We began church shopping at a local church that’s part of the tradition where I spent most of my career in youth ministry. I know and respect the associate pastor there, so it seemed as good a place as any to begin.
While there, Hope attended the children’s ministry while my husband, Doug, and I worshiped with our nearly 2-year-old daughter.
Overall, our experience was okay.
- The church was smaller than we expected (both numerically and in terms of the worship space itself).
- As the parents of young children who are still ineligible for the vaccine, we appreciated how many people remained masked.
- We liked the shortness of the worship service.
- We were surprised the service was contemporary (even though their website CLEARLY identified it as such).
- We liked that the band led from the side and not the front of the sanctuary.
- The sermon was okay. Not the worst we’ve heard but also not the best.
- A few people greeted us.
And so, as we got in our van following the service, we began to (rather critically) catalogue the aforementioned experiences, until that is, we were silenced by Hope’s words:
“You guys are making me not even want to go to church anymore!”
We quickly regrouped and asked Hope what she meant. She explained, “I really liked church. I want to go to back.”
Despite her initial reluctance over going to the kid’s ministry, that morning, Hope made a friend. She acted out the Bible story and played a game. She had fun… So much so that she wanted to return the following week.
She didn’t want to listen to us bash the church she’d already decided was her new home.
And so, the following week, we returned to the church a second time, Hope insisting we not be late because she wanted more time to do the activities with her new friends.
Once again, Hope got in the van afterwards, excited by her morning. She’d made more friends; Learned another Bible story; And played a parachute game related to the morning’s Bible story.
Even though our new church was still pretty mediocre, this time, Doug and I were excited by our morning, too.
Because this church welcomed our kid with open arms and made her belong.
That, friends, is the ballgame.
So often, those of us in youth and family ministry talk about belonging as though it’s a prerequisite to discipleship; A thing that we have to do SO THAT kids will believe in Jesus.
But here’s the thing.
Belonging isn’t a prerequisite to discipleship. It IS discipleship.
So, yes, our six-year-old chose our new church for us.
But in the end, our six-year-old chose our church based on the same thing most adults do: Relationships.
And if this is a church where Hope feels
- And like she belongs
Well, then, I’ll willingly take the mediocre worship.
But you know what?
This past week, we enjoyed worship a lot more than we did the first time.
Not because the church suddenly changed, but because we did.
When we entered the sanctuary for the second time, we did so not as consumers shopping for our next church but as people who’d already decided this was our church. So, we looked past its flaws and saw
- All the people smiling at two-year-old Kendall;
- The way both pastors stopped and talked to Kendall when she showed them the toy she’d brought;
- The joy on Hope’s face as she headed into the kid’s ministry and came leaping out, eager to recount everything they did;
- The way this congregation loves its members;
- How known people in this small church are to one another;
- The way the band invites people to fully participate in worship;
- The way this church serves its community and is still seeking to care for the most vulnerable in this pandemic.
We left feeling like this is a place where we can heal, connect with others, and grow in our faith together as a family.
So, friends, the hunt is over.
We’ve found our new church home.
And Hope is already counting down the days until we get to return.