i don't particularly think church shopping is all that fun.
granted, there are fun things about it. like the privilege of parking in the front spot reserved for those special "first time visitors."
but we've also had to drag our children kicking and screaming down the sunday school hall and shove them in a classroom and run for it before they can latch back on to our legs and cry hysterically about how horrible it is going to be.
and that, my friends, is the main reason church shopping isn't so much fun. my children hate it. and no amount of "what a fun opportunity to learn about how much Jesus loves you!" is going to trick them into a good attitude.
however, donut bribery does work. sometimes.
fortunately, in this church searching adventure, we have actually had a bit of an advantage. we know precisely 3 families here that we love and respect. and knowing them helps with church shopping. because by their attending any particular church, they have already taken the hard part out of the process for us.
we know, since we respect each of them, that their churches each have a reverence for God, believe that Jesus Christ died for our sins, and they don't worship the devil.
ok... ok... but seriously, its nice to already have the churches narrowed down to good, solid choices.
so, once we determine that the teaching is sound and the key essentials that a church believes are in line with the Bible, what are the less important things that determine where our next church home will be? well, allow me to enlighten you.
(if you find yourself to maybe be, i don't know, a tad "legalistic" and not so, i don't know, "flexible" please consider applying your sense of humor here.)
1. worship style. (like you didn't see this one coming.) (it is important to note here, that the church we left in phoenix is pretty hard to top in the worship category. well, actually, in many categories. not saying it was perfect or anything, but we loved it and so did our kids.) first, i recognize, as all good Christians do that "its not about me." its not what i get out of worship, but my heart's condition before the Lord. that is why worship style is not a deal-breaker when choosing a church. however, lets just say that i prefer worship songs that are similar in style to the type of music i like and listen to on a daily basis. so, all other things being equal, i like modern, edgier music. old people may or may not refer to this as "loud." i wouldn't settle for compromised fundamentals of a church for it, but its my preference. there, i said it. so yes, it is all about me sometimes. (and be honest, its all about you too, so don't judge)
2. children's ministry. it's only fair to say that nothing will compare, in my children's eyes, to the church they came from. i mean, it was like a mini-amusement park. that's what you get with a mega-church budget. and yes, i'd like my children to learn that there is far more to church than a stage, and awesome props, and amazing music, and a semi-broadway production each weekend, but its going to take some time before they can get past all that. but a key element here: nice sunday school teachers. when i take my kids to a room and the teacher doesn't even look at them, and then i have to really make a point to introduce myself and pry her out of the corner to meet my kids, and then she doesn't even talk to them, and then when i pick them up and ask them what they learned and they say, "we just played" i can't say i'm totally sold. however, also not a deal-breaker. because i believe that if you see an area that might possibly benefit from "improvement" of some form or another, it just might mean YOU are the one God has brought to do something about it. so. we could still attend this particular church. and i could volunteer in the children's ministry and smile and greet everyone and sing Jesus Loves Me as they walk through the door and pass out candy and simply be the worlds greatest sunday school teacher ever. EVER.
3. cry-room. here's the thing. there absolutely needs to be a place where mothers can take children who are sick or impossible and still hear the message without compromising the reverence of sunday mornings. at one church, it was mentioned that i could just take my sick kid with me and sorta sit at the back and it will be ok. yeah, umm... allow me to introduce you to mason.(yeah, i see all you parents with your docile children who sit still all through church and never make a peep. you make me slightly bitter.) and i know churches say "there is a great children's ministry where your children will receive great care and supervision so you can get the most out of the adult worship." its just that sometimes, for certain periods of life, our high maintenance child just need to be with us so he won't throw up on the nursery worker again in his desperate, hysterical rage. that's just gonna be the way it is. so, cry-room/overflow-room/video feed is nice.
4. food. yeah, so non-essential. but when you have tables heaping with bagels and bags to be filled and taken home, its kinda nice. same with the donut table to make your kids happy about the borderline torture they had to endure in sunday school. coffee is nice too. creamer is essential.
5. people. i can say, that at each church, i fell in love before even setting foot in the service. because people were genuinely happy to see us there, help us find sunday school classes, ask us questions about our fascinating selves, and invite us to their Bible studies and what not. more than anything, the warmness of the people makes a difference. if you are still reading, take this to heart. you may be the reason someone wants to attend church. so smile. ask, "can i help you find the nursery... is this your first sunday... can i show you where we stash the free food?" and also, laugh when that obnoxious little one year old who should be in the nursery throws a ball at your head.
so, where will we land? not sure yet. but more than weighing options like food and such, we'll pray that God has us where we can serve him and our children can flourish and we can be a blessing to others. what it all comes down to is that we are truly grateful we live in a country where we have options. and we can worship freely. where the question of the morning is, will they have cream cheese today? not, will i be arrested and tortured for worshipping God in the underground church?
we don't take lightly the freedom we have to choose the building we can enter on sunday morning to learn about and worship our Creator and Lord. this is a big deal, people. i hope you take the opportunity to appreciate it too.