I have a few friends that have shared with me their longing for safe relationships to ask their questions about God, the Bible, and church. I suspect there are many spiritually curious folks out there echoing these desires. As a result, I have crafted this response, and hope you find it helpful.
Here are the assumptions:
> There are spiritually curious people who are not following Jesus that want to hear the story of God, understand the Bible, and explore the way of Christ.
> There are spiritually curious people who are not following Jesus that want to experience church but are uncertain where to begin such a quest.
> Finding a church is difficult for Christians and Non-Christians alike.
My wife and I adopted our first child, switched careers, and began a healthy search for a church during the Spring/Summer of 2004. From birth, both of us experienced enriching participation in Christian communities with solid relationships, Bible teaching, and ministry opportunities. Both of us are graduates of the same Bible-belt Christian university and served in full-time church ministry roles most of our married life.
However, even with all the blessings and formative experiences contained in the above list, we found our 2004 search for a church to be quite a challenging endeavor. I resonate with the struggles of my non-Christian friends to do the same.
As a result, here is a relational guide to finding a church for the spiritually curious.
No, really: pray. Whether you are purposefully not following Jesus, participated in church as a kid but kinda “fell away,” you now have kids of your own and feel some sort of pull toward church on their behalf, or you find yourself in some other life situation, pray. Pray that the same God who spoke the universe into existence would guide your search.
1) Prayer helps you get to know Him. Yeah, prayer helps you get to know…God. Sometimes, even for Christians, we forget that the with-God life is exactly that: with God. Although you are looking for a church, would it not be fantastic to discover your Creator in the process?
2) Prayer helps you do the uncomfortable. As I mentioned above, even for Christians, finding a church can be a difficult, uncomfortable experience, and time in prayer will prepare and sustain you through that. Let’s be honest: sometimes praying is uncomfortable. Sometimes, you feel like you are talking to the air, an imaginary friend, or yourself. Sometimes, you pour your heart out only to wonder: “Is anybody listening?” That’s okay. Pray on.
3) What do you have to lose? If you are open to but not currently following Jesus, or if you are searching, wondering but, in general, just trying to be a nice person, what do you have to lose? Why not pray?
What would you add, tweak, or delete here? Would prayer even make your list?
Actively listen to the people around you. Listen to people at work, play, online, or at the grocery store. Tune your ear to real people that you interact with. The point is to learn. You don’t necessarily need to know them personally, but that would be most helpful. Either way, listen, and while you are listening, ask yourself the following 10 questions.
1) Who talks about Jesus? Why?
2) Who extends hospitable invitations?
3) Who embraces opportunities to deflect or offer praise?
4) Who makes passionate pleas on behalf of hurting, neglected, or forgotten people?
5) Who shares what they have?
6) Who offers their heart without expectations of a return?
7) Who is quick to forgive?
8) Who is quick to ask genuine questions of another?
9) Who shares stories of God’s activity in their life?
10) Who speaks of their church with authenticity and joy?
What would you add, tweak, or delete here? How are you already practicing this?
If you have not already, as you pray and listen, begin asking questions of the people you are drawn to. Ask good questions about life, Jesus, the Bible, faith, family, and love. You may already have a relationships with a few of these people, and that’s great. If you do not, take advantage of the opportunity to begin new friendships. There are followers of Jesus out there who would love to converse about the deeper aspects and experiences of life in confessional, encouraging, and inspiring tones without guilting you into following Christ or marketing their church’s next special event.
What would be some good questions to ask here?
Up to this point, I have not said much of anything concerning worship services, doctrines, dogmas, rituals, etc. Although there is a high level of importance to these items, I guess you might call this a “relational” guide. Mostly, I am writing from the perspective of my non-Christian friends who are seeking, for sure, but not interested in showing up “cold-turkey” to any church on a Sunday morning. For them, their introduction and induction into the body of Christ is probably going to occur through relationships with God-fearing, Jesus-looking, and Spirit-following Christians.
So, with that in mind, participate. Share life with the authentic Jesus-talkers and shakers from the “Listen” section. Converse with them. Eat with them. Challenge them. Share your time, service, and possessions with them. Learn with and from them. Join them in whatever Christian church expression they participate in. There are a unique variety of Jesus-following communal expressions, and those communities would be welcoming, honored, and blessed by learning, serving, and sharing with you. If they are not, continue searching.
If you are truly seeking a church, once you are engaging in relationships with followers of Jesus (I am talking people who are being transformed by Jesus and have the life-evidence to prove it), participate. Jump in. Pursue Christ with them and their Jesus community, and give it everything you have.
We discover meaning and formation through struggle. This will be a difficult and rewarding journey, so let me encourage you to begin.
*Have you ever attempted finding a church? How was your experience? What did you learn?
*What do you think of my relational approach here?
*How would you advise churches desiring connection with spiritually curious people who are interested in but not currently following Jesus?