I can’t tell you how many times a visitor to one of our Sunday services or someone I meet in the community tells me that they are “shopping for a church.”
And, while I mean no disrespect to those who tell me this or who are currently engaged in this process (because if I was not currently a pastor I’d be doing it too), I have to say I grow tired of hearing it.
Why? Usually it means, we as a church or individuals have spent a lot of time investing in conversation and/or relationship with a person in who we will probably never see again.
(Side note: I don’t mean to sound overly dramatic about it here; yes, there are many visitors who stick with us and join the church and become gifts to our community).
Of course, this church or any church for that matter is not perfect nor is a good match for everyone.
If you are looking for a church where you can blend in and not be asked to do anything, then our congregation is not for you.
If you are looking for expository preaching with a list of mandated do’s and don’ts from the pulpit, then our congregation is not for you.
If you are looking for a place to “be in charge” or “get your way” because you didn’t get this opportunity in another community setting, then our congregation is not for you.
If you are looking for a lot of educational programs for each age group by decade, then our congregation is not for you.
But, of course if you are looking for a place where you can be unconditionally accepted and missed when you aren’t around. Or if you are looking for a place where the pastor and church leadership takes scripture and necessity of strong Christian community seriously. Or, if you are looking for a place where you will be asked to discern together God’s direction for our future, not alone. Or, even if you are looking to get to know people who will inspire you to be involved in service of the community because it is the way of Christ. Then, this is the congregation for you.
It’s hard to say all of this in my talk fast you’ve got a minute at the door “Thanks for coming to worship today” speech. And, it is even harder to convey such ideas in the time a random community member will allow me to tell him or her about my place of employment if I talk fast.
Yet, even so, I believe, church community is something to be experienced not intellectually understood. There is only so much I can say; for folks have to experience a calling of sorts to join a church like ours (which is the way it should be in all places, I feel, by the way).
What I mean by calling is this: in deciding to join a church, the best reason to make such a huge committment is to feel yourself fitting in there, to be excited about how your gifts can be used to make it better, and with a open heart about how God is going to speak to you as you are shaped and formed by the people you worship alongside.
So, even though I embrace this process as often the only way people find churches these days, there is a part of me that remains sad about it.
I think about all of the visitors who came in our doors last year and who for what ever reason didn’t return. I think about the promise I felt while seeing their faces in the pews or even with some of them while sharing a more detailed phone call, coffee or lunch get-together. And, I miss them.
(If you are one of them, I have NOT forgotten about you).
This is my pastoral word of the day: for those of you on a perpetual church shopping quest, I hope that sometime soon you’ll find a home somewhere even if it is not with us. I hope for you to find a church home where you are known, loved and encouraged to grow spiritually and serve.
We are not always the church we would like to be in the present and most certainly we are not the church that we hope to be in the future, but we are a faithful group of committed seekers who want to learn how to do right by God and one another.
I’m glad to be the pastor of those who have laid down their shopping carts and decided to make their spiritual home with on the Plaza!
Doesn’t shopping get old after awhile anyway?