- Jason Andersen
Choosing a New Church
So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.
We also resolve that if we leave this assembly, we will promptly unite with another church where we may carry out the spirit of this resolution (Heb. 10:24-25).
ANBC Bylaws (Resolution)
This Sunday is our last Sunday gathering as a church. And so, after this, we will not have a place to go for Sunday morning. It is one of those things that scripture doesn’t tell us: how to choose a new church. I think this is for good reason, since scripture doesn’t exactly expect Christians to move churches unless they can no longer gather with the one of which they were a part. But if we were to trace the movements of the businesspeople Prisca and Aquila, we’d notice that they move cities, and they are known to each of the churches in the cities they work in. So what should transitioning to another congregation look like? You can google this question, but here are a few pointers that I think would be wise to consider.
1. First, in all things, we must be people of prayer. So be in prayer as you go and consider this. Instead of thinking of choosing as a consumer, remember that you are leaving one body and are joining another local body of Christ. This is not just making the most informed choice as a consumer. This is of utmost importance to your spiritual vitality, and so continuing to pray and pursue your communion with God is essential.
2. Second, it is important that you commit to going somewhere. It can be disheartening to enter a new group of people, most of whom you don’t know. So first you’ve got to commit to going somewhere. This is also the one thing we say in the bylaws: that if you leave our assembly, you’ll go somewhere else. The point is that regularly gathering with the same body of believers is one of God’s main means of growing you up. It would also be problematic to ‘float’ without investing and investigating in a place. This doesn’t happen in one visit, but it should happen slowly but surely over the course of a few weeks.
3. Third, it is important to ask the right questions. This begins for us nowadays by looking at a church’s website. Do they hold to a robust doctrine and teaching or do they seem to avoid explicit commitments. Not only that, but do they love what they teach? It is actually amazing how many churches for instance affirm common (and good!) doctrines like inerrancy, but then actually are a little ashamed of them. Do they attempt to be a praying people? We also should ask, do they teach what is right? Here we’re looking for teaching whose source is the living waters of scripture. I mean the pastor may say something odd (haven’t I?), but do you see their aim as revealing what the living scriptures are communicating? Is the teaching substantiated and supported broadly by God’s living and active word? We can often simply default to only the easiest questions like, ‘What can I get out of this church? Do they have the programs that fit me?’ Or, ‘Are there people I can see becoming friends with?’ But it might be better to ask, ‘How can I serve here?’
4. I think considering a place where there is meaningful membership is important as well. Many churches will see you as available volunteers as soon as you walk in the door. They will assume your Christian confession without asking you to share it! Meaningful membership at least allows the pastors to know who is a Christian in their midst and who they can invite to participate in the life of the congregation as a Christian. Non-Christians are welcome, but I don’t think they should be leading the music or teaching Sunday school. If a church has a membership class and interview, that is a good thing. Be willing to attend as soon as you think you’ve settled, to see that church’s doctrine and practice.
5. Finally, I’d suggest that you not take forever. You’re not going to find a perfect place. Find a place and commit to quietly sitting under the ministry of the word and quietly participating in the life of the church without an agenda. It is possible it won’t be a forever church, but even if you are there for two years, I’d suggest you dig in deep, and make those two years or even sixth months meaningful for you and your family’s spiritual growth.