How does someone with more than fifteen years of parish ministry experience search for a church when presented with the opportunity to connect with a community of faith as an active participant rather than serving as a pastor or staff member?
In my case the answer is a work in progress.
Last September I relocated to North Texas after living in Southwest Florida for eight years. Immediately, my wife and I started our search for a church. Despite my travel for work, we have managed to attend worship in several area congregations.
To help us begin the next phase of the search, I visited the websites of all Mainline Protestant denominations and used their respective versions of “search for a church” by entering our zip code. I used the search data (along with the data on the individual congregation’s sites) to build a spreadsheet with basic information: church name, website url, physical address, name of lead minister, times and styles of worship offered, number of members, and average weekly worship attendance. I also included the distance each is from our home.
Narrowing the Options
I limited the list to Mainline Protestant congregations since we openly identify as progressive Christians. My list includes 22 churches that are located less than 20 miles from our home. I placed these options on a map (shown above) since we would prefer a community of faith that is at least somewhat close to our home.
Rather than rating each church we visit using a rubric, we are remaining open to the guidance of the Spirit and the possibility that the right match for us may not be the congregation that would score the highest. Our first visit (and so far we have only managed first visits) is a way of ruling a congregation “in” as a possibility for a second visit or “out” as a congregation we are thankful to have visited but not one we will consider for further involvement.
We are not in a rush to make a commitment to a congregation nor are we okay with a never ending discernment process. My travels for my primary employer and a number of commitments to visit congregations that are more than 20 miles from our home will limit the number of Sundays we have this year to work through the list.
While not a formal New Year’s resolution or goal, it is my hope that we will formalize a connection with a congregation sometime in 2016 (even if such happens without a visit to every congregation on the list).
Perhaps we will be surprised to find ourselves in a congregation that isn’t on my list and/or maybe we will be surprised by an opportunity for me to serve a community of faith as a pastor or a part of the church staff.
- What thoughts do you have about our current search process? Feel free to offer experiential wisdom from your past searches.
- If you are familiar with the North Texas area, what congregations do you recommend we visit (even if they may be more than 20 miles from our home)? Feel free to invite us to your church (and let us why you love it!).