On a summer Sunday 20 years ago, God nudged my husband and me off a fence we didn’t even know we had been sitting on. (You can read the full story in my previous post.) However, once we knew that we needed to leave our old church, the Lord didn’t exactly give us an audible about where we were supposed to go next.
This is where having spiritual mentors in our lives became so important. The same mentors who had invited us to open up God’s Word and study the Bible for ourselves were the people we turned to when we believed it was time to find a church that would help nurture a healthy faith.
Our friends were encouraging and said that there were several factors to consider in our search—some we could consider negotiable and some non-negotiable. Top of the list was this:
Look for a church that preaches directly from the Bible
What they meant by this was that rather than hear sermons that were topical or focused on social issues, we could understand God better if we looked at our faith through the lens of Scripture. So they encouraged us to find a church that viewed the Holy Bible as the primary source of knowledge about who God is and where the pastor taught through sections of Scripture to help dissect it and better understand what a particular verse or section meant.
This was actually a new concept to us. Both of us had grown up in denominations that read from the Bible each week, but then the sermon didn’t necessarily relate to what the Scripture passage was. So our mentors actually reached out to some of their mentors and helped generate a list of churches we may want to check out in our search process.
A different type of church
So as not to hold you in suspense, I will say that this search led us to First Evangelical Free Church in Maplewood, Minnesota. I remember the first day I attended being really nervous, but here are some observations I still remember about that day:
Everyone brought their Bibles to church. That was weird to me. At our old church they had Bibles in the pews but we didn’t need them because they always printed the verses we were reading in the bulletin. But then, I suppose it made sense that if we were seeking a church that preached from passages of Scripture...it might be nice to have your own Bible so you could follow along.
The people were very friendly. Our four-year-old son was pretty uncertain about being taken out of his familiar Sunday routine and was hesitant to go into a Sunday school class. The young teachers went out of their way to welcome him and ease his transition. It was hard to see my son fearful about this process and their love and care for him was like a message from God saying, “It’s going to be OK.” We were warmly welcomed, too. The couple in front of us made sure to greet us immediately following the service and the woman even called me during the week to see if we had any questions about the church. She was not part of the church staff—she just called on her own! I hadn’t ever been to a place where people did that.
The music was different. Rather than sing a few hymns, the congregation stood and sang praise and worship songs that seemed to go straight to my heart. And they sang! It was as if everyone really meant the words they were singing, rather than just going through the motions.
The sermon was definitely different. It was longer—almost twice as long as the sermons I was used to hearing! But as we were invited to open up our Bibles, I was automatically drawn to take notes and really listen. And I noticed everyone else was really paying attention, too!
A church that felt like home
Well, we felt it important to check out several churches in our search process, but Jim and I both felt called to go back and check out First Free a second time. I wish there were fully developed, logical reasons I could give you about why we made the choice, but mostly I can just say that when we returned to First Free and walked in the sanctuary, it just felt like home.
I like to think that I would have been willing to take a long time to find a new church if it had been necessary, but I’m grateful that God knew this young couple needed confirmation of our decision to leave a place we had loved and quickly led us to a place where we could grow in our desire to know Him more by learning more about His Word.
We very quickly felt adopted and enfolded into this new church. I think the reason for that is because of things the church and its members did and also because of things we did. Next time, I’ll share things you can do to make a healthy transition when you start attending a new church.
Are you looking for a new church like I was? Feeling uncertain about where to start? I encourage you to contact pastors at churches you may be interested in. Click here to connect with a pastor at First Evangelical Free Church.
About the author
Nancy Zugschwert is a writer and speaker who lives in St. Paul, Minnesota. She has been married to Jim for 30 years and they have four sons, one daughter-in-law, and a dog. She works full-time as director of communications at North Central University in Minneapolis. Nancy and her family have been attending First Free Church since 1995. Visit her personal blog at theUpSide.com.