Finding a Church

3:35 PM

It's become apparent that for most of my life, 
I've taken for granted having a good church home.

I grew up in a solid Bible church that my parents helped start. Kyle and I transitioned pretty seamlessly to a different Bible church shortly after we got married and 
stayed there until we moved to Chicago. 

Upon moving and becoming established in a completely new place, church has taken on a different meaning for me. While I may have intellectually known the importance of church in the life of a believer, I am acutely aware of it now: the fellowship, accountability, teaching, potential impact on the community. I've also gained valuable insight being on the visitor end of things: what it's like to be welcomed and how it feels to visit with children in tow.

Visiting churches is extremely challenging.
For starters, where do you begin?
This is not the Bible belt. There are not churches on every corner and most people you meet have NOT grown up in a church and are far more likely to be very openly liberal.

We started out by looking at churches whose pastors graduated from TMS - John MacArthur's seminary. Not too many of those, unfortunately. We also utilized the Acts29 network (4 churches within 20 miles). The 9Marks network turned up a lot more, but it's harder to narrow down those choices. Then there's word of mouth, followed by extensive reviews of each church online to assess their doctrinal belief and further, stances on key issues. Things like gay marriages, gender issues, women in leadership positions, etc.  In today's church environment, you can't assume anything about a body of believers. 

We have found that it's truly challenging to even begin the search physically. Sick kids being the primary issue. I'm sure there is no small degree of spiritual warfare trying to halt our search by any wily means necessary - and I confess the temptation is great to just watch online our former church back home. But then the Lord whispers to me, That's not my plan for you here, Ashley. Get out there. And if I'm honest with myself, I look forward to starting fresh with a new church. 

We have visited Ransom City Church in Evanston, a tiny church plant targeting young couples in Evanston; Evanston Bible Fellowship, a smallish church which was established to target college students from Northwestern and Loyola; Moody Bible Church - downtown, huge...easy to slip in unseen; New Life Community Church, an extremely multi-cultural/multi-lingual church where the sermon was offered in 5 languages to its audience (Spanish, French, Arabic, Irdu and English).  

Several churches in the city have a main hub and then smaller "branches" in neighborhoods - designed to truly impact individual neighborhoods and promote genuine early-church-like community among its believers. I love that idea.

Almost frustratingly, this is a process to which there's not a right or wrong answer as long as the church has sound doctrine. We could, theoretically, make any of these recent visits a church home. I struggle with 'How do you KNOW it's the right one?"

Recent consideration of all this has sort of driven me to come up with some guidelines/order of importance kind of things:

1) Solid Biblical teaching 
Just reading a church's statement of doctrine doesn't necessarily identify potential points of contention with Scripture. I found that out as I dug deep into a church a few nights ago (online). Although they seemed promising, I realized they had women elders, and as much as I'm pro-women, God did not set the church up to have women in elder/deacon positions. If they take their own position on that, in what other areas are they willing to compromise?

2) Proximity
The size of the city and its general density means that 20 miles away is really an hour or more.
In order to find a home where we will truly engage with the people and community, it needs to be pretty darn close. Not necessarily walking distance, although that would be sublime! A new friend I met said she walks a mile to her community group, and I think that is great! Parking is just about impossible.

3) Connection with the people
Let's face it - if you don't feel a connection with the other believers, you won't feel at home.
Kyle and I were active in our church in Arkansas, but we didn't participate in community groups or core groups for several reasons. One is that we both felt we had a good community in my family which surrounded us - it was family, friendship, accountability, discipleship, etc. More community...more people in our lives was not something we needed or wanted.  We're both extremely independent, internal, semi-introverted.  Also, most of our church body lived across town, 20-30 minutes away, making participation very challenging. Particularly with a bunch of kids.

Here, however, we stand alone. And I would like to be part of a close community of believers who are like-minded, supportive, eager to grow in relationship with God and to impact our neighborhood and community. It's a new place for me - I see the value of a small, intimate gathering of believers.  A light in the darkness.

I make friends pretty easily, and we are so thrilled to find that our immediate neighborhood - this street - has several families with kids who have welcomed us with open arms. We have kids knocking on our doors daily, a standing play-date on Sunday afternoons, an impressive park system nearby, really neat people...I love it here. But with the exception of one family we just met, they're not believers. In fact, over the Christmas break, my kids and I told some neighbor kids the story of baby Jesus for the FIRST TIME EVER. They asked what the deal was with all our nativity sets and I was floored to see they really had no clue. So we told them.

I was a little worried these kids might go home, share what we told them, and that was the last we'd see of them, but nope, they keep coming back! We introduced them to Veggie Tales last week and they heard the story of Esther for the first time ever. In that respect, I am delighted to be surrounded by lost souls - what a mission field! Like my dad has always said, he loves heathens. I share that love. Looking at the life and ministry of Jesus, so did He. No risk of us living in a spiritual bubble these days. And I'm grateful for that.

4) Children's Ministry
I'm not looking for anything huge or elaborate here - I grew up largely without a youth group and I don't care if my kids participate in one, but it would be great if my kids weren't the only children in the church. You laugh, but it's not far-fetched. This is not a city of big families.
I would like a place where Kyle and I could possibly serve in the children's ministry.

There are still a few places we want to visit and to give some that we have visited a few more visits.
At least now all our kids are in the elaborate security systems children's ministries must utilize these days.  But I very much look forward to calling a church body home. I look forward to making the individual connections that form lasting friendships and seeing my kids do the same. I look forward to pot-lucks, shared meals, praying with other women and men whose hearts are burdened for this city and its hurting people, for solid teaching that challenges and stirs me to action, to see the power of God in lives around me. I look forward to seeing what God has in store here. I know it's something bigger than us, and that alone, is worth waiting for.

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