Should I Go Back to Church?
I’m asked this question frequently by those who are not active in a church. In case you or someone you know is among them, my response is: "It’s probably a good idea to find a church home if you want to keep growing spiritually."
Of course, genuine spiritual growth comes as a result of having a prayer life that includes personal Bible study and daily conversations with God. But conversations with fellow Christians are important too. Perhaps this is why Christians are encouraged to “not give up meeting together … but let us encourage one another” (Heb. 10:25).
Let’s face it. We live on a planet that is unfriendly to Christian living. The Bible is clear that Satan is in charge here. Jesus called him “the prince of this world” (John 12:31). And because we’re all born with his selfish nature, we all have battles to fight. So it’s really nice to be able to interact with others who can encourage us. Often we find them in church.
Sometimes finding the right church can be challenging after you’ve been away for a while as I had been. Diane and I visited 12 churches before we found one that worked for us. It was a startup and only had 35 to 40 members. But we liked its upbeat music. The members were friendly, the pastor was an excellent communicator, and the church seemed to have a healthy spiritual vibe.
But what should you do if there’s only one Adventist church in town and you’re not comfortable there? Perhaps something like this. Once a Christian friend suggested that I hook up with the most godly man I could think of in my church and ask him to mentor me. I prayed over the matter, then approached a retired man who agreed to let me meet with him. We met every week for about a year until a new job took me away.
Because of his mentoring, that was one of the most wonderful years of my life spiritually. And so I pass on the idea to you with this caveat: Don’t rush and do pray long and hard for God’s guidance before you approach someone.
And now back to Diane’s and my search for a church home. When we visited one church where no one spoke to us after we got by the greeter, I finally got up and walked down to the front of this very large church and began greeting people. I said my good mornings, shook hands and continued down seven or eight rows until those who were in charge started the service and I returned to my seat.
As we were leaving after the service, Diane said, “I think we left them better than we found them.” However, as you might expect, we didn’t go back.
We did sign up with Church No. 13 many months later. But within six months, the pastor whom we had learned to love left to become a Bible teacher in a religious secondary school. Also, it wasn’t helpful that three months elapsed before the next pastor arrived. It was also not helpful that just several years later the second pastor left for a new assignment.
It was an unsettling time. But when we moved to a nearby city so we could be near Diane’s aged mother, we hooked up with another church.
This has not been a perfect situation for us either. None is. But we’ve been in this church for 10 years and formed some really nice friendships. Plus we’ve found some meaningful ways to be involved. Among other things, Diane teaches a Bible study class and I teach friendliness principles from time to time to equip the members to have warm connections with visitors.
I pause here to remind myself — and you — that the church is supposed to be a spiritual medical center. If it really is, you’re going to encounter some fairly unwell people, sometimes even among leaders. I mean, if you were the devil, would you attack the music industry or the church? When we bump into unwell members, we have two choices. We can let these folks impact us negatively, or we can realize we’ve been saved to serve and relate to them as Jesus would. The choices we make will help to determine if our return to church will be successful.
Several years ago, one of our longtime church members asked Diane and me about some inactive members who didn’t attend church anymore. Didn’t we used to know them? Might we be willing to give them a call? They hadn’t been around for 20 years, we were told.
“Get us their phone number, and we’ll give it a try,” we said.
I said a little prayer a few days later and made my first attempt. “Hey, Bill,” I said. “This is Mike Jones. We used to know each other back in the day, and our boys were friends. How about we get together some time with our wives for a little breakfast and catch up?”
Bill was cordial, but said he and Ada were busy just now. Maybe another time. I continued to pray for guidance, and about three weeks later I called again. Bill said they were still quite busy. I waited for about six weeks and was really wavering when I made my third call.
They said yes to a breakfast encounter, and we had a great visit getting reacquainted. A few weeks later they accepted our invitation to an event at the church.
Today Bill and Ada Wallace are fully back in church. Bill is the head deacon, and we are proud to number them among our dearest friends.
Which brings me back to you. If you haven’t been attending church for a while, might it be good for you to come back too? I believe it would. In fact, I suspect Jesus will be waiting there for you with open arms. And it would surprise me if you didn't get some handshakes and a hug or two from some new friends and maybe from some old ones as well.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This article is excerpted from Mike Jones' new book, 7 Steps to Become a New You, available at amazon.com and some ABC stores. The North Pacific Union Conference has set up a study group to suggest how members can more effectively engage with those who are not regularly connecting with the life and mission of the church. Watch for additional details in a future Gleaner.