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Location, Location, Location

How do you go about finding "the" church when moving to a new area, city or village? Michael Shaw has some thoughts  

Your Church

I was recently staying with my in-laws for a wedding, and for the first time since they moved I was there on a Sunday morning. While they went to their Anglican church and my wife stayed home with our baby, I nipped to the local Baptist church. I was surprisingly nervous, as I generally don’t visit other churches, unless I have been asked to preach.

It was a very unusual experience and reminded me of what it must be like to church taste when you move to a new area. I started to wonder what criteria would I base that search on.

Now before I go on I should add two major caveats: Firstly, as a church leader my process for choosing churches is normally very different. Even before I was a church leader I have been very clearly led to churches, and so have never really had to work out what was best for me.

Secondly, we live in different seasons of life: sometimes we choose a church because we need a break from what we have been used to; sometimes we need to sit at the back and not get too involved, and sometimes we need a church that will support us through something; if that is the case for you, it may be best to ignore the rest of this post!

As a chaplain at the local university, I am part of the Christian Union Facebook group. Around this time we get lots of new faces joining, and their first post is generally along the lines of “I am coming to # next month, where are the good churches?” Their question is generally followed by a list of churches in the comments section. Not sure what the definition of a “good” church is – I think that is down to the individual – so how do we decide?


Rational, logical or instinct?

What criteria should we base our decisions on when we do the internet search or walk through the door? How do we know when it is “right”? Often that comes down to something more instinct-based than rational or logical. But for many people they might be looking for certain criteria.

My wife and I watch a lot of those Location, Location, Location-type programmes. Often people start with a list of criteria, and through being shown a number of options they have to work out what compromises they're happy to make. Should we fall into that consumer-driven trap, where the church meets our criteria? Whether that's in terms of music style, children and youth work, depth of teaching or people “like us”?

I wonder instead that rather than going with a tick list of our wants and needs, we need to start by gathering a list of our skills and abilities and asking the question – do I fit here? Is there a need for someone like me in this place? What are the skills you have that seem missing? It could be adminstration, child care, teaching, worship leading or social action.

It may mean that you end up going to someone you never thought you would, but the opportunity to serve that place is much greater than going to a place where you are more served than servant.


Other factors

Even so there are two other factors you may want to consider. Firstly, the location. I live in an area where a number of church leaders live, but only two serve in local churches. Meanwhile, because the area has new cheap housing, many people have moved into the area to live. Some, I would guess are Christians, but the impact on the immediate local churches, including the one I serve as leader, has been minimal. Most have continued to get in the cars and drive across town. Most have not even bothered to try out the local churches, let alone walk through the door and see where their skills may meet our needs! So don’t be afraid to try local. It is easier to encourage a not-yet-believer to a local church than it is to get them to commit to one on the other side of the town, or in the next village along. So choosing local impacts our witness (and it's better on the environment!)

Finally, don’t wait for the church leader/leaders to talk to you. Many church leaders are introverts, and may not be great at saying hello. So introduce yourself, and if you do speak to them, ask them what their passion is, what their vision for the church is. You may find a church where everything is wrong for you, but the leader has a vision and a passion that will overcome those difficulties.

As I said, I have never had to do this, and until I retire I may never have to do this. But if you are moving to a new area, whether for work, for study or just for a change of scene, maybe some of these ideas could enable you to really make a difference. 


Image: Matt Gruber/Creationswap

The Revd Michael Shaw is minister of Devonport Community Baptist Church, Plymouth

Baptist Times, 06/09/2016
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