I am a United Church of Christ pastor who is looking for a new church—or two. After completing an interim ministry and doing some traveling, I am again active in the UCC search and call process, seeking a new professional setting in ministry. That’s one church search.
In the meantime, I find myself doing what pastors and congregations hope that many unchurched people are doing every week: I am church hunting. I am looking for a church where I can worship and belong and serve.
As a UCC pastor not currently serving in a UCC setting, a Committee on Ministry continues to oversee my professional credentials. They expect me to do more than church hop. I am expected to find and join a local UCC church.
That is not possible for me to do here. I live in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the largest state capital with no UCC church. The closest UCC churches are in New Orleans, an hour and a half away. My Committee on Ministry allowed me to find my faith home in a local non-UCC church.
Church hunting pushes me out of my church comfort zones of “pastor” and “UCC member.” Like other dechurched people, I do not have a clear call to any church; I have no ready-made church home and I can’t rely on denominational loyalty for comfort or guidance.
As an ordained woman and openly liberal, feminist pastor, I rule out the many Southern Baptist churches and independent non-denominational churches. They have openly rejected pastors.
Here in the Bible Belt, even mainline churches tend to be very conservative. Where can I find a good place for me?
As I start my church search, I feel the same palpable fear many “not-yet-churched” persons share with me.
What if a church gets to know the real me, and I’m not fully welcomed and affirmed?
It’s surprising to me how much planning and energy it takes to arrive at the door of a church.
Maybe it’s easier for me because I do have so much church experience and I’m highly motivated to find a church. Maybe it’s more difficult for me because I’m an introvert and because I am more aware of church pitfalls.
I am gifted with a new awareness that each one who ever made it through the doors of a church had some motivations and some hesitations. Each one had expectations and needs.
Churches that focus effectively on three things have enticed me to their doors:
Curb appeal. I am attracted to churches whose building and grounds are well-tended and updated. Some older, traditional churches look tended and up-to-date. Some younger churches are looking sick and tired. As a pastor, I know maintaining church facilities is costly. As a seeker, I am chagrined to find out how much a church’s outside appearance matters.
Accessibility. Give me church signs that are new, readable and informative for any stranger’s needs. Can I find the right door without looking lost and feeling silly? If the facilities are not physically accessible for all the people, I wonder what other barriers and hurdles there might be on the way to full inclusion.
Social media. No surprise: Church hunters search for church web pages. If I have to dig for the worship time or the pastor’s name/bio or essential information about the church, I click out.
On the other hand, what we’ve heard works, does work: The easiest way to a church door is by personal invitation to church. A friend could rescue me from so much detective work. I would be accompanied to the correct door. I could see your beloved church through their eyes and their stories before seeing church through a browser window. I might find my new church sooner.
Somehow, I have to find my way to your church’s door.
Rev. Sharon M. Temple is a UCC pastor, parent of three adult children, and grandparent to two grandchildren. She has served congregations in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Louisiana as a settled pastor and as an interim specialist. Her essay ‘The Good Samaritan Test’ appears in ‘There’s a Woman in the Pulpit: Christian Women Share Their Hard Days, Holy Moments & the Healing Power of Humor.’ She blogs at revmama.com.