One of the most exciting things about becoming a believer is knowing that you have family all around the world. In almost every place you go, there are people who know Jesus and are following Him. These are your brothers and sisters in Christ–the redeemed people of God who will be with you in eternity someday. And yet, it can be very intimidating and overwhelming to find these people in your community and to make one body of believers your home.
If you are searching for a new church home, or if you are just wondering how you might better get to know believers in the church you already attend, be encouraged that you are endeavoring to do something with which the Lord is well pleased and has asked you to do. He will honor your efforts to find a church family or grow more deeply in relationship with them. Take time before doing anything else to pray to the Lord, asking Him for wisdom as you search or try to become more involved. Give any anxieties or fears about this process to Him, and remember that He loves you. He will be with you every step of the way.
Hebrews 10:23-25 says, "Let us hold on to the confession of our hope without wavering, since he who promised is faithful. And let us watch out for one another to provoke love and good works, not neglecting to gather together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day approaching" (CSB). As we hold fast to the gospel and our faith in Christ in this troublesome world, we need to gather with others who are doing the same. When we do this, we encourage each other toward the day when we will finally be home in God's Kingdom. We need each other. Being a part of a church is not optional to the Christian; it is vital to our spiritual survival.
However, there are times in life when finding this needed community can be rather difficult, especially when we move to a new place, and everything is unfamiliar. If you are trying to find a new church home, you will probably have to visit a few near you before deciding where to land. This is what the Christian community affectionately calls, "church hopping." Before you even begin church hopping, seek out counsel from believers you trust in the area, and ask where they attend. Personal recommendations are often the most helpful and reliable in searching for a church body. If you do not yet know many believers where you live, you will probably have to do a bit more digging on the churches in your area since you will have no background knowledge of them.
Compile a list of churches, and go to their websites. Study the information presented on each church's website, and carefully read the doctrinal statements. Consider the following questions as you search:
- Does this church hold to the essential doctrine of the Christian faith? (the inerrancy of Scripture, salvation through Christ alone, etc.)
- Does this church have faithful teaching of the Word of God? (Go ahead and listen to some of their sermons if they have them available online!)
- How is the church led? Does this leadership structure seem healthy?
- What kinds of ministries does this church offer to its members?
- How is this church serving the local community?
You want to have a good feel for the environment of the church before you visit. Committing to a local church is a serious decision and will take some time and effort. It is normal to feel a lot of weight as you go through this process. While you shouldn't jump into joining a church without serious thought, you probably should not be church hopping for an extended amount of time either. You need regular, consistent community!
Remember, there is no perfect church. You will always find something you don't love or that you wish was different. You may not like the music choices, or the church carpet may not be your taste, but the church is not there to entertain you or fit your non-essential preferences. It is for your edification and spiritual growth, and it is also for you to help edify others and encourage them toward Christ. Preferences oftentimes change the longer you are part of a church body. You won't notice that ugly 70's era carpet when you are caught up loving and serving the people who walk on it!
Once you have finally decided on a church, here are some steps to take to become involved!
Say Yes to a Lot of Things.
In most seasons, it is not good to overcommit, but when you first begin going to a church or want to become more involved, you should know the other people who attend! This will also help establish yourself as a church member and make your face more familiar to other members. Being at a variety of events will also quickly give you good exposure to the church's environment and help you see where it would be best for you to serve.
Don't Be Afraid to Be the Initiator.
Even though it can be frustrating when you are new to a church and no one welcomes you or reaches out, it does not excuse you from seeking strong community. More often than not, you will have to be the initiator of conversations and events. Invite people to go to dinner or to get coffee. Plan a movie or game night with a few people you have met and talked to regularly on a Sunday morning. Having the right perspective of the people in your church is helpful as you do this because sometimes it's intimidating to reach out and pursue friendship. However, the people who attend church with you are your family, and there are so many opportunities to build fellowship with them! And building deep fellowship with other believers can happen with just a few simple and meaningful interactions!
Get Involved and Serve.
This might be tricky if you are first getting plugged into a church. Some churches have certain requirements for who can serve, and this can be based on whether or not you are a member or how long you have been a member. But the people who are serving at your church are the ones you want to be around! You become tied to the people with whom you labor, and laboring for the gospel produces sweet and lasting friendship and connection.
It Should Be Hard to Miss a Sunday.
After you've been at a church for some time, a good test for recognizing if you are truly plugged in is if someone would notice when you miss. Is it hard to miss a Sunday because you are regularly involved in your church body? Or is it easy to skip? If it is easy to skip a Sunday gathering, we probably need to take some time and reflect on why that is and how we can make that response different! The Lord will give us a desire for His church if we ask Him!
So much of the early church was defined by their fellowship. It is unwise to let the only interaction with our church family be sitting in the service on Sunday. There is an abundance of joy in being with brothers and sisters in Christ. We need them as we venture toward Jesus.