Have you ever done this? Found yourself changing churches, not because of a move or because the church disbanded, but by choice? We did this past summer and it's been an interesting and rewarding journey.
While Jamey and I were still in college (and dating seriously) we visited many churches in our area. Choosing a church was a no pressure, go-where-it-feels-good kind of task at that point in life. By my junior year (Jamey was in the class below me, four months younger), we had settled in to attending a Mennonite church in town. This congregation was refreshing. It was very different than both the Mennonite churches Jamey and I grew up in. It took us awhile to really feel connected because we didn't commit to more than just attending Sunday morning worship until after we were married. Once we were settled, we joined a small group, taught Sunday school, went to our own Sunday school class and made dear friends.
But over time and off and on, we began to sense that we were changing. Our church needs and wants weren't the same as they were when we initially started attending there. We felt slightly out of place. No one made us feel out of place- this was a feeling from within.
This brought us to the whole question of 'What should one do if they are not satisfied with their church experience?' I read once that you should stay, help change the church to be more of what you need. Wow. Change a church. Maybe we should have rallied ourselves and spoken out, but imposing our convictions on an entire congregation? Not our style. And not fair to the many who were being fed and ministered to there, those who really felt at home.
By this time, we'd had Sam and Sadie. Our church family was immensely supportive in our new venture as parents. For each birth we had at least a dozen meals brought in to us. Dedicated nursery staff and Sunday school teachers cared for, taught and loved our children. They made friends. We had friends. It was hard to imagine leaving.
About once a year, we hashed out the question, 'Should we visit other churches?' Part of (both of) us was ready to, but part of us was afraid. Afraid of uprooting our kids, uprooting us. Afraid of in some way offending a church family we had grown to love. Afraid of not finding what we wanted elsewhere. Afraid of starting all over again- making friends, fitting in, being the 'new attenders'.
Last year, our convictions finally tipped the scales and outweighed our fears. We shared this with our small group and with their understanding support, began visiting other churches this past summer. After multiple visits to three churches, we both felt we had found our new church home. This was a strange time. We were excited about what we were seeing, hearing and feeling amidst the new congregation, but we were having to say goodbye to the members of our old church.
The kids were a bit confused to say the least. On more than one occasion, on the way to the "new" church on Sunday morning, they asked when we'd be going back to our "real" church. We didn't explain that this was now our real church until a couple months in. We decided not to start them in Sunday school until we were absolutely sure that's where we would be staying. When we were finally ready to take that step, the kids were thrilled to get back into Sunday school and made a seamless transition. We are so thankful for that.
I've made really good connections with women at our new church through their Women's Bible Study. This group is what sealed the deal for me. Meeting with a group of women, of all ages, studying God's word and being honest, vulnerable and encouraging to one another is something I had been dreaming of. Funny thing was, I didn't know I was dreaming of it until I experienced it. Does that make sense? We are slowly getting to know other people through our own Sunday school, church potlucks and boys club for Sam.
What we thought would be a terribly hard, difficult change has proved to be much less painful than we expected. In part, I think this is because we were truly ready to make the change. It was time. There were no more (or at least very few) pangs of indecision left. Being ready, the support and love we've felt from the pastor and friends at our old church and being welcomed at the new one all have made this change a good one.
Our new church home is not perfect, no church is. But, it seems to echo our values and beliefs and this is bringing us peace. Should we have stayed at our other church? I don't think so. Do I think people should switch churches willy-nilly? Absolutely not. It's been our experience that with prayer and the passage of time, with talking and thinking about what our hearts were telling us, you can be led to leave. The Spirit might have plans for you elsewhere.
We're excited to see what the Spirit has in store for us and are thankful for the courage it took to act on It's leading. May you find peace where ever you are or strive to achieve it. It makes a world of difference.