Saturday, March 31, 2012

Church is not a Buffet

When we go clothes shopping, which I love to do, we try on lots of items, analyze the fit, the color, the style, and eventually decide whether or not to buy it or keep looking.  Sometimes, we buy something that isn't quite right just because we really need a new sweater or pants or skirt.  But the color might not be exactly what we were looking for, or the fit is off, or we buy it just because it's on sale and it is such a great deal.

Church shopping is similar.

We recently moved to a new town, and moving to a new town means the process of finding a new church to attend.  For specific reasons that I'm not going to get into now, there will be a particular denomination we will be attending and we also now live in an area where it is common to attend church both Sunday morning and Sunday evening (though I am not sure we will be doing that).  So each week, we visit a different church, observe, participate, file away the bulletin in a binder so we can refer back to it (ok, that is all me and my obsession with desire for organization and office supplies).  We talk about what we liked and didn't like about each one.  So far, there has not been one church that has really stood out from the others, which, of course, makes it all the more difficult to choose.

I'll confess something to you.  I really don't like "going to church".  I don't particularly like listening to sermons (although I enjoy giving them, so I suppose that makes me somewhat hypocritical) because I am not an auditory learner.  I enjoy both contemporary and traditional music.  I think some of the things churches hold on tightly to and their reasons for them don't make much sense.  I think that churches often are too busy with building funds and hiring staff and having programs and figuring out how to get people to come to them and increasing membership and attendance numbers and that gets in the way of actually being the church.  I remember feeling sad one time when I heard a Business Manager of a church explain to a confirmation class that the church is a business; it is a 501c3 organization...etc.  I wanted to scream "NO!  The church should NOT be a business and should not be governed by business decisions!"  I wasn't that brave though, and kept my mouth shut.

But I also know that no one congregation is going to be a perfect "fit" with my beliefs or my likes and dislikes.  I've attended various denominations (see the ongoing "What I Learned" series) and they have all had their strengths and their weaknesses.

I am generally more drawn to the idea of "organic" church, although I have very little experience with it.   A few years ago, I read Organic Church by Neil Cole, went to a conference in 2009 in which I attended a few sessions by John White, and also heard Neil Cole speak at that conference.  There, I also met my friend Katie Driver whose blog I enjoy reading (as an aside, she's also speaking at a conference in April called the Sacred Friendship Gathering, which I think sounds fascinating, and if you live near Chicago, I encourage you to check it out).

Everything I learned at this conference resonated within me.  However, I have done really nothing to put any of it into practice and have continued to do the traditional Sunday church thing.

Most people who believe that weekly church attendance is of the utmost importance will probably tell you that it is important because you need to have a community to worship with and with whom to develop relationships.  The problem is that relationships don't really develop in a setting where you are listening to one person talk, looking at the backs of people's heads, and then having a few minutes of small talk afterwards.

I have always grown more through "small groups" than I have by attending a church/worship service.  I have great memories of small groups that I have been in since I first went to one in 1997.  I especially enjoyed one that we belonged to for about three years (before everyone started moving away).  This group was comprised of people who went to different churches or didn't go to church at all.

This is not to say that church attendance or churches are bad or that sermons are bad.  In fact, I was blessed to hear some sermons last fall that spoke to me and helped to prepare me for the upcoming challenge I was going to face about really trusting God with my life.

As we were talking about the four churches we've visited, and weighing our likes and dislikes, my husband pointed out that we can't just choose the music from one, the sermon from another, the programs from another, etc.  It's not a buffet.  It's more like when you order your entree and it comes with various other items and you eat them or pick them off and set them aside.

I don't know how many we will visit or how long it will take us to decide on a church that will be our regular one.  I am not even sure exactly what our qualifications will be.  And even if we have certain qualifications, that will have to be secondary as to where God wants us to be.  I hope that we will be able and willing to listen to His promptings.


Tia Dye said...

I like that you mention having a small group that was compromised of people from different churches or no church at all. I agree with many of your points, and I think a small group like what you speak of can probably do more to bring people closer to God than many congregations. My new church has its own set of 'studies' and semesters that are not the longer term small group atmosphere that I truly enjoy. Your post has opened my mind to the idea of having a small group outside (in addition to) of that congregation. Thank you.

Kelly J Youngblood said...

Part of what I struggle with at church is that even if you are in a "small group" in that church, and even though it is a great thing that you are building relationships with people, it's still somewhat insulated because it is only with people in that church.

Tia Dye said...

Most of the small groups I have been a part of actually included people from other churches, or that were just curious and didn't have a church home. I guess it was always understood that people would invite just about anybody.