1. I would not tell God what I require. We may assume He knows what I need.
2. I would not judge a church by the externals — location, beauty, convenience, denomination, ample parking, landscaping, reputation.
3. I would ask: “Is God in this place?” “Do they teach His Word?” “Do they seem to care for people?” “Is this a ‘safe place’ in which to worship, serve, and grow?” “Is this home?” I would want the answer to those questions, but I would not make my decision on the basis of any of them. After all, it could be the church is not what it ought to be and God is sending me to help it grow and heal.
4. I would ask the Holy Spirit to lead me to the church he has chosen. After all, I don’t have the time or energy to visit every possible congregation in this city. “He leadeth me in the path of righteousness.”
5. And once I knew in my heart that ‘this is the church,’ I would join it. I would give my tithes and offerings and begin praying for the church leaders and looking for ways to encourage them. I would begin learning the names of church members, and not wait on them to reach out to me.
My city has thousands of Christian people who moved here and, not finding a church like the one back home, ended up not joining a local congregation. They have missed a great personal blessing, our churches are correspondingly weaker than they should be, the community goes without the faithful witness and leadership of these members of the Body of Christ, the unsaved of the city never know the witness they could have received, the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ is dishonored, and His will is ignored.
What I wish I could say to every person who moves to a large and unfamiliar city where the churches are different from the one they left behind is this: “God is getting ready to do something new in your life. Don’t miss it! And whatever you do, do not ask the Lord to duplicate the experience you had in your last church. Each congregation is as unique as your children. After all, the Lord is so creative, He hates to do anything the same way twice!”
In my first pastorate after seminary, the Sunday School Director, John Pake, told me how he came to join our church.
“When we moved here, this church was sick. The congregation was weak, the choir was pitiful, and the preaching was not very good. But the Lord told my wife and me in no uncertain terms that this was where He was leading us. We ignored that and went across town to visit another church.
“That church was thriving. The place was packed, the choir was outstanding, and the sermon was inspired. But in our heart of hearts, we knew the Lord was not leading us there. They did not need us. They were doing just fine.
“So, the next week, we returned to this church. It was the same story — poor choir, attendance, sermon. Once again, the Lord said, ‘This is your place.’ So, we joined it.
“Over the next two years, three major changes occurred. The pastor left, they made me the Sunday School director, and we’ve called you as our next preacher.”
We had an outstanding ministry there for several years, making it obvious the Lord had made plans for our church even before many of us moved to that city.
I’ve never forgotten the lesson and commend it to every person who finds themselves in the position of having to find a new church in a new city.