“I don’t think it’s going to work,” my husband said, sorrowfully.
I stared ahead through the windshield. “Yeah,” I agreed after a moment’s silence, and fumbled for words. “It’s just not working out. Nobody did anything wrong, but–”
“Yeah,” my husband replied. The set of his jaw was grim as he glanced over at me. “At this point, I think it’s best we just go our separate ways.”
We were breaking up. With our church.
For my husband and I, this was a new experience. The first church we had shared, while dating, was a small rural family of dedicated members: the church of my parents and grandparents. We still feel like members there and we might as well be; we attend services every time we go home. And the church we attended after that, a much larger congregation that emphasized traditionalism and committees but boasted warm, loving members and a dedicated desire to grow in Christ, also felt like home. We led a youth group there; on the night that we left, we met with the members in a Taco Bell, and we cried. Somewhere, we still have the empty bottle of celebratory sparkling grape juice the kids paid for to send us on our way.
And then came the church that, now, we’ve decided to leave. On paper, it was everything we wanted: large, with contemporary worship and intimate small groups, multiple services, and a bunch of college kids eager to start a study. In practice, though, our experience turned out much differently than we expected: the church was so large that we didn’t meet many people and to this day only know a handful, the small groups we attended all dissolved over time, attending the early service made us ships passing in the night with the people we did know, and the study group we led soon expressed a desire for more fellowship and less study.
I think we feel particularly disappointed because this, more than any other church, was a church we chose. In our previous move, we’d ended up attending the church closest to us that aligned most with our beliefs – and that worked. For this church, we’d scanned tons of potential prospects and then settled down with the one that we felt best met our needs. But the honeymoon period is over, and as we look for a church where we feel we fit more comfortably, I realize how closely the relationship between believers and their church mirrors a relationships between lovers.
It’s easy to go in idealistic and hopeful, to be attracted by a church’s best qualities and to ignore what might be potential problems down the road. A shiny exterior seduces and attracts, and churches these days market themselves like candidates on The Bachelor. Honestly, as I sit and look through websites at local churches, it’s hard to tell them apart: they all tout themselves as Bible-believing Christian churches with the same creeds and the same types of services and the same smiles in similar photos. And so the temptation is – or at least was for us – to go to the place that instantly made us feel happiest and most excited, where we could feel enthusiastic about the future, where the worship and the atmosphere and the vibe felt like they “fit” us.
But what we failed to consider and what I suspect many church-hunters fail to consider is what the photos and smiles and brochures cannot reveal, which is this: to what degree will this church be a place where you can learn and grow? What potential do you have with this church for a long-term relationship that extends beyond awesome worship and friendly people? Because eventually the allure wears off; enjoyable services and cheerful smiles won’t substitute for the spiritual nourishment you crave, and if the believers and the body do not provide a place where you can grow personally, then in the long term the relationship cannot last.
“To grow and build itself up in love” is the Christ-given duty of every church. But the ways in which churches accomplish this differ. The church that my husband and I are leaving has a distinct ethos, a way of ministering that blesses and reaches out to a lot of families in our community. It is a good church. But it’s not the right church for us. And as we seek another, we’re trying to keep in mind how like dating this is: to temper ourselves and to remember that while first impressions matter, and while finding a church that to some degree suits our preference is ideal, the ultimate goal is to find a place where we can build up others and where we can be built up, where we can become in love the people that Christ intended us to be.
10 thoughts on “Breaking Up With A Church”
Wow. Thanks for being so honest. I might add that, tho it seems so obvious yet should be voiced, where is it that God’s Holy Spirit is planting me? Thanks for such a thoughtful post that so many American Christians can relate to.
Yes, that’s absolutely a question that should be asked – and the answer should not always be conflated with “it feels right” which is another problem I see often: people think a place ‘fits’ and feels good, and they assume that’s the leading of the Holy Spirit. And sometimes it is, but sometimes it isn’t. A lot of rigorous prayer is required!
Thanks so much for reading!
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I’ve been there – more than once. It’s not easy, but it’s necessary. It’s really great to have church websites that spell out what churches believe. Sometimes it’s not easy to find their positions or with whom they are affiliated with. One of my former churches didn’t even know that they were a smaller branch of the Southern Baptists. It’s just that – it doesn’t seem that there’s much opportunity to connect through small groups or grow spiritually in my current church, but we also know that there’s nowhere else to go. I guess that’s why I blog, to grow as best I can when the church isn’t exactly helping the process.
It really is necessary.
I’d love to see some really individualized websites, but everything seems so…vague. And it’s true – it’s sometimes VERY hard to find affiliation, which can be frustrating. I’m fortunate that I am in a larger area and so we can afford to do a little bit of looking, but the search is always an odd experience.
And yes, sometimes you have to grow yourself – I wish it weren’t so, but there it is.
Some of the websites I’ve seen have been a year or so out of date. They don’t say where the church is let alone what time it meets. I wouldn’t even know what they teach. For me, some of the big things I’m looking for: gluten-free communion, what denominational affiliation, what sorts of ministries exist and how well they’re updated. A ‘Coming Soon!’ message on the Music ministry section of the site for a whole year is not an encouraging sign that anything is coming soon. Churches that invest in their online presence at least show that they try to connect to people on days other than Sunday.
Great thoughts! It’s so true. We often see the veneer and miss the core. I sat around a table once, listening to people share why they chose their various places of worship. It almost always revolved around the perks—child nurseries, activities etcetera. Not once did I ever hear someone say, “I worship at _______ because they teach and live the truth of God’s word and are trying to follow the example of Christ.
The perks are a big, big part of why people choose churches, you’re right. And there’s nothing inherently wrong with that in and of itself, but that has so little to do with the core mission of a church at its heart. In some ways, it’s a natural part of the way churches “market” themselves now to attract believers – there has to be an emphasis on the ‘selling points’ in ads I suppose – but it blinds us to what actually might be happening inside the doors!
I think there is a lot of confusion about what a church service should be. We seem to know what the church (the believers) should be doing – loving one another, spending time together, etc. But what should take place in an actual weekly church service? And should that one gathering be responsible for making sure we love each other and spend time together? Everyone seems to have different answers to those question.
Very, very true. That answer varies from denomination to denomination and from congregation to congregation within those denominations, too! I’ll be blogging the church search as we go – I’m curious to see what I find out along the way about both myself and the church body.
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