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I’ve heard from several readers recently who have moved, or are in the process of moving, church. I’ll be honest, “How do I find a new church when I move?” is a tough question for us all – but particularly, for the purposes of this blog, when we have children to add into the mix.
You may be moving church for all sorts of reasons (more in a minute), but if you’re leaving a wonderful church family due to relocation, then this move has the potential to be especially tough.
I hope, therefore, that this blog post gives you hope, some tips, some encouragement that your next church family is out there, waiting to welcome you and whoever makes up your household. And don’t forget to leave a comment – I’d love to hear your experience!
Valid reasons for changing churches
First-off, let’s look briefly at some valid reasons for changing churches. There are all sorts of invalid reasons, which I won’t detail here but they’re pretty much all to do with having a consumer attitude towards church. (For example, “I don’t like the music” or “the teaching’s not for me”.)
Here are some valid reasons for changing churches:
- You’re relocating, and won’t be able to easily attend your old church anymore (see ‘How do I find a church when I move?’ below)
- There’s no (or no longer any) provision for your children
- You’ve been going for several months and no one has spoken to you
- The church’s stance on a key issue is different to yours (I’m not talking minor theological differences here but, for example, if you’re egalitarian and want to listen to both men and women preach – yet your church is complementarian and will never accept women speakers)
- There’s been a change in leadership at your church, and the new leader is taking things in a very different direction
- You, your family or household have been made to feel unwelcome or lesser (e.g. some adoptive or fostering families feel their church doesn’t understand the challenges they face as they bring their young people to church) – see SHOULD CHILDREN BE ALLOWED TO RUN AROUND IN CHURCH?
There may be more – and I’m also aware that you may be in one of the above situations yet not feel it right to change church. That’s fine too. My parents experienced no.5 a few years ago, yet felt very strongly called to remain in that church, and to see the new leader out. They did – and several years on, the church is flourishing under strong new leadership.
Why should we go to church, according to the Bible?
It’s worth just bobbing our heads round the door of this question, because, post-Covid, we live in an age where most churches provide weekly services online. When life is so busy, is there actually any need to meet with other Christians, to commit to being part of a local church? Can’t we just get our teaching online, as and when we need it?
Here are a few reasons why we should go to church according to the Bible:
1. Jesus is especially present when we gather together with others
Of course if we’ve surrendered our lives to Jesus, then he is always with us – but when we get together with others, he makes his presence especially known. Also, God loves to hear our agreement, when we come to him in prayer with others. Whether we’re praying for the world or our own needs, it is encouraging and powerful to have others join you in prayer. “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” (Matt 18:20)
2. We each have our part to play
Practically-speaking, churches need members to run! How do you think those services magically appear online? That band you appreciate watching on your laptop – what would happen if they just decided to watch church online rather than show up? We – and our kids – need to be in church, exercising the gifts God has given us. “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” (1 Cor 12:27)
3. God is worthy of our time
Prioritising church involvement over other activities is a way of showing God, our children, wider family and friends that He is the most important waster of our time! There is NOTHING we could be doing in life which is more important than worshipping, honouring, glorifying and getting to know our Creator. Is it really putting God to first when we just try to ‘fit him in’ on the run, by listening to a sermon or podcast on the go? “You shall have no other gods before me.”(Exodus 20:3)
4. Church involvement allows God to speak to us more widely
If you’re going to a great, Bible-believing church, then chances are that your leader/s will have thought carefully about what to teach on. And this means that you’ll get a balanced diet of Scripture. When we navigate our own discipleship, it’s more tempting to pick and choose the bits we want to hear, or the things which will encourage us. We need encouragement – but we also need challenge, and going to the same church, week in, week out, will ensure that we hear the hard stuff we need to hear, as well as the joyful stuff which lifts our spirits. “But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Matt 7:14)
How do you find a church that fits you and your family?
OK, so now we’ve established that it’s a good idea to have a real, in-person church community, how do we actually go about finding one? How do I find a church for me? And if I have to relocate, how do I find a new church when I move?
1. Get a list to try
Google ‘local churches near me’ – or check the Alpha website for churches running Alpha near you (this was actually how we found our first church as a married couple after my Mum recommended we try the Alpha website!).
Check out local church websites for ones which look like they might suit your family. If you have local Christian friends, ask them about their churches.
Maybe you’ve just moved and don’t know anybody, but someone from your old church has a friend in your new town – get in touch! Or perhaps you’re part of some Christian Facebook groups or other online forums where you could ask for ideas.
2. Narrow the list down to 3-4 churches
Do you really want to be dragging your whole household round 10 different churches? Have you worked out how long that’s going to take, for a start?
No! Make a shortlist, and try to visit them all within a month or so. Going to a ‘regular’ service will give you a much better idea than a Christmas service or one in the middle of the summer holidays when no one’s around.
3. Chat to the leadership
Any church worth its salt will make time to meet with you if you’re potentially going to join them. For smaller churches, this will probably be the vicar/pastor, but in larger churches there should be a member of the staff team who can meet you.
You may have questions about where the church is going, how it will aid your family’s discipleship, and what you will be able to bring as an individual/couple/family too.
4. Set a deadline
I’m not saying you should hurry your decision – but also try to put in safeguards so that it doesn’t go on interminably. Really, you want to be part of a thriving, worshipping community as a matter of course – it’s not healthy to stay out of church for a long time, so try to set a deadline to your church hunting, otherwise drifting can easily become the norm.
How do I find a new church when I move?
Armed with your list of new churches to try, and a rough deadline by which you’d like to have found somewhere, what should you prioritise? Here’s my list in order, with the most important first:
1. Does this church preach from the Bible?
This has to be absolute number 1 priority. If the church in question doesn’t appear to be getting its authority from the Bible, then it’s either a cult, or it’s a bunch of well-meaning kind people who simply want to spread platitudes and good cheer. It’s nice – but it’s not going to point you towards Jesus anytime soon.
2. Do all the members of my household feel at home here?
Whether you’re church-hunting with children or teenagers, an elderly parent or a sceptical spouse, it’s really important that, as far as possible, your new church is a place all of you can comfortably worship.
I’ve avoided asking the question “Is there good provision for my kids?” because, although this might be an important question in some cases, it’s not always the case that our children need their kids’ work to be all-singing, all-dancing.
When we moved to our current church, our kids were the only regular kids in attendance. But it was the love and interest shown in them by older members of the congregation which helped them to feel at home and find their place. And now, eight years later, the church is swarming with children and young teenagers.
3. What if my kids love it and I don’t, or vice versa? Whose needs should we be prioritising?
This is such a hard one. You have a choice between a church with excellent kids’ work which doesn’t really serve you – and a church you love but which has no provision for your children. What to do?
There are a few important considerations here. Firstly, you know what’s best for your children. Yes, their opinions are important, but perhaps age and experience have given you insight that they don’t yet have. Perhaps you can see that, long-term, a different church might serve their needs better than the one which seems immediately good.
Secondly, as an adult, you have more control over your discipleship than your children have over theirs. If the church is great for them but not for you, then you can ‘top up’ with Christian podcasts, YouTube sermons and Bible apps. Your children’s faith, however, is younger and more fragile, so church input is going to be important.
Finally, remember that you and your family have opportunities to get involved in this church, to serve it and build it. If you join this church, it won’t look the same in a year’s time as it does now – that’s because we all have our part to play in the Body of Christ, serving one another with our gifts.
Perhaps you’re going to bring something unique that this church doesn’t yet have. Maybe you’re a gifted children’s leader, and you’re going to help make the kids’ work awesome. Perhaps you’re a gifted preacher and are going to help level up the quality of the Bible teaching. Try not to write off a church because of how it looks now, but instead seek to discover where it’s going.
4. Do the leaders display humility?
If a church leader is truly trying to model themselves on Jesus, then there will be a degree of servant leadership evident – like the foot-washing Jesus did to model servitude to his disciples.
Are the leaders presenting themselves as humble and teachable? Are they open to hearing different viewpoints or interpretations of Scripture, whilst also being strong in their own convictions?
5. Can you see where you’d fit in?
Is this a church which encourages every-member ministry, or is it going to be hard to break in and serve in some area? Churches which rely on a small (often paid) team to do everything often feel more like entertainment venues than bodies, relying on each organ to play its part.
6. Are people interested in getting to know you/your family?
It’s important to be open-minded when it comes to your new church family members – try to avoid judging them on the basis of how similar to you or your previous church family they are. But I do think it’s important that you can detect in them some kind of willingness to get to know you. Are they interested in you? Do people make an effort to come and chat? If you have kids, are they being overlooked or included?
Finally, remember that no church is perfect. Even some of the things I’ve listed above – and I’ve tried to stick only to the basics – may require compromise, depending on where you live and the choice available to you. After all, churches are only groups of flawed, fallible people just like you and me. Be prepared to show grace and patience as you get to know a new church.
The question of ‘How do I Find a New Church when I Move?’ can be such a sensitive one, with so many likes/dislikes/interests/preferences to consider, especially when there are several people in your family to consider. I hope these thoughts have helped you as you embark upon this search.
Let me know in the comments how you get on!