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13 reflections after visiting 13 churches

Former minister Steve Cloer shares his experience looking for a new church home after leaving his preaching career.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — After 15 years of full-time preaching, I accepted a new role with the Harding School of Theology and found myself in the awkward position of searching for a new church home.

I do not like the idea of the church being a marketplace. I do not want to be a consumer. I want to be a disciple.

And yet, somehow, our family needed to find a new church family. How was I supposed to do that?

Related: ‘We wanted this to be a Jesus crusade’

I wondered if it is possible that this could be a spiritually formative experience rather than a consumeristic experience.

Our family came together and prayed about the decision. We focused on three key attributes we wanted in a church: community, mission and Scripture.

We wanted to find a church where we could have spiritual friendships. We wanted a church where we could participate in the mission of God. We wanted a place where we could grow in God’s word. With this focus, we set out on our journey and began to visit 13 different churches.

Here is what we experienced:

1. We noticed that church auditoriums are often very cold, so bring a sweater with you.

2. We learned that meeting new people weekly is tiring.

3. We observed that COVID-19 has taken the wind out of many churches’ sails, yet they continue to keep going in hope.

4. We found friendliness regularly as we entered church buildings, with people often smiling and offering a welcome when they did not recognize us.

5. We remembered the impact of someone taking us out to lunch after worship and how special that is.

6. We discovered the joy of receiving mail as handwritten notes were sent to us to thank us for coming to worship.

7. We felt important as we were asked to stand and introduce ourselves or were mentioned from the pulpit.

8. We recalled how confusing it can be for a guest to know which door to enter, where to go and what to do.

9. We underwent a little embarrassment as one lady suggested that my wife and I should attend the college/young adults’ class (actually, that made me feel good).

10. We identified with the feeling of being “new” and how awkward, frustrating and challenging that can be.

11. We were encouraged when we were invited to attend Bible studies and small groups outside of the assembly. It’s nice to be invited!

12. We appreciated churches that had food — dinner for the youth group, ice cream social after worship or a small group potluck. Something about food just makes you feel welcome.

13. We experienced sadness when we realized that we cannot go to all of the churches we visited, but we must pick one.

Related: Praising God and promoting unity

Finding a church home is not for the faint of heart. But as I told my children, this is a moment where we get to see many churches and meet many different brothers and sisters.

So instead of viewing this as a chore, maybe this can be a practice of drawing closer to God through the church. We are nearing the end of our search. While it has been challenging (and I am ready for it to be over), I am thankful for this season where we could step back and see the church as guests and be thankful for the universal body of Christ of which we are a part.

STEVE CLOER is assistant professor of ministry at Harding School of Theology in Memphis, Tenn. He teaches courses in congregational ministry, mission and leadership and directs the Doctor of Ministry program. Previously, he was the preacher for the Southside Church of Christ in Fort Worth, Texas.

Filed under: Harding School of Theology Opinion Southside Church of Christ Steve Cloer Views

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