A View from the Pew: Long Courtships

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Like the age-old question “How many licks does it take to get the center of a Tootsie Pop?” those seeking a new church home often struggle with how long they should visit a particular congregation before joining.

It seems it takes people longer and longer to feel ready to commit to a local church these days, and even the most consistent churchgoers have a hard time settling on a church. It’s particularly difficult to commit when you’ve had a bad church experience and believe there is a high probability of dysfunction lurking beneath the surface.

Last month we delved into what to look for when seeking a new church. We’ll take up part two of that discussion this month by asking how long you should visit a church before joining.

You should visit a local church until…

You have visited with the pastor. It’s kind of old fashioned for the preacher to come by your home for a visit. These days, most pastors take people out for a meal to discuss church membership. However it happens, don’t join or write off a congregation until you’ve had a meaningful conversation with the pastor.

You have spent time outside of worship with multiple families in the church. You learn a lot about people when you are with them outside of church. We can clean up, dress up, and cover up our true selves through Bible study and worship. But when we engage in recreational, social, or service activities, a more authentic, unguarded side of people can emerge.

You have attended a business meeting. There’s no better way to determine if a congregation is contentious than to sit through a business meeting. Red flags will be flying if they can’t make it through a routine discussion without it devolving into a free-for-all.

You’ve partaken in Communion with the church. It’s not the method that counts so much as the spirit of the service. Do they treat it with reverence and intentionality? Are they flippant and regimented? These attributes tell you a lot about a congregation’s spiritual development.

You’ve reviewed their articles of faith. Most people will tell you who they are and what they believe if you just listen. If the church’s articles of faith aren’t listed on the website, ask for a copy. Read it. Ask questions about anything you don’t understand. Even if most people can’t articulate what their church believes, it’s written somewhere and it’s worth spending time investigating.

You’ve asked all your questions. Make lists of questions and work your way through the list. Some questions are best answered by staff, others by lay leaders. Some questions may be most appropriate for former members. Leave no stone unturned and don’t be afraid to ask. How they respond will tell you a lot about their character and spiritual development.

You’ve discerned the direction and guidance of the Holy Spirit. Don’t forget to seek God’s will in this decision. Where you worship and serve is of great importance to God, and you shouldn’t be somewhere God doesn’t want you. There’s a place for everyone, and God will help you find that place if you ask.

Can you accomplish these in an abbreviated time frame? Sure, but haste makes waste. If you want to find the right place for you to worship and serve the Lord and others, then don’t rush into anything. But don’t delay either. At some point, you need to commit.

Lance Wallace_for_webLance Wallace is a Baptist layperson and member of Parkway Baptist Church in Johns Creek, GA, does media relations and issues management at his day job, and blogs at newsouthessays.com.

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