Looking for a new local church can be a hard and daunting task, leaving your home church can be even more challenging. Some would argue that it should be just as hard as leaving an intimate relationship or even a marriage.
Whatever your reasons for moving on, changing and choosing a church should be a well thought out and intentional process. But where and how do you even begin?
Here’s a few tips based on personal experience and a collective of insights:
- Pray: Pray. Pray. Pray. Pray. Pray. Pray. When you’re done praying, pray some more! Ensure that your intentions for leaving your church are really because the Holy Spirit is prompting you to make the switch.
- Leave on good terms. How you end says so much more about your character and growth than how you begin. It’s easy to attend a new church and make a great first impression but it can be hard to leave a church with integrity, maturity, humility and honesty.
- Tell people. When you leave make sure you’ve had conversations with church leaders and mentors. If you teach Sunday School- tell your students. Don’t just drop off the face of the planet and leave abruptly. Ease people into the transition and give them time to adjust (especially if you are part of a ministry and they need someone to take over your role). Be kind and sensitive, don’t leave people guessing and wondering. Your life is not a mystery that other people should solve. Not everyone may understand- not everyone may want you to go. That’s okay! You can’t please everyone. Have courage and be confident that this is God’s leading in your life, especially if you’ve prayed about it.
- Reconcile and mend broken relationships. Don’t leave angry, don’t leave hurt. You don’t honour God and you aren’t any benefit to the kingdom if you leave holding on to grudges. The gospel is all about reconciliation and forgiveness and if you harbour hurt, well… ain’t nobody got time for that drama so man up and get things sorted. If there are deep wounds and issues get a counsellor or pastor involved in helping to mend broken relationships.
- Pass the baton. If you are part of a church, you should be actively involved in some form of ministry (this could range from cleaning toilets, being on the welcome team, to leading worship). Try to find someone who can take on your ministry responsibilities for when you leave, spend time teaching and showing them how to fulfill your responsibilities properly. This will be really helpful to a lot of people!
- Pray about your decision.
- Contact the churches you are considering before you attend a service. Send an email or better yet, arrange a time to meet with the pastors or elders to explain who you are and what you are looking for in a church. This is a perfect opportunity to ask about the vision, mission and ministries of the church. The purpose of this isn’t necessarily to gather information about a church (because most of it is usually on the website), it’s about making personal connections with key people. If church leaders know you’re coming they will make much more of an effort to look out for you and make you feel welcome.
- If that’s not possible, go with a friend! It’s incredibly easy to slip in and out of churches at the beginning, but a little connection and accountability can go a long way and make a difference in your perception of a church.
- Be open and sensitive to God’s leading. Don’t shrug off a church after one service. You may have to attend a few services before you get a sense of where God is calling you to plant yourself long term. You can’t always go off of first impressions.
- Pray about your decision.
- Don’t choose a church just because it’s where all your friends or family go- yes, it’s the safe, comfortable and easy thing to do, but it may not be the right thing to do. Know what’s right for you (not your friends and family) and make a decision accordingly.
- The best churches are the ones that aren’t desperate for you to stay in them! If a church is truly healthy they’ll want you to be in the place that God is calling you to be and they won’t make you feel obligated or guilt you into staying.
- The best way to get connected is to get involved with a small group as soon as you can! Attending a new church can be incredibly difficult particularly if you are in transition and adjusting to your new surroundings but do everything you can to make this a priority! Small group is a great way for you to build personal connections, accountability, fellowship and a personal support network.
- Your relationship with church is not symbiotic, it is mutual. Yes, your church should be helping you grow BUT you also need to help your church grow. Start small and serve in whatever capacity you are able to. Show faithfulness and consistency in small things (like showing up to small group every week, arranging chairs before or after service, picking up garbage in between the pews) and ask God where He would like you to use your gifts and talents.
- Be wary of churches that give you huge responsibilities after just a few months of attending. It’s imperative that church and ministry leaders spend time figuring out who you are, where you are in your walk with God and where your gifting and talents lie. Sadly, churches today are filled with people whose giftings are misplaced. This can detract from the growth of the individual and even the growth of the church. If someone asked me to handle the accounts for my local church the government would not be happy! Heck, no one would be happy, especially me.
- Take the initiative and find church leaders and mentors who can spend time with you and invest into you. This can be hard and daunting but let me tell you from experience, this is the most beneficial thing you can do when transitioning to a new church. Church leaders, ministry leaders and mentors are such busy people- they’re often juggling a million things on their plate but do not feel guilty about asking for or taking their time. That’s what they’re there for. It’s their responsibility to oversee the spiritual well-being of their flock and that means investing into the lives of people in their congregation. For the most part they’re happy to spend time with you (unless you smell bad- in that case, please shower and use deodorant.). If you can’t spend time with your elder, pastor or any other ministry leader ask people in your small group to point you towards mature mentors who can invest into your spiritual growth. (FYI: the best leaders and mentors are the ones who will actually tell you that you need to shower and use deodorant.)
- Be relational, be intentional and be cross-generational (don’t just hang out with people your own age) as you build a support network with people in your church. Community and relationship are what church is about. The Bible doesn’t mention anything about the church needing cool set designs, fancy lighting, incredible worship or interesting sermon titles. (‘Sermon on the Mount’- really that’s the best title they could come up with?!). In fact, the early church didn’t even have a building. Despite this, the move and the power of the gospel was so strong that people in that people were radically transformed by the Holy Spirit, they were drawn to live in authentic community with one another and they were compelled to invite others into that community. That is the church.
An Important Decision
When I moved to England the most important decision I made wasn’t actually the decision to move to another country, it wasn’t the decision about where I worked or the what house I would live in. The most important decision I made was about the church I was going to be a part of. Praise God that through His grace, I chose well! I didn’t choose to become a part of Southampton Lighthouse International Church because of the amazing worship or the incredible sermons, I chose Lighthouse because:
- I was in relationship and community with the people at Lighthouse before I event stepped foot into the walls of the church.
- We spent a lot of time praying together. I prayed with the church as a whole, with individuals in my church, with my leaders. I’ve never had so many people invest that much time praying for me before! This made all the difference to my experience at Lighthouse.
- God was doing some incredible things through this community and I just wanted to be a part of how God was moving.
- The Holy Spirit changed me as a result of my experience with my church.
There is no such thing as a perfect church. So when you are church looking for don’t go searching for a perfect one- you’ll be searching forever. The best churches are one where the love of Jesus just radiates through: sometimes in big ways, sometimes in small ways- but it’s got to be so obvious that Jesus is there. If He’s there, join Him.
For those of you on the hunt: all the best on your search for a church.
For those of you firmly planted: be the church.