James and I have been Christians and church-goers our whole lives. We have attended (whether once, regularly, on a visiting basis, or as members) many denominations and types of churches in at least five different states. So, we have a little experience with this. However, this is our first church finding mission in a while and the first with older kids who have their own spiritual needs and degree of influence on our choice.
Since we moved back to Illinois in 2009, we have attended a large church in the northwest suburbs, a 50 minute drive from us. We felt at home there for many years, but slowly started to feel like God would have us in a different type of environment with different theological priorities and manifestations. But, we got involved in a small group last summer that intended, and then followed through, on a plan to become a church plant of the the larger church in a different neighborhood. It was a lot of hard work over the past year, but we were more invested in the support of our friends and co-church members than we were in the larger "mission", if you could call it that, of our church. It was an uncomfortable and draining position to be in. One that we certainly take responsibility for allowing to continue once we knew it wasn't the right place for our family.
Now that the dust is settling, we are beginning this new journey with a few criteria we know are important (in addition to theological ideology):
- Diversity-of race, age, economic background, and probably other things I can't think of now.
- Manageable number of attendees-probably 200-1000, but this is relatively flexible if other elements are in place. We certainly are not interested in another "mega church", as that model has become suspect to us.
- Social engagement-we want to be a part of a church that engages with the community, addresses social issues like poverty, homosexuality, and diversity, among others.
- Strong, committed believers-church isn't a social engagement to us and we want to be in a place that challenges us to be better people, parents, spouses, etc., no matter how difficult that may be.
- Close to home-after spending so many years traveling to get to church on Sundays and dealing with the difficulty of getting more deeply involved because of distance, we'd like to find something closer. We'd rather spend our energy on getting involved, not driving.
All of these criteria can be encompassed by the word community, I think. We want to be in a place that is of the community, in our community, fortifying to our community, and a nourishing community unto itself where we feel that we belong and can put our talents to use and have our weaknesses challenged in a way that makes us better people.
So, our journey begins. We are praying that God will bring us to the right place and that we'll have the wisdom to see it when we're there.