Monday, March 14, 2011

New Church

So I’m pretty sure we’ve found our new church home. The first place we tried seems just about perfect for us—unheard of. Other times we’ve shopped for churches it has taken months (or years) to find anything, so I was fully prepared for a long, and at times disappointing, search. I’m thinking this must be a God thing. I’m also thinking I should not be surprised.

The new place is pretty amazing so far. We visited on a Sunday morning and filled out one of those little visitor cards that most churches request visitors fill out but never follow up on. The worship music was a delightful mixture of old classic hymns and newer praise songs, but each and every one had lyrics that avoided the typical cliches and instead proclaimed biblical truth about our amazing God.

Then came time for the sermon. They’re currently going through a series on God’s plan for families, and that week was discussing marriages. The pastor pulled no punches, unafraid to discuss the things which are often considered taboo in a church, and also maintaining a balance between addressing the husband’s role and the wife’s. Rather than sitting through the generic sermon it could have been, I found myself taking notes as the pastor drew some parallels and connections I had not heard before and enjoyed the whole service thoroughly.

That evening they were having a “newcomers dessert,” which was billed as a chance to meet the pastor and ask any questions you may have about the church. So we signed up, cause hey, sounds good to me!

When we arrived that evening for the dessert, we were asked to put on name tags and then went through a small buffet-type line where they had cookies and brownies and such and lots of fruit. Very yum. At the end of the buffet line the pastor himself was pouring drinks. For a guy who runs a 1000+ member church, that’s pretty impressive to me. Not only that, but he greeted personally each person to come through, asked their name, and made a little small talk with each.

Pastors out there, take note. This is how you should welcome new people to your church.

Once everyone had gotten some goodies, the meeting began. The pastor asked several questions about topics ranging from “what is your favorite fruit?” to “what is the one factor that is most important to you in choosing a church home?” After each person answered the latter question, the pastor addressed each of our responses (on which he had been taking notes) by scoring the church on each of those items. Surprisingly, he was pretty candid. He spoke honestly about the things he feels the church needs to improve upon and mentioned several programs which are doing well now but may not be shortly (exe., one student said the youth program was most important to him, but the youth pastor just left to be closer to a sick relative and they’re about to go through the long and oft difficult process of finding a new one).

He then opened up the floor for questions from those of us in attendance. Again, he addressed concerns candidly, assessing both the things the church does well and those in which it needs some improvement. He talked about the challenges of reaching out to people in the particular area in which they are located, and spoke about the plans for the upcoming grand opening of the new building (which we have witnessed is sorely needed as the current space is pretty well maxed-out and they’ve had to put some programs on hold for a lack of space).

After the meeting dismissed, the pastor and several of the elders spent some time talking one-on-one with anyone who cared to hang around. Chris asked him about the specific theological issue that had caused us to leave our prior church and his response was well thought-out and very much in line with our beliefs on the matter. He even went so far as to include some evidence for the viewpoint that I had not heard before (which is shocking since I work for a group that specifically studies this particular issue and others like it).

We left feeling that not only did we have a bit of a grasp on where this church currently is, but also where it is headed. We were also informed about upcoming “starting point” classes and the steps laid out to help us get connected and involved. “This might just be the place,” we concluded on the way home.

A few days later, we received in the mail a letter. Wait, you mean they followed up on the little card we dropped in the offering plate? Amazing! Yes, it was a form letter, but I don’t hold that against anyone as I agree that it's the best way to communicate the same information repeatedly as new people come to the church. It said thank you for visiting and mentioned several avenues for getting plugged in, and included contact information for asking any questions we might have. At the bottom the pastor had written us a brief personal note and signed the letter. Again, it was a personal touch that tells us that this church is committed to reaching out to newcomers and helping them feel welcome.

Yesterday was our second Sunday. There were some technical glitches and the like, since they’re currently using their older sound system while the new one is being installed in the new building. These were handled with grace, honesty, and a laugh. (I’d rather see a church that is not afraid to mess up and say “oops,” than one that tries to pretend that everything is perfect.) Again I found the sermon to be both informative and challenging. The people were friendly and we signed up for the starting point class which will begin in a few weeks.

I think we have found our new home and I’m excited to see what next week will bring!

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