I slipped into the service a few minutes after 11 o’clock, weaving my way through churchgoers sitting with their spouses, children or people their own age. I found a row with several empty seats and sat in the middle. I felt very alone.

Visiting churches was a new experience for me. I attended the same church most of my life, and while I tried out some new churches in college, I had friends to come alongside me. Now I had graduated college and moved to a completely new city, and suddenly I became the girl I used to reach out to in Sunday school class.

You know the part of the service where they say, “Turn around and say ‘hi’ to your neighbor!”? That’s easy when you have built-in friends!

And here’s the thing: I wanted strong Christian friends––not just people I could sit by on Sunday morning, but people who would walk with me in everyday life. Yes, I wanted to walk through a church building and not feel like a stranger, but I also wanted to become part of a local church on a deeper level, where I could serve, receive and grow with others.

I felt so ready to find my next church home, but I had to face the reality that it takes time, effort and patience to get there. And to be honest, that prospect is a little scary.

I understand why people are often tempted to take the easy way out, staying in their pajamas to substitute face-to-face time by listening to a podcast or watching church on TV. However, Hebrews 10:24-25 quickly calls this bluff:

“And let us watch out for one another to provoke love and good works, not neglecting to gather together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day approaching” [emphasis mine].

Sure, you can find a podcast with an excellent pastor who gets your fired up for the Lord. You can even find a church service with a great worship style that fuels your spirit for the rest of the week. But if you don’t find real-life community, you’re missing out on one of the biggest blessings of being part of the family of God.

Finding a church is hard, but oh so worth it! Here are five tips to remember when searching for your next church home:

1. Pray.

In Matthew 7:11, Jesus promises that the Father will give good things to His children who ask for them. And guess what? Finding a Christian fellowship is definitely a good thing! Be honest when talking to God, and invite Him into this journey of finding a new church home.

2. Do your research.

You might say, “Well, I’d like to visit churches, but I don’t know where to start.” Ummm… how about Google? I’ve literally searched “churches near me” as a starting point to look at what churches are available nearby. Most churches will have a website that shares what they believe (very important!), the time and location of services, and different ministries that the church offers.

3. Get to know people.

Jesus teaches that we reap what we sow, and in the case of making friends, we have to sow some small talk in order to reap real relationships. And trust me––it’s so rewarding once you get to the other side! Join a Bible study, visit a small group or have coffee with a member on staff. Overall, be intentional about seeking friendship.

4. Be Thorough.

Don’t be too quick to throw down your roots just because you’re tired of the visiting process. A few times I’ve been tempted to say, “I’ve found the church! The search is over!” before I really felt confident that the church was where God wanted me to be. Be patient, and don’t rush the process.

5. Praise God along the way.

You’ve probably heard the saying, “The joy is in the journey.” (I have this phrase embroidered on a pillow in my living room––please appreciate my scholarly, philosophical research!) So often this is true in life, and I believe it applies to finding a church as well. As you visit churches and interact with different believers, you will learn a lot about yourself, your calling and your relationship with God. Thank Him for the small surprises and discoveries throughout the process.

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