A place to call home

In 2010, we were expelled from a church we'd called home for over 10 years. At first, the very thought of going through another set of church doors was nothing short of nauseating. How could we trust another church after being burned by the very people who professed to love us like Christ does?

The months passed, and the children asked every Sunday if we could go to church. Any church. For a while, we attended the church of some close friends. This transient experience was necessary both for us to heal and to start a conversation about what a comfortable church home would look like to our family.

I imagine there are others out there facing the same questions. Here is the process we went through when selecting a new church home. It is our hope and prayer that our careful approach to finding a new church will protect our family in some measure from the mistakes and wounds of the past. So, here's how we did it:
  1. Make a list of necessities
    • For us, this included the Gospel preached clearly and often; pastoral accountability; a grace-filled congregation where all were welcome; and a place that felt different enough from our last church that we weren't hit with a panic attack as soon as we walked in the door.
  2. Make a wish list
    • We hoped to find a church that was egalitarian, had high quality children's programming through which the Gospel was proclaimed, showed musical excellence, and followed a traditional liturgical style of worship
  3. Lists in hand, start browsing church websites and their denominational websites to explore how well the church/denomination matches with your needs and desires. For us, this pre-screening process whittled a list of dozens of churches down to 3-5 that fit our style.
  4. When you walk through the doors, you should immediately sense GRACE. Are the people welcoming? Are there tattooed, homeless, broken people welcomed in the pews? Can gay couples attend? Divorcees? People of color or a different culture than the majority?
  5. How does the pastor interact with the parishioners? Is the shepherd serving the flock, or are the sheep serving the shepherd? A glance at extracurricular programming may help you answer this question and also shed light on women's roles in the church.
  6. What are the sermons like? Does Christ play a central role in the teachings? Are the sermons about Biblical principles, or are they topical? Do you like the style of the sermons?
  7. If you don't identify any warning signs, you can attend your "maybe" church for a few months.
  8. Now is the time to meet with the pastor. Go to the meeting armed with your necessity and wish lists. Be prepared with a list of questions and if you've experienced poor pastoral care in certain areas in the past, be sure to find out how this new pastor would handle that type of situation.
  9. One key question to ask: has this church ever had to use church discipline? If so, how was the matter resolved? Does the person who was disciplined still attend church there? Ask for the name and phone number of that person so you can hear their side of the story.
  10. Attend a board or deacon's meeting to observe how the pastor interacts with the staff who hold him accountable. Who really runs the show, the pastor or the board? Who has the last say?
  11. Ask for the name and phone number of a parishioner who no longer attends, and go out to coffee with them if possible. Why did they leave? Were there problems with the church that prompted them to seek a new church home?
  12. Ask to see a copy of the church budget for the preceding year. What are the main financial focuses of the church? Are missions a big part of church giving? How closely associated is the church to their denomination in terms of financial giving? What local ministries does the church support?
  13. Go to dinner at the pastor's home. How does he interact with his family in his normal home environment? What are his wife and children like? Who does most of the talking? Does the pastor share in household duties, or is he served by his wife and children?
  14. Sit in for some of the children's church or events to see how children are treated and whether they are presented with the Gospel on a regular basis.
  15. If you can't get a straight answer about major church theological/doctrinal issues, such as whether the church is egalitarian or complementarian, observe how those issues are lived out in church life. What are the roles of women in the church? How does the church treat homosexuals? 
  16. If you are interested in ministry, obtain a list of duties lay men and women can perform in this church. For instance, are women able to read scripture to the church, pray for the church? Or are they segregated to women's groups or serving in the church kitchen?