At the start of the year many people start looking for a new place to call their own church. Perhaps you are one of them. You may have moved home, changed circumstances, need a change of scenery from your current church or coming back to church for the first time in a long time. A phrase “church shopping.” has arisen over the last few years to describe the process. It is not a great phrase, but it is accurate to the way many people view the process. They feel finding a church is a little like finding a new barber or café. “I’ll look for one that meets all my needs” is what we say. This is not a bad thing to look for, but there is more to consider because starting at a new church is more like making friends with new people than finding something to buy.
Here are a few thoughts that might help, both to the shopper and the shoppees (the people at the church being “shopped”).
First, for the “shoppees”; those who welcome at the front door of church or engage a stranger in friendly conversation or lead the singing or even preach. It is important to see the positives here. If people visit us at church, we get the great joy of meeting and engaging with people who actually want to go to a church regularly. Visitors may not be picky, but curious, or even hurt by another church. As a shoppee it could be easy to be wary of people who are “checking me out” to see if me and my church are friendly, funky or faithful enough. You might feel that wary of putting effort in to be friendly simply for the shoppers go somewhere else. But the best advice is to imagine what it would be like for you to go to a new church. It is nerve racking to visit somewhere new. There are new systems, new in-jokes and different songs and prayers. To help people, you simply need to love the people that God sends your way. Give them the kind of welcome you would want if you went somewhere new. If they go to another church at the end of their shopping, that is okay, at least they are going to church.
Second, what if you are shopping? Give the people you meet, and who meet you the benefit of the doubt if things aren’t perfect. A lot of people get pretty nervous welcoming new people. It will also help the whole experience if you don’t come with a list of needs to be met. For example you might want lots of people in your age or social demographic. That is perfectly understandable, but if you don’t go to a particular church because no one else is “just like you” no one like you will ever go there! Maybe you are being called to be the first in that demographic. You may need to alter your attitude from a shopping list mentality (that is consumer driven), to instead think; “could I serve God and the very people who are trying their hardest to serve me right now?” In the end you are not looking for a gym or a café, you are looking for a friends, and even family where you become as valued as a brother or sister. Don’t expect perfection, and seek to serve as well as be served, and you might find God blesses you in unexpected ways.