–Daniel S. Ferguson
I just came back from a trip to Nashville, Tennessee, over the weekend. My old stomping grounds. I don’t know if I had simply forgotten or if it’s truly gotten even crazier, but there are, roughly speaking, 8 bajillion churches in that town.
I mean, they’re everywhere. The map below doesn’t even do it justice. There are far more than this just in Spring Hill, Tennessee, where I was staying.
The longest distance between any of those churches is less than 5 miles, and like I said, the map doesn’t even do it justice. There are plenty more churches squeezed into elementary schools, community centers, and libraries. On Sunday morning, signs pop up everywhere like it’s November 3rd in a tight congressional race.
And I imagine that’s what it feels like to an unchurched person, that there are just churches and churches on end. If they even notice, I imagine they ask why there are so many and why there could possibly be a need for so many. I mean, wouldn’t pooling together into 10 larger churches instead of 40 smaller ones make a ton of practical sense?
I invited one of my unchurched friends to go to one of these churches on Easter, and he asked a perfectly reasonable question: “What makes them stand out?”
I mean, clearly the guy has options around him in droves. He’s not inclined to go to church at all, so why this one and not others? I was asking him, after all, to drive by no fewer than five other options in the short three-mile drive to this one. (Seriously, churches are crammed into this town like Spring Breakers on a police-free beach.)
For many career Christians, the question of which church to attend has a lot to do with what that church offers, much like this parody:
The sad reality is that not only is this how Christians perceive themselves, but it’s also how the unchurched see us, too.
Actually, that’s a fair criticism of Americans in general, but our Christians are no different. It wouldn’t be funny if it weren’t true.
But let’s say you’re trying for that not to be true. Let’s say that you want to attend a truly good, truly challenging, and truly loving church. How would you know if you’ve found it?
I certainly have my own opinions, but I’d much rather hear yours. Please comment away. I would love to know how you would know if some random church you’ve happened to Google is a really good one.
On this topic, I’ll start by giving this one piece of advice: Start by attending a church where you already have a relationship with someone. This will help you connect immediately, get questions answered well, and break most of the first-timer tension you may feel.