We picked a church here in Grand Rapids. Have I told you that?
A few months ago, a neighbor commented that it must be so fun to go church-hopping: to experience lots of different styles, perspectives, and communities. I thanked her for the reminder that the process could be fun and was meant to be enjoyable, but internally I harrumphed grumpily. It didn’t feel the least bit enjoyable, but I think that’s because I was still mourning the loss of our Summit church family. In many ways, I still am.
I suppose you could consider 10 million different factors to consider when choosing a church: style of music or preaching, how money is handled, relationship with the neighborhood, age of the congregation, children’s ministry and youth ministry, how visitors are welcomed, denomination, theology, size, location, and on and on and on. At Summit, we felt comfortable with regards to all of those factors from almost day one. Even then, I knew it was too much to expect a church to be “practically perfect in every way,” a-la Mary Poppins. And of course, Summit was NOT practically perfect. Never was and never will be.
But what sealed the deal was the people we met: the connect group that became our family, the babies we watched grow, the volunteer teams we served on, the people we cheered for on baptism days, the adoptions we prayed for.
As we began our search for a new church here, we weren’t opposed to trying different denominations or congregation sizes or worship styles. Still, we hoped to find a place that felt like a perfect fit, like Cinderella and her pesky glass slipper. With that perspective driving us, no church felt right: maybe we were welcomed warmly but had major issues with what we heard preached from stage, or we appreciated what we heard but were distracted by the style.
We finally came to terms with the fact that we would not find a church where we loved every element of every Sunday service, and that would need to be ok. As a result, when we showed up on Sundays, I started asking different questions (the ones I probably should have asked from the beginning). What feels the most worshipful? Where can we best follow Jesus? Where are we learning something new? Where are clear opportunities for us to serve? Where do we think that all three of us are most likely to be transformed more into the image of Christ? With those questions in mind, the best church for us was suddenly pretty clear.
We decided to settle here for a few months and see how it goes. We haven’t said, “This is our forever place,” but just “Let’s invest here for a bit and see what happens.” There is something to be said for settling.
Not settling down or settling for, but settling in.
I spent months walking into churches thinking, “What do I like about this and how does it compare?”
Instead, I now think, “This is our place. How can I engage with what’s happening?” Because the decision has already been made, I no longer need to form an opinion about what I’m experiencing; I can just experience it. I’ve switched from critic to worshipper.
It’s hard to feel like your heart is in two places, and each time we make a commitment in some way to our new church home, I feel as though I’m cheating on our old one. Of course, I understand that this makes no logical sense, but it feels true. It’s hard to have two homes. Tonight, we’ll attend a new small group for the first time, and I almost want to shout from the rooftops, “Don’t worry, old connect group! No one will ever be as wonderful as you.”
But I remember how I felt when I graduated from college and left my community group: a palpable sense of loss, a deep-seated belief that no group of people will ever feel as much like home as that one did at that time. But you know what? God was faithful to provide, as He always is, but we had to settle in and open up, so as to give Him room to fill up the spaces.
So, here we are again. Settling in, and hopeful.