Ministry Beyond Church Membership

When we knew we were going to move from GA to SC several years ago, we checked into churches and schools as well as housing long before time to go. One church had a Christian school that we liked. But on our first day visiting the church after our move, the pastor announced his resignation due to health problems.

We continued visiting for a while to make sure the school would be a good place for our kids. But we didn’t feel we could make a decision about the church until they chose a new pastor and we could see what kind of man he was and what direction they were going.

So we continued to visit around. We finally settled our choice between this church, still without a pastor, and one other. At this second church, we were invited to attend a membership class to learn what the church was all about. The class was supposed to run about four weeks, if I remember correctly. But the class discussions stretched the length of the class out for several more weeks. We got to know a few people and were asked to participate in various church functions.

In the meantime, the first church called a new pastor. We went back to that church a few times and met with the pastor. Both churches were good, but we felt this first church was a better fit for us.

My husband called the pastor of the second church to let him know we wouldn’t be attending any more. The pastor asked if they had done anything wrong that would cause us not to join there. No, my husband said. Theirs was a fine church. We just felt the first church was where we should be at this point in time.

Any time we ran into the second pastor in town, the encounter felt a little awkward. We hadn’t meant to “lead them on.” In hindsight, perhaps we should not have attended the membership class until we knew we were ready to take that step. On the other hand, the class was presented as the best way to learn about the church. We also didn’t feel we should have abstained from church fellowships, the Missions banquet, etc., until we joined. Going to those events is part of getting to know the church.

I know it can be frustrating to feel like you’ve invested time in people who visit your church, only to have them join somewhere else.

But if I had a chance to speak to the pastor or anyone from the second church now, I would love to tell them your ministry counted, even if we didn’t join. The teaching, kindness, invitations, and conversations were not wasted. They still ministered to us.

Most pastors and church members know that, deep down. They are kind to people for the Lord’s sake, not just to gather church members. Yet I understand the potential for frustration and disappointment.

Our pastor in GA used to faithfully visit people and talk to them about the Lord. He once commented that when someone he talked to became a Christian or decided to get back into church, suddenly relatives seemed to come out of the woodwork to fold the person into their church. He was tempted to think “Where were you before now?” But he knew the principle that one person plants the seed, another waters, but God is the one who brings a soul to Himself (1 Corinthians 3:5-9). While experiencing a pang that his own church was small, ultimately he wanted the new believer or reclaimed backslider to be where God wanted them, where they could best get established and grow in Him. And I’m sure most ministers and church members want the same.

The last time we searched for a new church, we noticed that not many people greeted first-time visitors. The pastor always made it a point to meet us (with one exception). But often only one other person spoke to us beyond a nod. Perhaps they think the occasional new face is just passing through. It’s usually after a few visits, especially to smaller services like Wednesday prayer meetings, before people seem to loosen up. I don’t think they are consciously thinking, “We”ll see if they’re going to stick around first before we open up to them,” but it can feel that way. I know greeting strangers in church feels awkward except to the most outgoing extroverts. One of the hardest things for me to do is greet someone I don’t know. I’m usually fine once I get started, but that initial contact can be daunting. But it’s always worth it.

So many churches sound the same on their websites. Even churches with almost identical statements of faith can have vastly different personalities and emphases. My husband said that “no” concerning a potential church is relatively easy to come to, but a “yes” takes longer. Sometimes on the very first visit, we can tell a church is not for us. But other times, it takes a while to really get a feel for where the church is and where it’s going. I suppose it’s an embarrassment of riches that in most American cities, we have so many options to choose from.

No church is perfect, of course. None will tick every little preference. Church visitors know that.

But as they seek the place God has for them, where they can best grow and serve, they might have to try several places. Choosing one doesn’t necessarily mean there’s anything “wrong” with the others.

So as people come through our doors, we welcome them, we minister to them as unto the Lord, we want God’s best for them. If they don’t stay in our church, they’re still “family,” if they are believers. If they don’t know the Lord, we lovingly try to point them to Him. We hope they all stay on. But if they don’t, we want to be able to rest in the fact that we’ve helped them draw closer to Him in the time they were with us.

(I often link up with some of these bloggers.)

15 thoughts on “Ministry Beyond Church Membership

  1. Great wisdom here Ms. Barbara. My wife and I, not that long ago, decided post-Covid to change churches. Like you, I can’t tell you how many folks (many of which seldom ever spoke to us while we attended there) reached out to ask, “What did we do wrong? How did we upset you?”. The truth is, as I tried as gently as possible to explain, we had grown stale in this church and desired to grow more spiritually. New teaching, more ministry opportunity, greater fellowship, etc.; it all combined to create a need to follow the Holy Spirit’s leading. Our new church welcomed us instantly, provided ample opportunities for ministry, and encouraged us to “get plugged in, yoke ourselves to the body, and start pulling”. We haven’t looked back, and while we still stay in touch with some friends from our former church, we can’t count the number of blessings that’s come from following God’s leading in our lives to seek spiritual growth rather than self-fulfillment. God’s blessings ma’am.

    • It can be hard to change churches, and sometimes God leads that way even when nothing is wrong per se. Sometimes we look at someone leaving a church as if they are leaving the family–but other believers in other churches are family, too.

  2. Barbara,
    What I find so disturbing these days is a “falling away” of the church. The church I raised my children in — a very Biblically based church at that time with wonderful children’s ministries has gone the way of “progressive Christianity” and it breaks my heart. I find it is even harder in this day and age to find a good church fit. No church is perfect, but it’s becoming even harder to find churches with a truly Biblical worldview. Have you seen this at all?
    Bev xx

    • Yes, we’ve had trouble with that in our church searches. Many churches are either progressive or have some kind of hobby horse. My husband and I have both longed for the kind of churches we attended in our teens.

  3. It’s a hard choice and you don’t want to hurt anyone. I think you did a very thorough job. You were not yet a member, so you could still choose.

    I joined a very small congregation.Without a pastor. But with elders, who explain the Bible (baptist church). It’s a nice group and everyone greets each other. After the service there is coffee and tea. Really good. But we also have struggles between people. We need to stay close to Jesus, every time, every day. He wel lead us, Barbera. I am so thankful for that.

    • That’s the kind of church we want–one that teaches the Bible without going off on tangents, and one with a homey atmosphere. They all have their struggles–so many of the epistles were written to address problems with the early churches. But as we follow the Lord, He will help us overcome those issues and grow in Him and minister to each other.

  4. This is a really thoughtful post. You’re right that usually a church that is an “also-ran” in the choices usually didn’t do anything “wrong,” they just weren’t the best fit. And you’re right too that we can have an embarrassment of riches in the US with all our choices. I was convicted too with trying to do better reaching out to new people. As a fellow introvert, yes, it’s out of my comfort zone. But I know how awkward it can feel to be at a new church or other place and not have anyone to talk to/anyone to stand by, etc.

  5. Finding a new church home after a move or for whatever reason can be such a challenge! I found that being a church-home-seeker myself helped me see my own church through the eyes of a visitor, and hopefully helps me do better in welcoming others.

  6. It can definitely take time to get to know if a church is right for you, but the first impression makes such a difference. When I moved to a new city and went to church by myself in the first church I went to no-one talked to me at all. I have since got to know some people from it who are lovely, and it seems like a great church, but I went elsewhere because I just didn’t feel welcome. One of the things I love about my current church is that people will always talk to newcomers and I am confident that no-one will have that same experience there.

  7. It can be difficult to find just the right fit, God’s direction & guidance is always great but it can take time.

    There are seasons to stay & seasons to move on in fellowship as well.
    I’m currently in that place…
    Blessings, Jennifer

  8. Pingback: October Reflections | Stray Thoughts

  9. This is a thoughtful post, Barbara, thank you. It is a good reminder to always walk in the shoes of our visitors and to do what we can to help draw them closer to our Lord during their time with us. All to the glory of God!

I love hearing from you. I've had to turn on comment moderation. Comments will appear here after I see and approve them.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.