These seven tips on how to find new a church are inspired by a forest parable, and based on my experience being hurt by the church leaders. We’re searching for a new home church in Vancouver because of the negative experiences in our previous church. We haven’t found a home church yet, and are trying to enjoy the hunt!
If you’re looking for an in-depth discussion of what makes a church healthy, read
Nine Marks of a Healthy Church by Mark Dever. He describes the following signs of a healthy church: Expositional Preaching, Biblical Theology, The Gospel, a Biblical Understanding of Conversion, a Biblical Understanding of Evangelism, a Biblical Understanding of Church Membership, Biblical Church Discipline, a Concern for Discipleship and Growth, and Biblical Church Leadership. This is a fantastic analysis of what makes a church meaningful and relevant, and it can help you find a church that suits your needs and personality.
Sometimes the most valuable steps to spiritual growth in Christ are found in the forest, and sometimes they’re found in the church. The following parable illustrates why church is important in your journey and how you can heal if you’ve been hurt by the church leaders.
The Parable of the Forest
There was a person who loved nature so much that on Sundays he would walk in forests and hike mountains instead of going to church. Whenever he had any problems, he took a walk through the mossy trails, lush ferns, and green fir trees. There, all sorts of ideas occurred to him and many of his problems were solved. In the forest and on the mountain trails, he met God. He heard God’s voice and connected with the spirit of Jesus.
He lived a long life. When he died, God asked him, “Why did you never go to church?”
“I liked it better in the forest,” said the man. “I connected with You there.”
“You may have felt my presence and heard my voice,” said God. “But you didn’t learn anything about who I am. You missed the inspiration and lessons that I yearned to share with you through worship, Scripture teaching, and connection with other believers. You only experienced a small part of my power, love, grace, and guidance. You robbed yourself of the full experience of being with Me.”
How to Find a Church
Since you’re searching for tips on how to find a church, you probably already know how a worship service led by Christ-centered church leaders can change your life! You’ve tasted the joy of worshiping God in a community of fellow believers, and you’ve learned valuable spiritual insights and practical ways to apply the Bible to your daily life. You may even have been involved in the church as a deacon, small group leader, or Sunday School teacher.
But that doesn’t mean you’ve found the right church.
These tips on finding a new church are based on my experience of being hurt by the church leaders. I wasn’t emotionally abused or physically harmed by the church leadership, but I was deeply wounded by church policy and the church leaders’ actions. It hurts to be hurt by the church leaders or fellow believers!
If you’ve been hurt by the church, my prayer is that you don’t let it negatively affect your relationship with God. I pray that you find a church that is right for you, that you forgive the church leaders for their mistakes or weaknesses, and you learn how to balance justice and forgiveness when you join a church community.
Ask your neighbors, coworkers, and acquaintances what church they attend
Bruce and I found many churches through word of mouth. Our neighbors told us about a church in North Vancouver, and we attended that one for almost two years before leaving. My coworker told me about another church in North Van – it’s actually a church plant in a movie theatre! And we found other churches by searching for “churches in Vancouver” on the internet.
Visit a new church at least twice
We’ve been searching for a new church in Vancouver for four months. We’ve visited four different churches, and have tried each church at least twice. Going to one service doesn’t give you the full picture of that church or its leadership. In fact, going to the same church for six months may not give you the full picture of that church! Sometimes you need to be involved in the church community before you realize it’s not the right one for you – and sometimes you know after the first few worship songs that you don’t belong at that church. Take your time when you’re trying to find a new church, because it could be a life-changing decision.
Visit a home group of a church you’re interested in attending
Does the church have consistent, open Bible Study or home groups that meet to discuss Scripture and pray together? This is an important tip on how to find a church because it helps you assess the emotional and spiritual health of the church leaders and community. Get involved with other believers, talk about God, and work through the difficult parts of life together. Learn and grow – because just like the forest parable, God may ask you why you didn’t connect with other believers who love and follow Him.
Talk to the pastor or church leadership about being hurt by the church
This tip on how to find a church is especially for people who were hurt by the church. If you’ve been wounded by church leadership, you may feel hesitant about attending a new church. What if you get hurt again? How will this affect your relationship with God? Call the pastor of the church, or fill out the welcome card that many churches have. Trust that you will get a positive response. If you fall through the cracks like I did – I didn’t get a response from the pastor of my church after I left two voicemails and filled out a welcome card when we first started attending – then you might try approaching a pastor or one of the church leaders in person.
Seek ways to be involved in the church community
Me, I want to play my flute in a worship band! I yearn to be part of church services in this way. As Bruce and I search for a new church in Vancouver, we’re keeping our eyes open to the possibility of me being involved in music ministry. How do you want to be involved in your church? Keep your passion and gifts in mind when you’re looking for a new church. If a church closes its doors on a ministry you want to be part of, pray about your next steps. Do you want to be part of a church that can’t or won’t include you in the ways you long to serve? You need to prayerfully decide whether you should keep looking for a new church.
Remember that the church is human
In a recent sermon, a pastor said he will disappoint us. He is a human being with weaknesses and flaws, and he will make mistakes. He said other people will disappoint us – our spouses, children, coworkers, neighbors, family, friends. The only one who will never disappoint us is Jesus. When you’re trying to find a new church, don’t forget that it will fail you because it consists of human beings who are broken, and who make mistakes.
If you’ve been abused by church leaders or hurt by the church in ways you haven’t healed from, talk to a Christian counselor. Find ways to heal and grow, so you can help others who have experienced similar problems.
Seek balance in your spiritual journey
This final tip on how to find a church brings us back to the forest parable. It’s important to seek God’s voice in different ways: nature, prayer, books, blogs, Scripture, songs, ministry, church retreats, even exercise and pets! But it’s also important to stay connected to a church community that supports and guides you, that teaches you about your Lord and Saviour.
My prayer for you and for me is that we find the right church. I pray we find open doors, friendly faces, and a spirit of inclusion and love. I pray for courage to keep looking for a church even when we feel discouraged, and for faith that we will find where we belong. I pray for peace and connection, strength and grace. Amen.
I welcome your thoughts on how to find a church – especially if you’ve been hurt by the church leadership – below. I can’t offer advice or counseling, but it may help you to share your experience.
The “Parable of the Forest” was adapted from a similar story in Finding God in a Tangled World by Juris Rubenis and Maris Subacs.