May 20, 2014 by Kara Nichols
During my twenties my criteria for picking out a church was pretty simple: Is it close by? Do they have a late morning service? Is the music rockin’? I cared about the preaching too, but mostly how long the service was: I preferred to get in and out quick. 90 minutes tops. Very spiritual of me. Suffice to say, I didn’t really invest in churches or their people. I came late and left early, always hating to do battle in the parking lot.
When I came to know Christ in a personal and intimate way four years ago, my criteria changed. Well, not much. At least not right away. But these days I crave community. I want a church family. I want relationships. Someone I can call in a crisis and know that they will pray. I want to be the shoulder for someone to cry on. Something deeper than the handshake session right before a service starts. My mouth always goes dry when a pastor says “Now turn around and greet your neighbor.” That’s when I hide out in a bathroom stall. Or if I stay, I lather myself with anti-germ gel. Am I the only one?
I live in the buckle of the Bible belt, yet I am not a member of a church. Sitting in the back row for so many years has given me exactly what I’ve put into it: nothing. It’s not for lack of trying (at times). I’ve been to at least a dozen churches in town and attended some small groups in those churches. I drifted away for a variety of reasons. The main reason is that I hate doing a Beth Moore study with a group of women and then 8 weeks later you never speak again. I want friends, confidants, a spiritual family to grow with.
Four years ago, when I decided I wanted to attend church (out of desperation for human contact, not because of wanting to get close to God) I googled “churches in Lynchburg” and sorted through websites. I picked the prettiest website and went to that church. I stayed for a few years. I was baptized there. But I kept my distance. Coming late, leaving early.
I’ve been to Baptist, community, non-denominational, and a couple of charismatic churches in the area. My attitude became more and more like Goldilocks. “This one’s too big” or “The preacher shouts too much” or “The worship totally falls flat.” The more churches I went to the less I wanted to go to church at all. Some places seemed to just put on a performance. All flashing lights and fog machines. Everyone in their Sunday best. And at some churches I felt like I had to perform to fit in: it felt like being pressured by car salesman. His pitch: let’s get you plugged in and volunteering right away. Do you like babies? Do you want God to wreck you?
As a kid I put on a show at church because my dad was a pastor. I rebelled by wearing jeans on a Sunday morning when I could get away with it and I was caught by an usher kissing a boy in the baseball dugout. You know what they say about pastor’s kids…
Growing up church was just a room full of warm bodies who all dressed alike and looked alike and talked alike. Middle to upper class white people. There’s nothing wrong with that, I see now, but at the time I was turned off. I often wondered what would happen if a homeless man slipped into a service. Would he be escorted out and turned away? I thought so and my heart turned hard toward the church. Even worse, my connection with God was just a habit, like brushing my teeth before bed. There was no life, no abundance, no glory.
At this point I’m tired of trying new churches. I’m bored with going through the mental check list to see if it’s a place that will meet MY needs. There’s no such thing as a perfect church and there will always be a reason to stop attending. To stop growing. What I’ve discovered lately is that what matters to me more than a quick-witted pastor (although I do love that) or a rockin’ worship band, is that I want be part of a church that offers small groups. Give me fellowship. Chips and salsa. Discipleship. Salty tears and boisterous laughter. I need camaraderie, not another mega church.
I know God cares about this issue. I know he wants me to find a place to worship that is inspiring and safe. Maybe to him, this time of searching is not worthless. Maybe it had to happen so I could zero in on what’s important to me at church. I want to worship my God. I want to do life with people.
I pray that when I do settle on a church it will be because I meet God there and I’m surrounded by a group of people who love me despite my imperfections and in return I can offer the same thing. To me, that’s the whole point of church.