Church shopping sucks. Let’s just get that out of the way now. We all hate it. It’s especially awkward for someone who’s been to seminary and has done a lot of music professionally because people don’t know your previous level of church engagement, and they ask lame questions. It’s not that the people themselves are lame – they’re just trying to be nice. They’re just socially awkward, as most Christians tend to be, and they say, “Wow, you have a great voice. Have you ever sung in church before?” Ummm..kinda have a Master’s in singing in church. I know, they have no way of knowing that, but their expression and inflexion is such they think they’re telling me something about myself that might surprise me. You can also tell that they desperately want to ask if you’re a Christian or have Jesus as your Lord and Savior but don’t quite know how to do it. I like to just stand there and see if they can figure it out. Mean, I know, but I need to be entertained somehow.
I’ve decided to write down my church shopping experiences here and I’m going to have a rating system and categories for them.
1. Pastoral Humanity/Normality. This one is going to be all about how the pastor presents his/her self to the community. Are they real? Do they have to dress up? Do they have a different voice when they’re on the platform than they do in the lobby? Do they speak English or Christianese?
2. Creative Arts. This one is about how any art form is used – visual, music, whatever. I will be judging the music on whether or not it’s a distraction. Music can be a distraction if it’s too good or too horrible. Hoping for a middle ground. I also want a church that has put thought into the space and is providing an experience that appeals to all the senses.
3. Sermon quality. I’ve been ruined by seminary, I admit, but I think I can be a pretty good judge. First, it needs to be biblically based. It doesn’t have to be a verse-by-verse exegesis, but there needs to be a pretty straight line. Something between fire & brimstone and Osteen.
4. Overall friendliness. Don’t be all up in my grill but don’t ignore me, either.
5. Online Presence. I come from a fairly plugged in church, using a lot of social media to stay connected. I realize I’m no longer near Silicon Valley but I’d like somewhere that recognizes we’re in the 21st century. I read my Bible on my iphone and I want a place where that’s normal and people aren’t scowling at me like they think I’m on facebook.
I realize these are all subjective and personal preferences, but this is ME church shopping for ME so I get to pick the standard. Here goes.
After a couple of friends’ comments on FB, I need to add some more criteria.
6. Fully Inclusive. I need a church that recognizes that nowhere in scripture is there a list of spiritual gifts differentiated by gender. Women are to be valued and nurtured as much as the men and our gifts are to be honored along with everyone else’s. I also need to be in a community that includes my LGBTQ friends in all aspects of ministry. It needs to include all the ethnicity represented in the community as well.
7. Social Justice oriented. Faith without works is dead. I need a community who is striving to be formed in the image of Christ and who recognizes that one of the natural results of living like Jesus is helping the people Jesus cares about. God’s care for the poor is mentioned over 2,000 times in scripture. Seems like it should be a priority to the church.