Four Different Ways To Choose Your Next Church Community
Since the birth of Christianity, followers of Jesus have been gathering in groups to share life (what we now call church). Since I was born, I’ve been attending and involved in Christ-centered churches, but it wasn’t until we ventured off to Atlanta Georgia on our own after getting married that we had to take ownership of this community engagement.
Since we moved to Atlanta Georgia in 2005, we’ve done life with four different church communities and how we ended up at each was the result of distinctly different paths (although I believe all were providentially influenced). One was a family referral, another was nearby, one was divinely guided, and the most recent was intentionally selected.
Here's the story of all four paths, my way of shedding light and insight to help and inspire you in your own journey to find a local church community.
1 - A Family Referred Church Home
One of the driving factors for selecting Atlanta as our destination to move when we left Arizona was extended family. At the time, my great-grandmother was living here with her daughter (my great-aunt). Her son and his family we also in the area. It turns out my mother's uncle worked alongside Charles Stanley when First Baptist Atlanta was in the downtown area. He continued this work with the launch of InTouch Ministries and eventually launched his own consulting company helping grow Christian nonprofit organizations.
Without exploring our church options, we simply made the decision to start attending First Baptist Atlanta because of family connection. We quickly engaged with the married small groups and made friends, some of which I'm still good friends with to this day. In fact, one of my best friends made during that time is also a current client. At some point along the journey, my wife also worked at First Baptist Atlanta in the printing department.
While we enjoyed the friendships we establish in married community life, we younglings struggled to relate with the preaching of Charles Stanley. With the chaos of life at the time and the lack of personal ownership in choosing this church, our involvement slowly and unintentionally faded. This was part of what triggered my wife to push us to do something different and local.
2 - Picking a Nearby Church With The Encouragement of a Spouse
Since we first moved to the metro Atlanta area, we lived in the city of Norcross. It wasn't where we intended to land when we moved from Flagstaff, but it turned out to be a vitally important city for our first decade in the Atlanta area.
While living in the Norcross, we commonly drove by a larger church in the area called Victory World Church. With the prodding of my wife, she had us check it out and visit.
One visit turned into several and before we knew it, we were actively attending and volunteering as members of this highly diverse church. It was a personal season of hearing and basking in truth. It was also a celebratory moment as my wife embraced the experience of getting baptized, and publicly proclaiming her faith.
Somewhere along the journey, I volunteered in the children’s department teaching hundreds of first, second, and third graders. It was a fun experience and I learned a lot about teaching (because teaching many kids at once is challenging). It was over four years of attending and volunteering when God prodded us in a new direction.
3 - A Divinely Directed Community Church
During the final months at Victory World Church, pastor Dennis Rouse was teaching a twelve part series on discipleship. As this series played out, I felt God was directing me to go be the disciple and this would involve leaving Victory and joining a new home.
By this point in my life, I had never chosen a church on my own accord. So, out of this lack of experience, I prayed for God’s direction. If God was telling me to leave and go somewhere else, I needed explicit direction on our destination.
As we reflected on where we were at in our journey, I came to the conclusion I wanted a church community where I could contribute to my fellow congregants while my wife was seeking close friends.
After praying for God to plainly tell me his direction, an interesting series of serendipitous events soon followed. While eating at a local restaurant, the pastor and his and wife came into the restaurant as we were eating. Interesting coincidence, but did it mean anything? Shortly after while my wife Cait was at the grocery store, she ran into the pastor’s wife. Funny, another coincidence. A few days later, I was in the Chick-fil-a two-lane drive-thru getting lunch. When I looked over at the lane next to me, I saw the pastor ordering food. I was so caught off guard I drove up to the window without ordering!
This was an odd set of circumstances but would God direct me to the next church by these serendipitous events? This was the question and experiences I was sharing with my great-Aunt when she asked if it was the Norcross church located in a certain part of the town? I said yes and asked her how in the world she knew about it since she hardly ever left her home. Well, apparently there was a lady that came to her house to cut my great-grandmother’s hair. Many years ago, this lady, Jill, became a Christian and my great-aunt’s brother (my great-uncle) mentored her in her new faith journey. She had been cutting my great-grandmother’s hair ever since.
Well, apparently Jill and her husband had seen pictures of Cait and me on my great-aunt Judy’s fridge and had been praying that we would participate in the church. At this point, I considered this all clear direction from God about where we were supposed to go. For the following five years, we'd do life with this small local Norcross church, Generations Norcross.
4 - Intentionally Selecting a Church
When we went through the process of buying a house, important questions about where we would live, and the church we would do life with came to the surface. Ironically, we'd end up at the church connected to first one we attended (First Baptist Atlanta) when we moved here.
At the beginning of 2016, my wife and I began seeding conversations about purchasing our first house. Since we moved to Atlanta in 2005, we’d always rented but we were finally positioned to seriously move forward with buying a home.
The primary question we asked focused on selecting the city we wanted to live for the next few decades. A few years prior, we had considered moving back to Arizona but decided against it My sister’s both live in Nashville Tennessee so this was an option for consideration.
As I began exploring buying a home, I wanted to influence our decision based on what church we were going to engage with over the next few decades. It was at this point I began wondering about what church I would choose to attend if I were to make the choice myself.
Knowing the new burdens and responsibilities that entailed the next season of our journey, I knew I needed to select a community that was closely aligned with my beliefs, values, and approach to church.
As this thought exercise continued, I came to realize if there was a church I’d select it’d be North Point Church led by pastor Andy Stanley (son of Charles Stanley of First Baptist Atlanta). By this point, I was listening to the sermons for several years, attending the Catalyst leadership conferences and reading books by Andy Stanley. After reading his blueprint on how they do church (Deep & Wide: Creating Churches Unchurched People Love to Attend), I thought if I’d ever launch a church it’d be similar to what North Point Ministries has done.
Now while I wanted to choose this church for our family, I didn’t want to drag my wife along. Instead, I wanted us to explore it together and both willing proceed with the option.
My initial inclination was for our family to visit and this would allow us both the opportunity to experience the church, something I hadn’t even done to date. But, my wife was not interested in living in the Alpharetta area, so as a compromise we explored the satellite, Gwinnett Church located in that county.
After several visits, my wife was on board with the decision and we proceeded to inform our existing pastor about our intentions to leave. The following year was our transition from Generations to Gwinnett Church where we finally landed full-time August 2017.
Our experience since actively engaging has been wonderful. It’s actually been better than I hoped for and the newfound alignment is both refreshing, rejuvenating and supportive for where we are in our family journey. Unless God directs us elsewhere, we’ll be doing life at Gwinnett Church for the next few decades.
Selecting Your Next Church Home
Each situation calls for different solutions, and God works with and for us in a variety of ways. Ultimately, He’s providentially guiding our paths using different means to get us to the destination.
A family referral is helpful when we’re new to an area. If a nearby church looks appealing, it could also act as a great opportunity to easily engage. When we don’t know what we’re doing or where we should go, God is more than willing and capable to help guide us to the destination. With wisdom and insights, we can also look at our context and future and choose what’s best. Regardless of the method we choose, it’s best to keep God front and center and submit to His lead.