Tuesday, September 9, 2014
Goldilocks' Guide to Church Hunting
(This is an article of mine that was published in the now defunct magazine for teen girls, Brio & Beyond, for the October 2003 issue)
Once upon a time, Goldilocks went to college at Fairytale University in the Big Woods. Up until this time, Goldilocks had always gone to her parents' church, the Grimm Brothers' Church of the Safe and Cozy, but now she had to look for a church of her own.
The first church she visited was too big. There were not only a lot of people, but there were also bears. You can guess how she felt about bears. No one said "hello" to her except a big, bad wolf that she ignored.
The second church she went to was too small. She arrived a few minutes late, and everyone stared at her. The, because she was the only visitor, Pastor Rumpelstiltskin asked Goldilocks to stand up while everyone tried to guess her name.
The third church was too cold. The Snow Queen shook her hand at the door, and Goldilocks spent the entire service trying to thaw out. The last church was too warm. On her first visit the Pied Piper asked her to join the choir, and a woman asked her to lunch at her Gingerbread House.
Goldilocks couldn't find a church that was just right, do she gave up.
Back to Real Life
OK, you know this was just a fairytale. But the problem is real for girls who have to look for their own church for the first time. Remember, God wants you to be with other believers. Hebrews 10:25 says, "Let us not give up meeting together , as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another - and all the more as you see the Day approaching."
Many people have the fairy tale dream of finding a church that is "just right." But that's not always possible. People aren't perfect, so no church is perfect. Someone once said, "If you find a perfect church, don't go - you'll probably spoil it."
So how do you find the church God wants you to be in? Start with prayer. Ask God to direct your steps to the church He has in mind for you. Ask others to pray with you, too.
Next, ask people you trust for advice on churches. If you're moving to a new area, ask your pastor or youth pastor if they know any good churches in the area you're moving to. If you're going to a school to a school with on-campus ministries such as Campus Crusade, InterVarsity or Navigators, ask leaders and members of the groups for advice on churches in the area.
If you don't have a talking mirror to consult, you'll probably want to consult the internet. You might want to call the church to answer questions that aren't answered in a church's website. Here are things to consider when looking for a church:
Goldilocks wanted a church that had neither too many nor too few people. There are advantages and disadvantages to churches of different sizes.
A large church is more likely to offer a greater variety of programs and groups with people your age. But initially it may be difficult to avoid getting lost in the crowd.
A small church may give you an opportunity to become involved more quickly. In a small church you may be able to get to know people of different ages. It can provide a good opportunity to learn from the wisdom of older people and to enjoy families with children. But, you may feel awkward because everyone already knows everyone else.
As you hunt, you'll find churches with a couple of dozen members, some with thousands of members and many churches with sizes in between. God uses all His churches, but you need to find the one where He wants you to be.
The people who attend a church will be a key component in your choice. You might select a church because you have friends who attend it. You may also end up in a place where you have to make friends. Would Snow White have dreamed she would get along so well with those seven small men?
You may remember the battle between Jack and the giant over the golden harp. That fight was nothing compared to the way Christians have fought over music.
In Psalm 150, God calls His people to worship with music, yet what God made to be good often becomes a source of division. Some people claim that the only true way to worship is with the grand old hymns of the faith, and other people argue that only praise songs express worship from the heart.
Different music styles are similar to different languages.
Some people decide to become multilingual with more than one worship language. Others want to stick with the language they know.
You need to decide how important the aspect of music and worship style is to you. Is one style of worship your top priority? Or are you willing to adjust to another form of worship? Someone I know who loves music attended a church that included only one hymn after the sermon. Even though he would have enjoyed more music in the service, this guy stayed at the church because there were other things about it that he valued.
When you're church shopping, don't just consider how a congregation can minister to you; also think about how you can minister in the church. Are there opportunities for you to serve? Is there a youth group you can work with? A ministry to the poor? You may decide it's more important for you to find a church where you can be useful than to find a church that's useful to you. You never know how much you might enjoy bringing baskets of goodies through the woods to the elderly.
This is a biggie. What does the church you're visiting teach about the reliability of the Bible? About salvation? About Jesus?
These are important questions that'll help you learn if the church is a solid choice.
If the church is part of a denomination, some of your questions about theology (religious beliefs) will be answered easily. You may already know the stated beliefs of denominations such as Baptists, Presbyterians, Nazarenes, Methodists or Lutherans. (But even then, individual churches can vary differ within a denomination.)
Most churches also have a statement of faith to read. If one isn't available at an information booth or church office, ask a church leader for a copy. If the church doesn't have a printed statement of beliefs, you may need to set up an appointment with a church leader to ask the questions yourself.
You may want to consider questions such as, "Is there a way for a person to be saved outside of believing in Jesus as his or her personal Savior and Lord?" or "Is the Bible true in all it teaches?"
There are other issues to ask about: the role of the Holy Spirit, baptism, the role of women in the church, etc. Think about which issues are important to you and ask about them.
It's also important to see if the preaching turns you into Sleeping Beauty and to watch out for growing noses. In other words, is the teaching interesting and true?
It's not always fun to look for a new church (although it might be), but it's certainly important. God will be faithful to lead you to a place where He can work in your life and use you to encourage others.