After you have been going to a church for a long time, deciding to leave it and attend another is a big deal. Today, my husband and I were just welcomed in as members of our new church. That is something we are genuinely excited about.
I’ve only been involved in two church ‘switches’ in my life, and both were for very different reasons.
I left my first church when I was eighteen. It was the church I had grown up in since I was about six. (I don’t really count the switch before that, when my parents switched from the Catholic Church to a born-again Pentecostal church. That was their switch, not mine). Without getting into the gory details, it was just an unhealthy and dysfunctional church in a lot of ways (Maybe that will be another post). I never felt comfortable, at peace or close to God. It wasn’t until I started going to a healthy church did I realize how out-of-whack that church was.
While I was in junior high and high school, the church I grew up in didn’t have a youth group, so I attended the youth group of the church where I went to school (I went to a Christian school). The youth group was alive in worship, in outreach, in fellowship, in discipleship. My whole life revolved around school and youth group – and that was a good thing. I credit that church – both the school and the youth group – with being a foundational part of my spiritual formation. I would not be who I am without that.
So, when I was eighteen and could drive, my parents let me attend that church full-time. There was just more going on there for people my age, and I was already so connected. My parents were OK with me leaving, as long as I was going to church. I don’t remember if I spoke to the pastor or not about leaving. I’m sure my parents probably spoke for me, but a conversation from someone would have been the right thing.
I loved my new church. It was a big church compared to my old church, not that numbers are necessarily a big factor in a church switch (I’ll get to that later). The Holy Spirit was alive and at work in this church. The congregation, though big, had a very warm feel to it. I was growing in leaps and bounds in my love for God, in the Scriptures, in my passion for His kingdom. Of course it wasn’t perfect, but I loved being there, I loved going to church, I loved being involved. And I was very involved.
After I graduated college and moved back home, I became a volunteer youth worker. I was on staff as the youth assistant for a year, and I was volunteer for about 10 years. I was involved in the retreats, the outreaches, the summer camps – you name it. I also went on MANY missions trips with the youth group – to Belize, Jamaica, St. Maarten, Ukraine, London, Trinidad, and Mexico. That was such a special, growing time in my life – personally, in ministry, as a Christian. I’m still in touch with many of my old ‘youth-groupers.’
I also was involved in the Missions at my church. More than anything else, my church’s focus on missions made an imprint on my heart. I was on the short-term committee for a little while, and I went on adult missions trips to Tanzania, Brazil, Morocco, and to Nigeria twice. I was even chosen to lead the team on the first trip to Nigeria. Those experience gave me not just a broader, global perspective of the world, but the on what God is doing in the world. I felt very small after those trips. And that was a good thing. I knew my life had to forever be a part of this bigger story.
They should have built me a room to live in on the grounds at this church. I was there just about as much as I was anywhere else.
It was at this church where God lit a fire in my heart for missions. It was at this church where I served God along some girls people who became my closest friends. It was at this church where I met so many people I consider mentors, who God used in my life in pivotal, critical moments on my spiritual journey. It was at this church where I felt the exhilaration of praying with teenagers, being used by God in ministry, playing my part in His Big Story. It was at this church where I met my husband (for the second time).
Some of my best, funnest, most moving and life-changing memories are connected to this church or the people in it.
Deciding to leave this church was not an easy decision. We both loved our church. We were involved. We were connected.
So, what happened?
Well, when we got married, we bought a house about 30 minutes away. For those of you not familiar with Long Island, it is incredibly over-populated (among other things), and there is traffic everywhere, all the time. (That might be a slight exaggeration, but just a slight one). The traffic on a Sunday morning is just as bad as rush hour during the week. Trying to get to church on Sunday morning, during the week for a Bible study or meeting was proving to be a draining experience; more often than not, we were finding reasons not to go. Sometimes we were too exhausted from work to deal with the 40 minute hassle of traffic each way; sometimes I would bail because I had been in the building all day, and I couldn’t deal with driving there again, after I had been there all day (I teach at the church’s Christian school). We knew this was not a good habit that we were forming.
Finally, after about a year of this, my husband and I decided that we really needed to pray about what to do. Either we needed to suck it up and deal with the traffic and tiredness – or, we needed to find a church closer to home to attend. We knew it wasn’t spiritually healthy for us to be just ‘Sunday-only’ Christians, and sometimes, not even that. We knew it was vital for us to be connected to, involved with and committed to a body of believers.
So, we set out to pray and check out some churches in our area.
Stay tuned for Parts 2 and 3 to see how it all turned out.