People change the church they attend during the summer months more than any other time of the year. At Northway Church in Macon, Georgia — where I serve as pastor — our attendance is down during the summer (vacations and baseball tournaments are our main competition), but we see an increase in the number of first time visitors. Why does this happen? In my observation, there are two primary reasons: first, people move during the summer. They want the kids to finish the school year in Town A before moving to Town B. After settling into the new home in Town B, they begin to look for a new church in that town. Thus, we’ll have lots of guests who will tell us, “We’ve just moved to the area, and we are looking for a church home.”
The second reason we have a lot of visitors is that people tend to end one life stage and begin a new one during the summer months. The oldest child completes preschool and is heading into elementary school. Or the last kid graduates from high school and is going off to college in the fall. These transitions are natural catalysts for change. Often a family will say, “You know, we’ve been talking about visiting some other churches. With all of the changes happening in life, right now may be a good time to do exactly that.”
There are numerous other reasons as well. If you are in the church shopping mode right now, here’s some advice to help you in your search:
1 — Find a gospel-centered church. Most churches will give lip-service to the importance of the Bible, but often the preaching and teaching will not be centered on God’s word. Here are a few of the more common fakers:
a. The political church. The preaching and teaching in these churches will tend to emphasize politics and/or social action more than the gospel. They will either lean far right, and focus heavily on being involved in political life, or they will lean to the left and emphasize marches, protests, and other manners of highlighting social issues. You may agree with their social or political views, but if the preaching during worship focuses on these issues rather than the gospel, I would advise you to move on to another church.
b. The pop psychology church. The preaching and teaching in these churches will address felt needs, emotional hangups, family struggles, financial matters, etc. Please don’t misunderstand me; the Bible certainly addresses these issues and the gospel speaks to and changes every single area of our lives. However, we must begin with the foundation of our greatest need — redemption through Christ — and then out of that transformation discuss all of these other topics. Any church only addressing those issues is skimming the surface, only helping you make superficial changes in life instead of finding true, lasting change. If you come across that church, then move on and try another one.
c. The overly intellectual church. The sermons in these churches will be finely crafted and use lots of big, impressive, unhelpful words. They will stimulate the mind but rarely call for any change. The focus is on entertaining and dazzling the listeners with knowledge and exceptional oration, but never on urging the hearers to fall more in love with the gospel.
There are certainly other examples of churches that have strayed from keeping God’s word central in the preaching and teaching. If you find yourself looking for a church, seek out one where the preaching and teaching focuses on the gospel.
2 — Find a church that emphasizes life-change. A church ought to be a place where you are challenged to grow in your faith. I often compare our church to a health club and my job to that of a physical trainer. You know that guy? The one you pay to help you lose weight and get into shape. He has you meet him at the gym at 6AM, and immediately tells you to run on a treadmill, faster, faster, or lift these weights and give him one more rep. You really hate that guy, right? At 6AM, you’d much rather be in your bed or seated at your kitchen counter drinking coffee and eating a donut. Yet, you expect him to push you and encourage you and to do whatever it takes to help you overcome laziness and fatigue in order to become a physically better you.
A good church is a place where you are challenged and encouraged to become a spiritually better you. Our small group ministry is a major tool we use to help accomplish this in the lives who attend our church. In the context of a small group, individuals can be held accountable, prayed with and for, have questions answered, and find a community of friends. When I place myself in this small group environment, it’s much like hiring the physical trainer. Now, I’ve got to get out of bed and go to the gym. Otherwise that guy is going to call me and tell me I missed my session with him and I owe him another $40. Jerk. Wish he’d just go eat a donut and chill out.
3 — Find a place where you can have a ministry. At the end of the day, church shopping isn’t just about finding a place where you like the music, you get fed, and your needs are met. Committing to a group of other Christ-followers is about using your gifts to serve that body and contribute to the ministry. You have been given spiritual gifts; you have certain God-given talents; you have resources and experiences in life. Find a place where you can be more than just an observer, but someone who makes a difference in the church and in the community the church serves.
When I first began pastoring, it would really upset me when an individual or family left our church. I would feel personally responsible, as if I’d failed to be a good enough preacher or at leading the church to effectively meet their needs.
Then, at some point, I had an epiphany. My ah-ha moment came after some individual or family left our church and I found myself in a funk, feeling sorry for myself. In the middle of this little pity party, God overwhelmed me with conviction about my pride. God spoke to my spirit and said something like: “I called you to grow my kingdom, not your church. I’ve called you to encourage people to fall in love with Jesus more and more, whatever that takes. If someone needs to leave the church where you pastor to grow in their faith, then you need to celebrate their departure. Remember: I’m calling you to be faithful to me; you just let me handle the rest.”
I’ve tried my absolute best to live by these words. I really do want people to grow in their faith, and if that means leaving our church to accomplish this goal, then I need to be thankful for their decision.
So, if you’ve just moved to a new city, or if you’re in a time of transition, or if you’re looking for a new church for some other reason, know you’re not alone. I hope these tips help you find a place where your faith in God grows more and more and you’re able to have a great personal ministry.
Kevin Mills is the Lead Pastor at Northway Church in Macon, Georgia.