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How to Find a New Church

Whether you’ve moved to a new town or simply feel the need for a fresh spiritual start, these six tips can help you find a new faith community.
An illustration by Asia Pietrzyk of a woman searching among several church buildings

Sarah sat with her husband in the historic stone church. It was their second time attending a Sunday service. It’s very pretty, she thought. But Sarah was having trouble connecting with the sermon. And nobody—not one person—had said hello to them. This was the second church the couple was trying out in their new Connecticut town; they had moved from Wisconsin with their young daughters a few months earlier.

Suddenly, a flood of memories came over Sarah: of her girls’ joyful baptisms, the women’s group she led, the bell choir. I miss our old church, she thought. Will we ever fit in here?

Finding a new church home can be challenging. Maybe your family has relocated. Perhaps your longtime church no longer feels comfortable due to leadership changes. Maybe you’ve gotten married or divorced or you’ve recently come to faith.

A Pew Research Center study found that Americans cite the quality of the sermon and a warm welcome as the two most important elements in a new church. But there are many points to consider. Here are some tips to help you find a church where you and your family will thrive.

Do your research.

“The internet has made finding a good church much easier,” says Donald Thomas, pastor of Redeeming Grace Church in Cody, Wyoming, and author of How to Find the Right Church: A Complete Guide. “You can quickly see the basics: where the church is, when services are held, special events.” He says the very first thing you should seek out on a church website is the statement of faith.

“This is what the church believes,” Pastor Thomas says. “This is so important that if a church doesn’t have one, you should move on.”

Look at the church leadership. “Check out their educational background and ministry experience,” Pastor Thomas says. Listen to online sermons. “They can be very telling. It’s not only the topics but also the way the sermons are delivered. Can you hear passion and a love for God’s word?”

Ask people you know to recommend a church. The Pew study found that while many younger folks (ages 18–29) do use the internet to research their options, 82 percent of them were also likely to reach out to a friend or coworker. Only 54 percent of people 65 and older would approach someone they know for a recommendation.

Music matters.

Music is integral to the church experience of many. Anne Marie Rodgers and her husband considered several churches when they moved to Georgia from Pennsylvania, where they’d attended a Church of Christ for decades. They ultimately opted for a United Methodist Church with a strong music and theater program.

“We’re a musical family. It’s important to us that there is a pipe organ and at least one type of choir,” she says. “To us, this is more important than the denomination.” Rodgers is not alone in making a switch. According to the Pew study, mainline Protestants and evangelicals are the Christians most likely to change denominations.

Kevin Harney, pastor of Shoreline Church in Monterey, California, and coauthor of Finding a Church You Can Love and Loving the Church You Found, believes that a true Christian should be able to worship at any church. “But some music may distract you…while other music may lead you into God’s presence. It is a serious consideration. No specific style of music is more spiritual than any other,” he writes. “Some people are stirred to worship when they hear a hymn played by a piano, flute and violin trio or on an organ.” Others, he points out, may get closer to God by “an electric guitar, bass and drums being played as loudly as possible.”

Consider style.

This goes beyond music. Do you prefer a large church, or are you more comfortable in a small one? Though a smaller church can offer an intimate “family feel,” it may not have the resources to provide the outreach and social programs that a bigger church can. What about the worship service? Are you happier with a formal liturgy or a more informal atmosphere?

Keep an open mind on worship style, advises Guideposts contributing editor Rick Hamlin. He grew up attending a Presbyterian church in California but switched denominations after he married. For the past 40 years, he has worshipped at St. Michael’s Episcopal Church on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

“It took me almost 30 years to fully appreciate the high liturgy, and before I was willing to get ashes on Ash Wednesday,” he says.

Set your priorities.

“Figure out what is most important to you. For me, it’s the sermon and the music,” Hamlin says, adding that there is no such thing as the perfect church. He treasures St. Michael’s vibrant music program, including its Jazz Masses and the adult choir, which is a mix of volunteers and professional singers. He also appreciates the diverse congregation: “We’re so blessed—St. Michael’s has always been a multiethnic community. It’s probably about 20 percent Afro-Caribbean, and now I see a lot more Asians coming in.”

Think about how you or your family may evolve over the next few years, Hamlin says. Will the church offer opportunities to make meaningful connections? “Bring your kids; let them experience the children’s ministries for themselves.” If you are single, you might search out a church with a strong singles ministry.

Are there outreach programs you want to be involved in? “Serving people is a big part of what it means to be a Christian,” Hamlin says.

Make the most of your first visit.

Pastor Harney suggests praying before trying a new church. “Ask God to help you connect with the people in this congregation. Appreciate the differences of each church and celebrate the common expressions of worship and praise.” Allow ample time for your visit. “Don’t just pop in at the last minute and run off after the service. Show up 15 minutes early. Wander around. Pick up some literature.”

Linger after the service. “It’s fine to wait and see if people reach out to you, but it is also okay for you to greet people and introduce yourself,” Pastor Harney writes. “Feel free to ask questions, to ask for a little tour of the facility or just to chat. Have a positive attitude. Be ready for good things to happen.”

Let your preconceptions go, Hamlin urges. “Let God move through you and speak to you. Be aware of how you feel when you are there. Do you feel uplifted?”

Give it time.

Pastor Harney suggests visiting a new church for at least a month before even beginning to contemplate whether it’s the right place for you. “If you are coming from a church you attended for many years, don’t expect the same level of intimacy right away. Be patient. It takes time to get to know people and find your place in the congregation.”

Pastor Thomas also stresses patience. “If you’ve checked out the church and it hits all the right points, but you go one time and the sermon bores you—give it another shot. Anyone can have an off day.”

Also, avoid running away from your church at the first sign of trouble. “If you’ve been involved in a church for a while, it’s like a family,” Hamlin says. “There will be times when something or someone really bugs you. Ask yourself why. Are you projecting a problem of yours onto the church? Staying at the same place and working through problems can be a great opportunity for spiritual growth.”

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