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Getting used to a new church

The time may come when you must leave the church you grew up in and become a member elsewhere. Let me be clear: I’m not encouraging people to withdraw or change their denomination/federation. I’m referring to church changes that are made because of marriage, affordability of location, employment, or desire to live near loved ones. It’s a huge life change, so I’m offering some suggestions to help you get used to your new place of worship and fellowship.

When will I feel at home?

It helps a lot to know that you are going to feel weird for the first few Sundays, or possibly the first few months. You knew every nook and corner of your old church, when to stand or sit, and most of the faces were familiar. You had friends there. Suddenly, the rooms, the faces, and maybe even the music are different. After a while, you will adjust to the new situation. You will recognize a few faces, begin to build new friendships, and get used to the differences.

One of the benefits of being in a new church is that you come in with a clean slate. Nobody knows about the silly or awful things you did as a teenager or young parent, or pre-judges you because of them. As we mature and grow in grace, we (hopefully) leave behind some of our follies and sins, and learn to treat people with more kindness and patience, “bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” (Col 3:13) We progressively learn how to love one another (I John 4:7-8). Sometimes it’s easier to “turn over a new leaf” in a new location.

How not to choose a church

What characteristics should you consider in a new-to-you church? What if you actually have two to three or more choices? On one of our moves, there were two excellent churches that were exactly 8 miles from our home. Which to choose? There are lots of ways that people make their final decisions about this – and some are better than others!

Some folks might want to choose a church based on which one has the nicest facilities. While I have had wishful thinking for a large fellowship hall and useful kitchen, in over 40 years of marriage, those amenities have always been at the churches that we didn’t choose.

When my husband enrolled in Westminster Seminary, he had no vehicle, and therefore planned to walk up a fairly steep hill to Calvary Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC). His dormmate, Leigh, had a crush on a girl who attended a smaller OPC about eight miles away. He offered Dennis a ride, which sounded much better than hiking up the hill – especially in poor weather conditions.

Though the ride was important, for Dennis it was a mixture of the pastor’s friendliness and his excellent sermons that kept him attending that small church in Blue Bell PA, and led to my membership as well for over 25 years (most of which were after it became a Canadian/American Reformed congregation).

So far, we have seen that great facilities, desire for love, and convenience might be subjective reasons for choosing a particular church. But more should be said about the “friendliness factor.”

Friendliness is important, but sometimes it is overrated as a standard for choosing a church. Countless times, people have told me that they didn’t choose Church A or Church B because when they attended 1-2 Sundays, nobody said hello to them. In fact, I have two friends who had opposite experiences within the same church! As the visitor, you will initially feel awkward and out of place and a friendly welcome could help to alleviate that emotion. On the other hand, you shouldn’t judge a church by that. Perhaps there were reasons why no one greeted you. Maybe they were rushing to deal with their children, or frustrated because their car broke down, or ill, or grieving. Maybe the official greeters were greeting someone else when you walked by. Don’t think that they don’t care about you – maybe they just don’t care about you yet.

And on this topic, just a word to church members: please do reach out to people you don’t know at church with a welcome and a desire to learn more about who they are! Don’t be so caught up in your own usual group of people that you neglect to include people who want to be an asset to your church! Wouldn’t it be nice to have more people to share all the responsibilities?

So, how do you choose?

First and foremost, you need to choose a church where you will find the pure preaching of the Word of God, the proper administration of the sacraments, and the appropriate use of church discipline. Not all buildings with the designation of “church” preach the truth, and you need to carefully research before attending.

Secondly, consider the location. When you are choosing where to worship, it is best to live close to your church if at all possible. Make living close to other church members a priority when you are house or apartment hunting. Why? Because we have found that visiting other members, and having other members visit us, is much more likely to happen if the distance between us is short. When you live 30-60 minutes away, there will be folks who don’t want to drive to your house. And people are more likely to drop off a meal 5 minutes away than 30-60 minutes away. We all get very busy in our lives, so if you can make fellowship and caring more convenient, why not do so? You don’t want to use “distance” as an excuse to not participate in the life of the church (or the Christian school). 

Jump right in

The way to feel a part of a new congregation is to get to know people, and the way to get acquainted is to get involved with smaller group meetings/service projects of any sort. In fact, this is probably the best way for introverts, especially, to begin feeling at home. Consider these examples that we have observed:

  • Show up and work hard at a church maintenance day. One couple did this before they even officially joined. What a great opportunity to converse and demonstrate that they were serious about serving the Lord along with us.
  • Attend the Ladies’ and Men’s Bible studies and take your children to youth meetings.
  • Note the requests for meals for new mothers and shut-ins and sign up to help.
  • Join the choir.
  • Attend a baby shower even if you do not know the new mother – it’s a great way to get acquainted, and your attendance and a small gift are always appreciated.
  • Shake the pastor’s hand and tell him who you are. Introduce yourself to one of the elders, or if they have cards in the pews, fill one out and place it in the offering plate. If you don’t want to be called, just give an email or home address. In my lifetime, I have noticed that churches are always happy to gain new members, and some of them will send you information about their church.
  • Send get well or encouragement cards to people who are shut-ins or recovering from surgery. The inspiring Bible verses in them will be uplifting even if they haven’t met you yet. Knowing that someone cares and is praying for them is always appreciated. So what if they don’t know who you are – they will soon!
  • Don’t sit back and wait for everyone to reach out to you. God calls all of us to help and encourage one another. Pray and ask Him to help you see ways to participate in your new church life. In Hebrews 10:24 we read, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works.” Your efforts will bless someone.

Conclusion

Although you will feel out of place during the first few times you worship in your new location, gradually you will begin to feel at home. Serving the Lord – “Blooming where you are planted” – will bring you into contact with fellow members, and after a while, friendships are likely to form. Following some of these suggestions might just move things along a bit quicker.

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Parenting

Teaching small fries to take notes, sing psalms, and speak to God

When your child is old enough to write... When your child learns to write he is ready to begin taking sermon notes. Say, what? Let's say that little George is 4 or 5 or 6 years old and he knows how to write his name and how to write all of his letters. Now he can get started! All you need is a regular notebook (or half size) and a pen or pencil. Before you go to church you should talk with him about the worship service, and how important it is to be quiet and still and to listen to God's Word being preached. Hopefully he has already been sitting in church for awhile and has become accustomed to obeying in this manner. Explain to him that he is old enough now to begin taking sermon notes! As you listen to the sermon, write in the notebook a simple sentence that you have just heard the minister say. Remember to write it in the type of lettering that little George will be able to read, in the size that he is used to. Then hand it to George and tell him to copy it. If he is a beginner, he will take awhile to do so. When he hands it back to you, smile, and listen to the sermon for a moment, and write another sentence. He needs to remember not to have a conversation about it. Let George complete this second one as well. Depending on the age and patience of your child, you can decide whether to have him write 5 sentences, or 10, or more. As he improves, he will be quicker and will accomplish more. He may keep it up throughout, or he may tire. I usually found it beneficial to "push" my child to do just one more after he said he was getting tired of it. This helped him to develop endurance. After the service, take the notebook home. If you will take a few moments to read it over when he is present, and to show it to your spouse, he will see that this is important to you and it will help him to strive to do it well. If he is able, you might even have him read it as a part of your family Bible reading time. This activity teaches him to take notes, because as he gets older you will ask him to listen and write down parts of sentences that he hears. It doesn't matter if he gets all of the words - just that he is listening and getting some of them. Eventually he will progress to where he can find the main points and summarize them, but that's a long way off. This activity also gives him something very worthwhile to do during worship. It is directly involved with the worship, as opposed to just being a toy, a page to color, or a series of "o's" to fill in, in his bulletin. It says to him that he is worshipping too, not just being forced to sit quietly for his parents' sake. It says to him that he is capable of taking sermon notes, just like the "big people" do. It also helps if he sees those older than him participating in this way. As his notebook progresses you could use it during the week to help him remember what he learned on Sunday. If you are enthusiastic, he will be also. When your child is old enough to sing... When your child is old enough to sing a song he is old enough to learn psalms and hymns. Little George is capable of picking up any song that he hears. So if you regularly sing words of praise to the Lord in your home and in your car, he will soon know all of the words as well. Good quality music that truly honors the Lord is just as fitting for children as it is for adults. They do not need off-key vegetables to get their attention. You might teach your children the psalms and hymns by methodically going through your church songbook and learning to sing all of the first stanzas. What a wonderful preparation to be ready for whichever ones the minister thinks fit best with his sermons for that day! Another way that you can assist your child in worship is by finding out ahead of time, if possible, which hymns or psalms will be sung next Sunday. Then you can sing that one at home a few times so that it becomes familiar to him. If it's one that was unfamiliar to you this could benefit everyone and improve the musical part of the worship of our Lord. If enough people are interested in knowing ahead of time perhaps you could ask the minister if he could email the titles or page numbers to the congregation by Thursday or Friday of each week. All of this serves to teach our children that what happens on Sunday is important and that it is not a Sunday-only activity. Preparing for worship and reflecting on it afterwards bring it to the forefront and promote our spiritual growth. Again, a little enthusiasm goes a long way. When your child is old enough to read... When your child is old enough to read he can begin reading the Bible. What an excitement it is for little George to help read one of the Bible verses at a family Bible reading time. Maybe he can only identify half or two-thirds of the words, but he is sure trying. Soon he will want to be able to read the other words too, and that will encourage him to learn the rest of his phonics. What a goal! Historically, most schools were started so that people would be able to read God's Word. George will appreciate that he too is included in the Bible study. He also won't need to fuss for attention if he is already included in taking a turn. When your child is old enough to speak... When your child is old enough to speak he can pray. He might repeat after Mom or Dad, or he might add his own simple words of thanks and request. But he should not even be able to remember a time when he did not pray several times every day. Worship is the central, most important thing that we do in our entire week. It is the time that we humbly come to confess our sins, give our thanks, sing of His glory, ask for help, and learn of His grace. When we teach our children right from the start how to worship, we accomplish the most important task that we must do. Sharon L. Bratcher has a book with 45 of her RP articles in it, and a 2-year lesson plan entitled “Bible Overview for Young Children” ages 2-6 and 6-9. For information on these, contact [email protected] This article first appeared in the Dec. 2006 issue, under the title "Sermon notes, and songs, for small fries."...


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