depth conversation about breakfast cereals…I was immediately turned off.  It didn’t matter that she turned to us as we walked off and said, “is this your first time?”  To which we replied, “Uh, yeah.  We’ve never been in the door before.”  The damage was done.  Even her complete about-face and 180 change of tone and, “Welcome to ____________ where nobody is a visitor, just a member who hasn’t joined yet,” could turn things around.  She didn’t care about us when she had the chance to…again…GUILTY I have been, but man oh man am I aware of it now.

How in the WORLD do people come to know Christ?  In spite of me rather than because of me?  NO!!  I will continue to BE the church!

11.  Your tech-savvy world might impress me in the beginning, but remember, what you win me with, you have to keep me with. I love a church with a great website.  I look in the ceilings during the worship service.  I notice whether things are “cued” properly or if things look like they were put together by Frank and Danny out in the parking lot 20 minutes before the service started.  If you do things well, I’m going to notice and if you stink, I’m going to notice.  If you hit the ball out of the park one time, I’m going to be looking for it the second time.  If you don’t measure up to the first time, it’s ok, I’m going to give you another try.  If you were a one-hit-wonder…I’ll find you out eventually.  So remember, you represent Christ…nothing less nothing more.

Finally, I know it’s been a laundry list of stuff.  It all boils down to one thing:

I don’t care how awesome you think you are, nor do I care how awesome you want to be.  I want to know YOU KNOW and TRUST the awesomeness of Christ.  I want to be a part of a growing (Spiritually) body of Christ who won’t be satisfied until they have drained every ounce of Jesus out of LIFE.  I don’t care how big you are, how many you have, or how cutting-edge you are if you don’t fit my family.  It doesn’t mean you’re not good enough for me, it means I need to be somewhere else.  I need to be in a place where my family is partnering with you, not attending your services.

Just some thoughts…

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Sherry Wilson permalink
    September 26, 2009 12:24 am

    This really gives me lots to think about. I truly trust that I have NEVER refused to assist and help anyone, especially a special needs child, to hear a kind word, give a hug or just tell them I’m so proud to see them.
    Boy, churches are falling down more lately than building up.
    Lord please open our hearts and let us see, hear, feel and know YOU for who and what YOU ALONE really are!!
    Help us also to listen to You and follow your directions!!

  2. January 16, 2010 2:15 am

    Ever heard of “Buddy Break”? A church not “afraid” of special needs…Life Assembly in Mt. Juliet, TN. Hum, now there is a unique concept, a church that serves people with “special needs”. Preaching is a little weak but from the word and is from the heart, worship is inspired by His Glory but not canned, people are an eclectic mix of seekers. Know what convinced me to go? Saw the “pastor” on the side of MJ road changing a flat tire for a stranger. What did “His Life Speak” to me? Not afraid to get his hands dirty…oh by the way, he is one of the greatest lover of people I have ever met. Sucks as an orator and not a pulpitier, makes up his own words every Sunday. Did I mention greatest lover of people I know. Look up Buddy Break on the church’s website…church shopper, nice take on what we do anyway. Closer to you would be Grace Center in Franklin, greatest church I know of in ur area. By the way, neither have the word Baptist on their sign, that might be a stretch. Blessing fellow “drafter”!

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