what's in a church?

what's in a church?

Originally published on April 24th, 2007 at Onward & Upward

The reason why I asked the question in the previous post is because it’s something Paul and I have been contemplating a lot recently.

First, some background. When I moved to Atlanta two years ago, I got plugged in fairly quickly into a nearby Presbyterian (ARP) church. I joined the choir, made friends, and enjoyed the service. Paul moved to Atlanta a year ago and since we planned to get married in the church, we stayed. However, while I was totally okay with the traditional services, hymns, and choir robes, Paul was not used to that. He comes from a non-denominational/Calvary Chapel background. He is used to outreaches and Bible studies, while this church focuses on church events and Wednesday night potlucks.

And, in the meantime, we have been feeling very lonely. There were almost no young adults, married or single. One thing I’ve found is that while older women are wonderful friends, they are very busy with their kids and their own lives. Going out bowling or hanging out for a game night don’t appeal as much to them. I joined what is called a “Circle” – a women’s fellowship group (I love the name! it makes me think of an old-fashioned quilting circle). Since it meets in the evenings, all the women are working moms – something to which I can’t relate, and frustrates me because that is one thing I hope to never be. (I often have to bite my tongue about my opinion! But that’s what it is – an opinion. And I don’t have kids yet, so I really can’t say anything.)

Paul and I have talked for a long time – probably about a year now – about leaving. Recently, we have started attending services at another Presbyterian church in the area. We have also been talking about what’s important to us, and what we want from a church. It’s been interesting doing this together for the first time, as we bring our own values and backgrounds to the table.

This is what Paul and I have determined is important to us (in a pseudo-order):

Bible-believing, Christ focused, sound theology and doctrine
I think everyone agrees that this is very important! We don’t want to come away from each sermon shaking our heads. We really appreciate when pastors preach from the Word, and always go back to Bible to back up what they’re saying. Cute stories are valuable to help with understanding, but important points and truths should be made using the Bible.

Worshipful music
Paul and I want to be able to worship God through music. This is more important to me than him. I love hymns, but after being in a church for two years when all I heard was hymns, I found that I was just singing the words. Some of the contemporary praise and worship is shallow, but some of it is really good and speaks to my heart. I find I feel closest to God when I am singing and able to pour my heart into the songs, instead of wondering if I am hitting all the right alto notes. It’s also hard to lift your hands with a hymnbook in them! I am a very emotional and expressive person, so this is important to me in worship. I would love to find a church with a nice blend of the two, but those are few and far between.

Strong outward ministry focus
We would like a church that feels a strong need to minister to the people of the community, of the nation, and of the world. I am very passionate about missions, and I love to see a church active in global ministry. We also want to see a church give back to the local community. Paul is very passionate about local outreaches – cookouts, etc. We both want to be able to get involved in these areas.

As I mentioned, this is one of the biggest reasons we are currently looking for a new church. We believe this is very important – being able to connect with the other members of the church, finding friends, having others in a similar place in life who can encourage you. Also, a church that is interested in meeting the needs of all different age groups is important – we don’t want a church that only focuses on families, or only young adults. We want to see a nice age mix in the church because, while we want people our age, we also know there is much to learn from those older than us, and much to teach those younger.

Personal growth
We really want to be challenged, stretched, and grow spiritually in a church. Much of this is personal: how much you put into it is how much you get out. However, we’d like to see a pastor not only just preach the Word, but also challenge us through that preaching.

Godly leaders
We need to be able to look up to and respect the leaders of the church. I must admit that sometimes disagreeing with how a pastor treats his family plays a major role in how I feel about his sermons. We wouldn’t attend a church with a female pastor. I prefer to attend a church where a pastor has or is pursing a seminary degree. I know it’s not always possible, but I believe education is important. (The reason why I switched to a singular pronoun there is because Paul doesn’t necessarily adhere to the same pastoral standards as I.)

Location, size, denomination
These are some smaller aspects which will play into a decision of settling on a church, but not necessarily define it. Having gone to churches both near to me and far away, I’ve found that it is MUCH easier to get involved in a church when it is close by! Some people are okay with a drive, but we both feel that the time & money we spend driving back and forth could be better used. Especially if we stay in the South where there is a church on every block. :-)

I always was wary of big churches, but this recent one we’ve started attending is very large (I can’t find a specific number – maybe about 4,000 members?). We both feel that despite the size, the church is not necessarily “stuck on itself” but meets our first criteria. Also, the church offers home fellowship groups and smaller Sunday School classes where we feel we can get to know people more intimately. I would venture to say that the size doesn’t matter to us as long as we feel like we can be a part of the church.

I have always been a member of the PCA (Presbyterian) denomination, though I have attended a variety of churches including, Baptist, Methodist, Calvary Chapel, Evangelical Free, CMA, and non-denominational. Paul is mostly non-denominational. The fact that a church is Presbyterian means a lot to me – I know that I’m going to agree with the doctrine for the most part, and the church has some outside accountability to remain true to the doctrine. I also wouldn’t ever want to join a church that would require me to be re-baptized.

I think that’s about it. So far, we really really like this new church. However, we are sad to leave the old one. I don’t want to burn any bridges – I love the friendships I have made. We’re trying to figure out how to leave the old church without making it a big deal. I think we’ll just attend every once in a while, and gradually “fade out” until they forget us and sometime in the future are surprised to see that we have requested to transfer our membership. :-)

Thanks, y’all, for all your comments. I appreciate everyone for being so gracious about differences – no one got into it about denominations or whatnot. I might have more thoughts on this later as Paul and I continue this road of finding a new church home.

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