When last we saw our heroine, Sarah, she was trying to connect in different ministries in our church. She tried the Student Ministry, orchestra, serving in the Children’s Ministry, and attending our adult Sunday School class. Some of those filled some of her church needs, but none of them filled all of her needs. What next?
The Main Problem
A big part of the problem for us is that our church is not in the same city as our home. We live in the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex, so that’s not as wacky as it sounds. Church is 20 minutes away on Sunday. The problem was that there was no overlap with church friends and school friends. Sarah is in band, and that’s where her world is. We needed to find a church where some of her band friends were.
The next step is a hard one. We can’t (and wouldn’t) change her school, but we can change her church. This is where we are right now, actually. It’s tricky because my husband and son are happy and plugged in at our current church. This means that, at least until Sarah graduates, we’ll be going to two churches. This decision came from a lot of thought and prayer, and even though I anticipated some criticism, I was sure it was the right thing to do. You have to put your kids first with these kinds of things. And we’ve got to do what’s best for Sarah in this area, while there’s still time. (Note: To my delight, every mature Christian I’ve talked to about this has been 100% supportive of this decision. It’s a little unconventional, but as long as everyone is plugged in somewhere, making Sarah the priority in this season is the consensus.)
Until this move, I had never “church shopped” before. When we started attending our church, it all just came together even though we weren’t looking for a church! So this has been a new experience in researching and sifting through the many churches in our area to find the ones we should visit.
Hard-earned wisdom: If you find yourself looking for a church, involve your kids in the process. This teaches them how to do it for themselves later. Get them to think about how to decide where to visit. What are the church’s beliefs? What does the church offer your family in their current and future seasons? Are they mission-minded, tied to a particular ministry, focused on relevance, traditional or modern, etc.? Where do people you respect go, and what do they say about their church family?
We had some interesting conversations around this topic, and I was surprised at how stumped the kids were in thinking about how to find a new church. Talking through it was very beneficial for them, and I think it even got them to see their current church in a new way.
Know Your Teen, and Go from There
Since Sarah struggles with anxiety, I made some accommodations for her. I told her that we would start together by visiting worship service. We’d show up a little late, and leave during the last song. I wanted to minimize her fear of having a lot of strangers coming at her. I know that people are trying to make visitors feel welcome, which is great. But for someone like Sarah, it feels like an assault! I assured her that we were there to check the church out, not to be checked out by the church. We could be as invisible as possible, to start.
And We’re Off! Sort of…
Armed with five or six churches to visit, I picked one for us to visit first. It was a disaster. Two big problems. First, Sarah’s anxiety gripped her hard. I knew this would be a barrier, but my goodness. On the drive, she was tense, fearful, and starting to cry. But I had to push through or this would happen every single time. I needed her to see that she could handle it, and that I was with her. When we got there, she was barely making it. During the part when everyone greets each other, she looked at me with terror in her eyes. She was looking for somewhere to hide, really. I told her to act like she was looking for something in my purse. Throughout the service, she was tense, tapping, and mouthing exercises to herself. It was tough to watch. But we got to the end.
The other thing that was a swing and a miss was the service itself. Sarah didn’t love the music style. And for me, an alarm went off when I looked around and noticed that the only people who brought Bibles with them were me and two senior adults. Hmmm. I’ve been spoiled with fantastic exegetical teaching, verse by verse, and I want that kind of meat. This sermon was not close to that. So, hard pass.
A Definite “Maybe”
After that, we visited four more churches and had great discussions about what we liked and didn’t like. We didn’t eliminate any of them. There was one that seemed to have the right balance of size, preaching, and youth ministry. To make it even better, it has a mother-daughter Bible study before first service. This is great because right now, our schedule prevents us from going to second service. So that Bible study has become like a Sunday School class, and we can go together, which is great for her anxiety. Plus, the teaching is in line with what I’m looking for…for both of us.
So, we’ve been visiting this church for a few months now. The morning Bible study has been great, and Sarah has gotten comfortable there. We visited service several times together. Thumbs up. But then it was time for her to go check out what’s going on in Youth. I went with her to check out the Youth service during first hour. I have no intention of going with her more than once, but I’m not putting my kids under someone’s teaching without vetting them first–and neither should you.
The teaching was good, so I’m comfortable with having her be there. However, that service was a bust. Darn. But all hope is not lost! I talked to another band mom who attends this church with her teens. Turns out, there’s a high school co-ed discussion group that meets first hour. They hear a message and discuss it with a biblical worldview in mind. Hooray! This sounded like a great fit.
Patience. I’ll Say It Again–Patience!
You can predict the problem. No way was she going to walk in there by herself and check it out. I’m going to skip ahead to our plan for her to invite a friend to come with her. That way, she’d have her best friend with her, and neither of them knew anyone. That went great. She made it into the room, made contact with a few people, and survived. That feels like progress.
However. (I think the theme of this post is “However”!) Since then, we haven’t been able to make the stars align like that again. Either her friend can’t come, or we can’t make it. She tried a second visit on her own, but she was overwhelmed and couldn’t make it into the room. I assured her that she was still making progress because at least she had gone through the morning and into the building without “freaking out.” It’s a small victory, I know, but I need her to see her progress.
Don’t Miss These!
So, the takeaways are:
- Teens are both social and insecure. If there’s no church-school overlap, try to create it. But if it doesn’t come together, pull up stakes and move to more fertile ground.
- If you need to make a big move, make it. The window is closing, and closing fast. Ask your five-years-from-now self what regrets you have. Have your today self course correct.
- Involve your kids in the church search process. And do your homework before you visit.
- If your teen is reluctant for whatever reason, be compassionate and understanding. And patient. And work with them, not against them. You’re trying to transition them into a new church family, but you’re also teaching them how to do this on their own when they leave your home.
- Give yourselves a lot of runway. However long you think it might take, double it. Maybe you’ll luck out and it won’t take as long. But maybe not!
Boy, if you’ve been in this position, finding a church with your teen’s needs in mind, I would LOVE to hear what you did. What worked, and what didn’t? Every kid, every church, and every situation are unique, so the more insight, the better!