A post I wrote for The Rising about my experience of finding a new church whilst at Uni.
January 22, 2016
In September I turned up to University, an excited bundle of nerves armed with an excessive amount of tea-bags. My plan to bond with my flat mates was to force them to drink copious amounts of tea with me.
I had a mental ‘to-do’ list, things I needed to get sorted in the first weeks of being a fresher. Very high up on the list of tasks was finding a church.
Having only ever consistently attended one church in my life, the process seemed very daunting. A friend and I joined the church-search, were introduced briefly to the main churches around the city, and then had a hurried conversation together about which ones we’d like to try.
We soon found what we concluded was ‘the one’. I’ve been happily going along to this new church for a couple of months, but that’s it. I’ve been attending and observing but it still doesn’t feel like my church. It’s not that people haven’t been welcoming; I’ve truly encountered some very friendly people. But weekly conversations never progress to anything more than small talk.
I long to feel that sense of belonging I felt at my previous church. Yet as discouraged as I was becoming, I realized that this sense of being on the outside looking in was actually self-inflicted.
I have been experiencing the ‘guest-mentality’ and I’ve come to realize that if you act like a guest, you’ll be treated as one.
We are called to be planted, but how do we do this?
As I walked into “the one,” everything from the staging to the way in which we were welcomed was similar to my home church. This sense of familiarity was such a safety blanket and instantly gave me a sense of peace. I knew most of the songs and they even played “Oceans”, which sealed the deal for me. The pastor was witty and charismatic and there seemed to be a lot going on socially. It ticked all the boxes.
However like my home church it may be, it’s not the same. I often find myself thinking “Why did they do that?” or “We always did it another way.”
Every church has a different way of doing things and there’s almost certainly a specific reason why things are done the way they are. Moving to a different church is an adjustment, but keeping an open mind is crucial. You’ll never feel at home there if you’re constantly comparing it to what you’re used to.
Don’t Just Observe
Honesty time. I don’t know where the toilets are. This is something my friends will find shocking because I have the bladder of a goldfish. As I’ve already mentioned, I’m an avid tea-drinker. Yet I have stayed for tea after the service only once, despite receiving the invitation every week. I whine about not making friends, yet during the four months I’ve been there I’ve only been to one student night.
In the early church-searching stage it was necessary to examine the service. My friend and I would silently and independently take in our surroundings and then debrief afterwards. When you’ve found “the one” there comes a time when you are no longer simply there to watch and assess, but instead to actually partake. If you’ve determined that this is the community for you, then make it your community.
At home, church was so much more than one service on a Sunday. My weekend revolved around Youth nights on Fridays and church took up the majority of Sunday. I was so used to knowing where everything was, how everything worked. I welcomed new people, answered their questions. Now I’m the one being welcomed and asking all the questions. Some of the best lessons I learned from my home church were not from my pastor on stage but from actively participating and by joining a team.
As students, it’s a real commitment to serve, give up that much of your weekend and let’s be honest, drag yourself out of bed to make a morning briefing on a Sunday. You don’t need to wear a team T-shirt or have a lanyard hanging around your neck to be part of your church. I believe when you attend a church you are part of the team. We all have a responsibility to welcome people, to have even the vaguest idea of where the crèche is, know where someone might find coffee, or at least know where the toilets are.
One of the most pivotal moments in the process of finding a new church is when you begin referring to it as “my church.” I have yet to have this moment but I’m expectant that it will happen this year. I know it’s going to take a shift in attitude, a little more confidence, and a lot less comfort zone. Here goes.