The room was dimly lit while a low acoustic guitar played quietly over the sound system. People congregated loosely around the room, chatting and grabbing coffee. Our family shuffled through the crowds in the sanctuary, anxiously avoiding sitting in the front row. The kids were fighting over a donut and we caught a few sideways glances. Apparently, we accidentally sat in a spot which was reserved for regulars. I can’t even start to describe the horror and embarrassment that followed leaving my younger two children in the church nursery.
After a fresh PCS, the time for church shopping had begun and the overwhelming stress of the situation was taking hold.
Only four days earlier, our household goods arrived to a shell of a house. Mounds of boxes were piled as high as the ceiling while my spouse in-processed into a new duty station. My emotions steadily began to crash when I realized I needed a friend. I knew the most effective way I could plug in quickly was to schedule a visit to a new church.
The first place our family invests in when we relocate is in the local church. It is in this place where we can be deeply served, both spiritually and relationally. Community is a huge need for us as a military family and God’s people are those with whom we ultimately find ourselves belonging.
But church shopping is not for the faint of heart. You really never know what kind of experience you’re in for until you work up the courage to stroll in the front door of an unfamiliar church building. Sometimes, you will be welcomed with open arms. Other times, you’ll be lucky if anyone even makes eye contact. The process really is a “hit or miss” type of situation.
However, I have developed a bit of a church search hack list. Over the years, after many rough and tumble church visits, I have learned what to be on the lookout for in a potential new place of worship. I keep a mental check list of important factors and features, specifically things I know my family needs from a church congregation and its leaders.
First, expository preaching is a non- negotiable. Expository preaching is simply the commitment to teach the Bible verse by verse through books of the Bible. The text determines what is taught- not political agendas, personal ideals, or preferable pep talks.
Jen Wilkin, a Protestant Christian author and speaker has a famous quote. She says “You cannot love what you do not know.” I wholeheartedly affirm this truth. If we seek to love God, we must first seek to know Him. We cannot know Him apart from His revelation of Himself in His holy Word. For this reason, we look for a home church which is dedicated to the teaching of the Scriptures.
Next, look for a church that has a military context. What I mean is seek out a church which understands its calling to mission through serving the military community. If the churches you are scouting are near a military installation, they should have some form of specific military outreach- like a military community group or Bible study program. When a church has these programs, it is evidence of a deeper commitment to those who serve and an added layer of hospitality.
Lastly, pick a church family that has a strong emphasis on community. Community is essentially the commitment to “do life” together. Are people committed to walking with each other? Is plugging in easy? Does the church you are looking at have a specific way or method to get connected in? Community is essential for military members and their families. We need “emergency contacts” and people we can lean on in time of hardship. The church can and should be the safe place where we can turn in times of need.
There are many facets of a church that you might be looking for. Perhaps, you need a thriving children’s ministry. Or maybe you are in need of a specific type or style of worship. All of these things are important, but one thing is certain. You absolutely need a church home at every duty station.
As a Christian in the military community, we can count of change and uncertainty. We expect delays, distractions, and even being derailed from our everyday, normal routines. But, as we grapple through these circumstances as active-duty families, let us hold fast to the One who never changes and to He who holds all things in accordance with His will.
Lord, we offer up a special prayer for those in transition. We ask You to enter in to our need, our loneliness, and into our longing for community. Meet us here and provide us with a place to serve You well, to worship you from a place of deep and abiding trust in Your name. Amen.
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Megan Brown is a seasoned military spouse, homeschooling mother of four, military missionary, and Christian author and speaker. Her book, “Summoned: Answering a Call to the Impossible”- an 8-week study through the book of Esther, released in May 2021 with Moody Publishers. She and her husband, MSgt Keith Brown II, along with their four high-energy children, live in South Mississippi on the Gulf Coast. To learn more about Megan, or find resources, visit www.meganbbrown.com.