Tips for Finding a New Church Home

I wrote a couple of weeks ago about ways churches could help visitors to find out more about their church. I thought it only fair to look at the other side of the coin: how can new visitors to a church help their visit to go well?

We have many options to watch churches online. But we miss so much if we just observe from afar rather than taking the time to participate with others of like faith. Yes, all Christians belong to the church as a whole. But it’s in our individual congregations where we serve, learn, grow, build each other up, practice the “one anothers” in the Bible.

It’s disconcerting to look for a new church home. On one hand, we don’t want to flounder around for long. On the other, we want to take time to make the best decision. Meanwhile, we feel adrift until we find the place where we feel we belong and can serve.

These are some factors that have helped us when visiting churches.

1. Pray for God’s wisdom and direction, not just before your search, but all during it.

2. Decide what’s most important to you. Obviously, you want to find a church that preaches truth from the Bible. But as I mentioned in the previous post, it’s possible in cities like ours to find hundreds of churches with the same statement of faith, the same core beliefs that we ascribe to. So sometimes we end up weighing secondary issues, like:

Traditional vs. contemporary style of service and music
“King James Only” or other Bible versions
Casual or formal
Expositional or topical preaching
Continuationist or cessationist (referring to certain gifts of the Holy Spirit)
Reformed or not
Age-segregated or family-integrated
Songleader and choir or worship team
Premillennial, post-millennial, amillennial (referring to “end times”)

We can acknowledge that no one’s salvation is dependent on their views of these secondary issues, and Christians have freedom of conscience in some of these areas to choose what they think best. But if you feel strongly one way, you’re going to be uncomfortable in a church that practices another way.

And then there are issues like programs for the various family members, preferences for a large or small church, etc. But I would encourage folks not to be too rigid about programs and church size. We were hesitant about our last church because it had fewer than 25 people, and we didn’t want to be in a church that small. But we loved the church and the people, and it had a real family feeling to it. There are advantages to large and small churches–neither is right or wrong. If you’ve been used to one, maybe give the other a try. And personally, I am less interested in programs than I used to be.

3. Research. Asking people you know for church recommendations is often a good place to start. But it’s vital to research churches on your own as well.

Thankfully, these days most churches have at least basic websites where you can find a statement of faith. Most church sites will tell you a little more about themselves (though, after you’ve looked at several, they all begin to sound alike. One of my pleas in the previous post was for church websites to tell what’s distinctive about the church as much as possible). Many church web sites will have audio or video recording from previous services, which helps you know what the worship and preaching styles of the church are. We also like to look at information about the pastoral staff. Where a pastor has gone to school or what organizations he has served with will shed light on where he is coming from.

Many churches have a Facebook page. Some will have more information there than on their web site.

Sometimes we’ve looked up the pastor’s Facebook profile if we don’t find much information on the church’s website or Facebook page.

Doing as much research as possible ahead of time will help you narrow down your church choices and hopefully avoid unpleasant surprises.

4. Arrive early for your first visit. We try to leave early for our first time at a church for several reasons: we don’t know what traffic will be like; we like to find out where to go and where bathrooms are; we want to allow time to chat if people stop to introduce themselves.

5. Be friendly. Many church members fail in greeting first-time visitors. But we can make it easier by being approachable, friendly, open-faced, even introducing ourselves first. If we scowl or avoid eye contact or arrive late and leave as soon as possible, we’re not giving people a chance to welcome us.

6. Go to a smaller service. Usually we just go to the main service for our first visit to a church. If all goes well, then we’ll go to Sunday School or a midweek prayer meeting. Those meetings are often where people are more open and friendly—I don’t know if it’s because the group is smaller, or they regard visitors to those services as less likely to be just passing through.

7. Go more than once. Unless something glaring comes up in our first visit, we go to a church we are considering at least twice, and usually much more often.

8. Don’t judge; give grace. At the church we belonged to when we were first married, we had a visitor once who griped about several things. While we were glad to have problems pointed out so we could correct them, it was dismaying that this man had so many complaints, and that he voiced them his first time there.

Sometimes things might be a little off during your visit—that’s one reason we try to go more than once. Sometimes the sound system will have problems one morning or someone will flub the announcements or misspeak. There might be dust and debris on the bathroom floors; maybe a cleaning crew member was sick or missed their rotation. Any number of things can go wrong–or at least not as well as hoped.

9. Jot down questions as they arise. We don’t usually fill out a visitor’s card. If we visit a couple of times and decide to move on, we don’t want to keep receiving letters or phone calls from a church.

But if we attend over several weeks, questions might come up about the pastor’s or church’s stand on particular issues. Sometimes we ask about those when chatting with the pastor after a service. Sometimes my husband will call the pastor during the week. Usually if we’re seriously considering membership, we’ll meet with the pastor or invite him and his family for dinner. We’ve found most pastors to be very open to questions.

10. There is no perfect church. A church is made up of imperfect people, so of course it’s not going to be perfect. We know that on one level, yet it’s easy to go from church to church without finding one that’s “just right.” With so many churches close by, it’s easy to think the ideal one with all the features we want might be the next one. And if family members disagree about what features they want, the decision is even harder.

The church my husband grew up in was the only Baptist church in an area dominated by a different sect. The church members just had to learn to get along and set aside their differences, because there was nowhere else to go. That’s not a bad scenario.

Lastly, don’t be like Mr. Bean. 🙂 I don’t know how everyone around him kept a straight face.

You want to look for a place where you can serve, not just a place where you can receive benefit. But for us, looking for specific ways to serve (beyond greeting, praying for people, showing kindness, pitching in, etc.) comes later as we see the needs and see where we best fit.

Eventually, God will lead us to the local church we can call home and settle into.

What has helped you as you have looked for a new church home?

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

22 thoughts on “Tips for Finding a New Church Home

  1. Some great tips here. Two that were important for my family were; 1) Talk about how you felt (comfortable, welcomed, out of place, etc.) immediately afterwards while it’s fresh, then again mid-week after you’ve ruminated a while, and 2) Let the Spirit lead. For my family, when we found the church we are certain God wanted us at, we felt His overwhelming presence saying, “you’re home now, rest, serve, and grow here”

    • We like to talk about the service on our way home. I don’t remember if we did that when the kids were small–we probably waited til we could talk privately. But then as we think about it through the week, we’ll talk more (I like your word ruminate 🙂 ). We have to evaluate, but I pray we don’t slide into criticism.

      I like how you sum up how we feel when we’ve found the right place to worship. It’s something almost indefinable, but there is a settled feeling like “This is home.”

  2. This is a great post! It is scary and intimidating to look for a church. You made some good points here. And who doesn’t love Mr. Bean!

    • Thanks, Melanie! I almost included the Mr. Bean clip on my previous post about churches helping visitors (not knowing when to stand, etc.). But then I realized this was more about his foibles as a visitor. I can identify with singing the part of a song that I can anticipate loudly and fumbling through the rest. 🙂

  3. You’re right that there is no perfect church! Good tips here. I kind of like your closing anecdote about your husband’s family just having to “make do” back then. It almost seems like we have too many options these days?

  4. Barbara, these are some of the wisest tips I’ve seen. It is a big decision and one we shouldn’t take lightly. I’m pinning to share when the need arises and I’m talking to someone about finding a church home. Hope you find the one that’s right for you soon.

  5. I wholeheartedly agree with multiple visits unless something obvious makes it clear it’s not a good fit. We are blessed (and sometimes challenged) by the options we have today as I think about underground churches where Christians are persecuted.

    • We do have an embarrassment of riches in church choices here. Our persecuted brethren would likely be happy with one church where they were free to worship God as they see fit. Options would probably seem like luxuries to them.

  6. Very good tips! We’ve been putting all of those in practice to a certain extent, in our current search, and we feel confident that the church we’ve chosen is a good fit for us. We’re still new so not sure how we’ll fit in as far as serving and using our gifts, but I believe that it’s usually best to take some time to get acclimated before doing too much – and that’s good for the church and for me! I would also say to attend with the mindset of being expectant of hearing from the Lord and wanting to participate in worshiping him, rather than the mindset of attending a show and planning to write a critique of the quality afterwards. We are not restaurant critics, we are being introduced to previously unknown family members. Even if we wind up not choosing a particular church because their style doesn’t resonate with us, they are still our brothers and sisters worshiping the same God we do.

    • Excellent points, Kym. While we must evaluate, I pray we don’t slip into criticism. One of our joys in this process has been finding pockets of dear people who love the Lord and are trying to shine for Him throughout the city.

  7. The advise to be friendly is important! I’ve heard complaints from church-goers such as no one talks to them, but it’s our responsibility to take ownership of our experience, too. Our church as “pizza with the pasta” every month for newcomers, so they can know more about the church and ask questions.

  8. Pingback: February Reflections | Stray Thoughts

  9. ’ve been thinking about doing a post for churches based on the many uncomfortable experiences I’ve had over the decades when visiting churches on our vacations, holidays, or when we moved. Very few churches make people feel welcome, in my opinion. And when the music is too loud, we now just walk out. Sad. Coming early, and visiting more than once is so important, like you said. You gave excellent tips!

  10. These are great tips. I’m happy you are sharing your journey in finding a new church home with us. I love your detailed information. I usually do online church due to disability. However I see that your information applies to finding an online church as well. I research there as well.
    Thanks for sharing this great information with Sweet Tea & Friends this month dear friend.

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