This summer we started to do something that I’ve never done in my whole life: Look for a new church. This post details the why, the how, and what the experience has been like. As I started to write this post, I realized it’s a hard one to write…or at least write honestly, but that’s what I’m going to do.
I’ve never had to look for a new church. I went to Downey First Christian Church for three decades. The youth service there, The Burn, was amazing. It started when I was in Junior High, and it was a huge part of my life into my early twenties. It’s the sole reason I learned to play the guitar. It’s the reason I even worked at church for a while. My awesome wife Stacie even started to come when we got married seven years ago. Getting married was interesting, because I got my full-time teaching job at the exact same time, and that summer I just knew that my time at The Burn was done. I still loved leading worship there, but that chapter in my life had run its course. What I didn’t realize at the time though, was that all my friends had left. I’d been so busy helping with the youth, that I didn’t realize all the twenty something people I used to hang out with had gone and moved on. So when my new bride and I started going to church, without The Burn as my main focus…it wasn’t the same. It was hard for my wife, because she had switched churches after nearly 30 years at the same one (let alone coming from the Catholic church), so I know that was hard for her. But leaving The Burn…it almost felt like I didn’t recognize the church I was now attending.
Now this is the part I can’t really explain…but when we got married and started to go to church…it just never felt comfortable. I’m not even sure I can express why that is. I know it was hard on Stacie changing churches, but I didn’t expect it to be hard on me. I think the main thing that kept us coming back was that my family was there, and for the last couple years I’ve sort of felt like that’s the main reason we were coming there still. I think also, in the back of my mind, we had known for several years that we wanted to move away. We didn’t always know where exactly, but it’s almost like we had already moved mentally, and our “local” church didn’t even feel local.
We moved last summer, but settling into the new area, and having the new baby…all that stuff kept us pretty busy. But this summer, it’s like it finally felt right…we love the area, now let’s find a church. One of the most important things to me growing up was having a local church where I could make friends, and the people I ended up hanging out with in High School were all church friends. Having such a great peer group was awesome, and I absolutely want that for my kids. So when we moved last summer, I knew this would have to happen. I want them building friendships from a very young age, with kids that they will see at school, and hopefully know for a very long time. And that meant finding a church closer to home.
We didn’t have a lot of churches in mind. I know people in Huntington Beach, but that’s too far, and here in the Seal Beach area I hadn’t heard of too many. We tried out one down by main street in Seal Beach called Grace Community. Stacie knows someone there, and they had a VBS, so we figured why not!? We took Luke to VBS, and he loved it. We went one Sunday to their main service. We liked a lot of things about it…the church was smaller, something we were more used to, the people were friendly…but something was kind of off. A big part of the sermon that day was pre-destination, a religical idea I’m not too keen on. Not only do I not agree, but I just don’t care about it. This lead to an interesting intersection. Even though I had left a church I had “grown out of,” I was looking for one very similar to replace it! Now I’m no theologian, but I want my kids to go somewhere where I think sound biblical principles are being taught. So even though the people were nice…it just didn’t feel comfortable. Maybe it was the luck of the draw, being the first church we checked out (or the insane lack of parking), but we decided to keep looking.
After that we actually talked to our next door neighbor who goes to Sea Coast Grace in Cypress. I’d been to the website before, it looked like it was a huge church, and I’d almost ruled it out on that alone. But, after having been to one church already, I was game for anything. We set up one morning to go with them, and they helped us check-in the kids and all that stuff that can be a little overwhelming. My initial thoughts were….this church is bigger than any I’ve gone to before, the worship is amazing (can a church really have CIY caliber worship EVERY Sunday?), the people are friendly, they’re organized, parking is better than Seal Beach…but above all…I felt comfortable.
We’ve gone three weeks in a row now…and each week I feel like going back again. I haven’t gotten a lot of theology, but what I’ve seen so far I like. Their main pastor is off for the month (in Africa right now), but we’ve seen his cousin speak about miracles (awesome, liked everything he said), and then they had AC Green and his story, and today was a violin player named Roddy Chong and his story. It will be interesting when he gets back and we get to hear more. One of my initial concerns was that I didn’t want a big church…I wanted a small church where I knew everyone, but being a big church has its advantages. Some of the people they’ve had speak this month and the quality of worship they can put together are only possible in a big church. What’s funny about this big church vs small church thing…is that I went to a small church, and for the most part felt like I knew no one. Just because a church is big, it doesn’t mean you can’t make new friends. Will I ever know everyone? Nope…but maybe I don’t have to.
So for now, I think we’ll keep going. Luke still wants his VBS church, but today he admitted it was because they had snacks, and the new one doesn’t. And speaking of Luke…I don’t think we should try another new church for his sake, because he’s on church overload. I want to go somewhere for a while where he can start to feel comfortable…and I think the same goes for me. I’ve learned that this transition is hard, but it’s like a new chapter for our family. It’s a new church, and new relationships that Stacie and I are going to build together. It’s part of the future that we want to provide for our children, which is big. I will always have fond memories and high regard for my childhood church (so many great Christian examples I had the opportunity to learn from). Part of me even feels a little guilty…like leaving one church for another is telling the old church they’re not good enough…but I’d like to think it’s just a new stage in our lives. No one would think any less of us for switching churches if we moved out of state…so it’s like that, but we only moved 15 miles.
If you couldn’t tell, my thoughts are still sort of all over the place, but that’s how they have to be before you can figure them out. Who knows how long that will take. But I’m enjoying the journey.