Several years ago, in the time between our 4th and 6th moves, I was speaking regularly to women’s groups. The title of my talk had something to do with having crowned myself “The Queen of New Beginnings.”
I’m not bothered by that title at all. In fact, it still fits, and I rather like it.
For me, new beginnings involve a great deal of anticipated joy and a certain amount of adventurous excitement. In many ways, I’ve grown so accustomed to going with the flow that I hardly know what to do if I’m not navigating through a sea of uncharted waters.
Let’s Be Real
However, let’s be just a little real here.
Starting over isn’t one bit easy. Especially when it requires that you visit a church you’ve never been to before.
We Need a Reason
Maybe you’ve moved to a new city, or you simply need to find another church in your own hometown. Perhaps you’re an OverFiftyer who has gotten out of the habit now that the kids aren’t around. Or you could be a millennial who has declared that it’s time for a whole new slew of friends.
There is plenty of logic profound enough for people like you and like me to us to find it within ourselves to visit a church we’ve never been to before.
But here are 5 compelling reasons why it’s actually worth the effort.
1. The Worship
In response to the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, Matt Redman co-wrote a beautiful worship song with his wife, Beth, called Blessed Be Your Name. It’s singing songs like this one that bring praise to God and a healing balm for the broken soul.
One really profound example of this in my own life occurred when we had just moved to Lubbock after seven wonderful years in Muleshoe, a tiny Texas town situated near the New Mexico border.
This move had been a hard one to make. We loved our simple small-town existence where Friday night football was the highlight of the week, everyone loved each other, and the pastor of our small Baptist church was also our best friend. Our girls were both happy in school, and then life got even better when our number three entered the scene, a BIG surprise.
Then along came a little something called a merger. Mike’s company was pairing up with a much bigger one, and the adjustments were being made at his level. It was our first experience with the whole process (not the last), and it was a struggle to wrap our minds around what was happening, not to mention what we needed to do. There was this huge black binder with job descriptions for which Mike could apply. Most of them were out of state. Like way out of state.
When we moved to Muleshoe, a lot of people thought we were nuts! Who wants to move to a little farming town with no Walmart? But we knew it was right, and we loved every minute we spent there.
This time, however, there was no warm fuzzy feeling at all. Instead of enjoying every minute, we spent hours contemplating what might be coming next.
My mother and grandmother took our three kids home with them that first weekend so that Mike and I could make fast work of unpacking and setting up for life in our new home. On Sunday, the two of us decided to visit First Baptist, a church we’d never been to before.
There was a big shiny, black grand piano on the platform. an older preacher upon whose every wise word we couldn’t help but hang, and about three rows down front filled with people who spurred him on with “That’s right, Preacher.” “Come on, now,” they said. And lots of other utterances like, “Praise Jesus” and “Glory!”
If that wasn’t heavenly enough, the guy leading the music had a unique voice and a vibrant worship style that went with it. And the big black piano? Same. The guy playing it must have hit every key during every song. It was glorious.
Good thing we were too new to know anyone that day, because neither of us could speak. I think we both had an old-fashioned case of being “overcome.”
All too soon, we were making our way back out to the parking lot. As I grabbed the handle to hoist myself into the passenger seat of our big Suburban, I looked over at Mike behind the wheel. He took one look at me as he turned the key in the ignition, and we both broke into tears. The service had seemed like it was just for us, like God had reached down and ministered directly into our spirits. We didn’t see anyone else weeping in their cars, but that doesn’t mean that God hadn’t done it for them, too. All I know was that He had done it for us and we both knew it.
Photo of Mickey Henderson (the guy with the unique voice in Lubbock) – courtesy Hyde Park Baptist Church, Austin, Texas on Facebook
2. The Truth
Have you ever been in a season when life has felt so stinkin’ complicated? Me, too. Sometimes it starts with one weird occurrence, and all of a sudden, you’ve become a juggler, trying to keep all the balls up in the air. What’s up is now down. What was right is now left, and what may have once been easy is now all kinds of hard.
Complicated. So complicated.
All of us have had times when we’re so mad we can’t think straight, or we’re so messed up we can’t see through the fog. We try to read, but we can’t concentrate. Dinner needs to be fixed, but we just want to go to bed. One of my friends says, “Sometimes you just feel a little beat up.”
That’s when we need a come-to-Jesus meeting. We need to hear someone speak truth over the defeat that keeps replaying in our minds, and we need a way to rein in what’s got us feeling pulled in a hundred different directions.
At the law firm where I work, the IT department has trained everyone to do the same thing at the end of every day. Please reset. Don’t shut down, they tell us. Reset. That way, the updates can occur, and the system will run without any hiccups.
In the same way that a daily reset and routine updates are vital to the health of our desktop computers, our overloaded minds need to be turned off, cleaned up and given an opportunity to start fresh. That’s what happens when we set aside time to sit quietly and listen to a Sunday sermon filled with the truth of God’s word.
Photo of Tony Evans, Pastor at Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship, Dallas, Texas – Courtesy of TonyEvans.org
3. The Community
We used to call it fellowship.
Most churches had “fellowship halls” for large gatherings, and Sunday School classes hosted get-togethers called fellowships, not parties. Today, this is referred to as community, and in some ways, it probably signifies something quite a bit deeper.
Fellowship sounds fun, but community implies a broader, more lasting relationship in which people are actively involved in each other’s daily lives. Inside a community, people work together toward common goals while gaining a true sense of belonging and unity.
The early Christians established a great model for community within the church. The Bible says they were one in heart and mind, and they shared everything they had. We in American churches are not often called upon to share literally everything we have. But your church community will help when you need them and make any necessary sacrifices to do it.
Photo of wedding cruise courtesy Brock Stamps on Instagram
4. The Fun
After my parents divorced, my brother and I still saw our dad’s parents often. We rode the bus from Amarillo to Elk City, Oklahoma every so often for a few days of enjoying Grandmommy’s good cooking and soaking up the art of Granddaddy’s unparalleled storytelling.
Come Sunday morning, my grandmother scurried around the kitchen at full pace, putting a roast in the oven and washing potatoes. Dressed in her stockings and satin slip, no less. Granddaddy could always be found in the next room polishing his shoes over a folded out section of the newspaper.
Nobody loved being inside the church doors any more than Clifton and Louise Henry. I think she taught the kindergarten class for maybe 50 years, and he greeted from the front door just as long. Having grandkids in town gave them an added reason to smile. We met ALL their friends and were introduced to the preacher as if we were royalty from across the pond.
Do you remember learning a Sunday School song that went like this? “I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy, down in my heart.” I always loved that song as a child, and I also loved singing it on road trips with the kids.
Kids love to go to church too, don’t they? They like the songs, the hand motions, the Christmas plays with a real Baby Jesus, and they even love memorizing Bible verses. To them, church is fun, fun, fun.
Jesus surely understood the heart of a child when he said, “Let the little children come unto me.” The adults were trying to keep the kids away. Don’t bother Jesus, they instructed. He can’t be distracted, they said.
Just think about the greater need for children to have that opportunity to get close to Jesus today. Families are wacky. Parents are absent. Some kids only get a real meal when they’re seated in the school cafeteria. Did you know there’s always a shortage of people to teach the little ones at church? Who knows but that your first visit might lead to a classroom filled with children in need of some joy, joy, joy, joy down in their hearts?
It’s so easy for adults to become cynical about churchgoing, and about faith in general. How much more excited might we be for church on Sunday if we approached the day with more anticipation of the fun?
Photo of young adult fun courtesy First Baptist Church, Amarillo, Texas on Facebook
5. The Change
As the apostle Paul went about on his journey to strengthen the early churches, he prayed earnestly for them, that they “may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God.”
Though he spent much time in jail for preaching the Gospel of Christ, he found great joy as he also wrote words like these. “We ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more …”
When we lived in Austin, we had a pretty unique church experience. From our apartment, we walked about 5 blocks to 310 Willie Nelson Boulevard every Sunday to attend the downtown campus of a church called LifeAustin. The doors opened onto the sidewalk, and the worship music floated out onto the street. Every service followed the same format. Live music, communion, a sermon from Randy Phillips on the big screen, and prayer. There was always room for something unique to occur, though. Like when a pot-bellied pig came to church with its owner. (That’s Austin, y’all!)
But without fail, every single Sunday, we heard our pastor speak the church’s overarching purpose before he started preaching. We are one church with many locations, seeking one thing – transformation for every person through the power of Jesus Christ.
People go to the gym to get fit, go to college to get a degree, and go to work to earn a paycheck, but we go to church to be transformed.
If there were only one compelling reason to go to church, that would probably be enough. Even if you have to be the new person for a while.
Photo courtesy LifeAustinDowntown on Facebook
In All Honesty
Being situated in a church has always been, Mike and me, a case of putting first things first. Both of us have given our relationship with God a high priority. Our hearts have been transformed by the power of Jesus Christ, and we love to share that part of our story.
But, in all honesty, when it comes to actually getting us to church every Sunday, it’s Mike who is the one who operates out of the most dedicated diligence. I love Jesus and I’m wild about church, just like my grandparents were, but to be truthful, I am often tempted to have church on the couch. Especially when we’re new and need to visit a church we’ve never been to before.
It’s on those Sundays that I would be just as satisfied watching it on TV, in my jammies, no makeup, and drinking coffee. Occasionally, we do that, but for the most part, Mike gently prods me up and forward, like a lazy heifer to the feeding trough. C’mon, he says, we need our batteries recharged.
I’m really thankful he’s like that. I would so rather it be him leading the herd than me nagging us into every new pew.
Photo of Dr. Robert Jeffress courtesy First Baptist Dallas on Facebook
One More Compelling Reason
Of all the McDearmon kids, it was our son Keagon who was the most excited to go to church. Every year, he got really attached to his Sunday School teachers and truly thought they loved him the most. He never wanted to miss a Sunday, because, he said, they will be sad if I’m not there.
When Keagon was about seven years old, we had a family agreement. When we got out of Sunday School, we would all go directly to the car. Our church was pretty big. We could have hunted around for each other all day had we not agreed on a central meeting spot.
One Sunday, four of us were in the car waiting number five came bolting across the parking lot. Dressed in his khaki pants, plaid shirt and leather loafers. Hair slicked down to one side. As he jumped up into the back seat, completely out of breath, we heard him say, “I LOVE this church!”
If you have children who are millennials (born 1981-1996), consider this. According to studies by Pew Research Center:
71% of millennials are at least “fairly certain” they believe in God
67% of millennials rank religion as at least “somewhat important” in their lives
But only 28% attend church at least once a week
The kids we’ve raised are living far from home. Our young adult children are starting new jobs and learning their way around big cities. They’re getting married and starting families of their own. That’s a whole lot of change coming their way.
It won’t be easy for them to also be new at church.
We who are Over Fifty need to stay the course. Our example will be their encouragement. If it’s worth it to us, perhaps it will be compelling enough for them.
The Best Reason of All
My hope is that all of us will continue to go. Even if it means making a visit to a church we’ve never been to before.
I can give you some good reasons to do it. Compelling, even, from my own experience. But, there’s one best reason of all.
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.
All the worship is for him. The truth preached is all about Jesus. The essence of community is centered around him, and the fun is made more so because of him, too.
Photo of the 190-foot cross in Groom, Texas, said to be the tallest in the Western Hemisphere.
Your Royal Highness
Okay, my friends. Unless you object, I’d still like to wear the crown and carry the title.
Our move to Dallas is town/city number SIX. The number of times we’ve visited a church we’ve never been to before? Like maybe more than a Southern Baptist missionary on furlough. (If you have no idea what that means, just know it’s A LOT of churches.)
Here we are again. Being new. Filling out a visitor’s card. Learning names. Finding our spot.
But that’s okay. New beginnings are kind of old hat to this crown-wearing daughter of the King.
Encouraging everyday intentional adventure with a steady dose of transformation,
PS: I like big churches, but they’re not for everyone. However, if you’re new, it’s easier to blend in with a larger crowd.