Why We Left That Church

This past Sunday my family and I visited a church. . .for ten minutes. Lest you get the content askew from the title, we are looking for a church to join. We have no angst about church, other than the typical issues most folk have (subjects for later posts you can be assured).

This post stems from a coincidentally related post this past Saturday by Thom Rainer that has received a lot of attention over the past few days. I am offering here is, I hope, helpful in that I have been in church leadership for the past several years and have just recently taken a job where I am not required to lead for my pay. This, I believe, gives me an insider’s look at the goings-on of churches–from the leader and the led perspectives.

This, by no means, will be my last comment on this topic, but it will be one of the first. I have taken some time to process my time in the church leadership world for the past 5 years and want to make sure there’s no anger or vitriol in what I write. Rather, encouraged by a pastor, I am putting my thoughts to pixels in an effort to help and say some things that may be hard to hear for those in leadership (and those being led). What I write, now and in the future, has no motive other than as a help. This is a genuine help and not in the stream of watchdogs who want to pick others apart for the sake of picking apart. Rather, I want these thoughts to build up and not tear down. In that vein, I want to offer positive ways to move forward rather than saying what folk are doing wrong.

This is one of the primary pieces I look for in my students’ criticisms of book or positions. It is never enough to point out what’s wrong with a practice or a thought, but we must offer another way. I am praying this squeaking voice will be just annoying enough to grate you to action without tempting you to anger. But, if anger ensues, I pray it deconstructs unhelpful practices and pushes you toward better ways.

Enough preliminary (as one of the cardinal rules to blogging is to be brief–something I am not so sure our culture needs right now, more pithy sayings with little substance). If you have read this far, I applaud you. You are in the 10%. The elite.

So my family and I have been trying to find a local church since moving to our new town. We are not picky but are trying to discern what is best for our family both now and in the long-term. We want a place that teaches and strives to live out the Bible. We want a place where people are broken and healing. We want a place that loves neighbors and each other.

We went to a church at the suggestion of a friend (who doesn’t go to this particular church, hint one right?). It was disconcerting when we could not find the main entrance–since it is oftentimes NOT the front door to the sanctuary. Well, not being able to find it we walked in the front door to the sanctuary. There was an elderly gentleman who literally looked at us for 10 seconds before he said “Hello.” Probably tops my list of most awkward moments in a church visit. I mean, I said “Hello” to him and he just looked at us with our four children and smiled. Immediate thought: Child molester.

Strike One. After the awkward silence was broken by MY next question ,”Do you have a nursery for our kids?” He did not have an answer.

Strike Two. He gruffly called an adolescent girl over to us and said, “Sarah, show them where they can put their baby.”

Strikes Three and Four (yes, I try to play by more gracious rules when looking at churches considering we are dealing with subjective sinners and not objective rules like in baseball). He spoke gruffly and disrespectful of the adolescent’s person–which leads me to believe these folk think it is alright for older folk to speak thusly to youngers. Fourth strike came by way of the girl not knowing herself. We assumed we were supposed to follow her downstairs.

Strike Five. Never lead visitors down a dark stairwell when they have only been their five minutes. It’s creepy. Or, if you are going to do that (by necessity) at least engage in conversation to distract from the weird place they are being expected to put their most treasured possessions!

We took our youngest to the nursery and there were four elderly people sitting in chairs. I have nothing against elderly people, but none of them got up from their chairs. Not one. My wife prodded, “Hi, is this where we can drop off our 1 year-old?” “Um, yeah. Sure. We’ll be happy to take him.” Did I fail to mention that one of the gentlemen was asleep on a rocking chair? Take a nap, but do it where most folks do–in the pew during the sermon, please. Not where you need to be watching curious crawlers. Strike Six.

We went to take our other two to the area designated for them. They turned us away because they only take kids after the first few songs are sung. Strike Seven (ah, the spiritual complete number. I thought we’d never get here). I can understand this, but it betrays something in the culture of this particular church. It tells me that people are to conform to the system as opposed to the system serving the people. This is particularly abrasive to a visitor. . .even more so someone not accustomed to the strains already put on a children’s ministry–of people who don’t really want to serve there and being understaffed. My quick suggestion. Bend for the visitor–especially considering you only have about 100 people in your congregation. We visited a church once that had 40 people in it. When we showed up, we were the only ones with children. Not an exaggeration. We were very close to joining this church because as soon as we walked in there was a kind 80 year-old woman who offered to watch our children! She reached out to us and bent to serve those who obviously needed it. All this to say, bend for people. This stems from the command to think of others more highly than yourselves–or your system.

Again, we are okay. We are not leaving the church, but we definitely left that church. . . in 10 minutes. Record time I think. We left just in time to visit another church who welcomed us with smiles and made it very easy to know where to drop off our one-year-old.

For those of you who think it wrong to put your kids in a nursery during service, I will write on this later. In the meantime, please share why you left a church you were visiting. It might prove therapeutic. Any slander will be deleted. That means–don’t put a certain church’s name on the example.

Comments 6

  1. That was a fun read. Yes, I’ll admit that I find humor in the discomfort of others. Hope you guys can find a church where you can thrive! Thanks for sharing, I look forward to reading your other posts.

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      Author

      Thanks, Jon–on both accounts :) It has been fun and miserable. Miserable as exemplified in this post. Fun because it helps us get to the heart of what we envision the church being. It’s particularly acute (and difficult) from the perspective of someone who planned on planting a church. Probably makes it harder since I am familiar with much of the rationale for why churches do certain things (the good and the ugly).

  2. Hey Matt! Great story. Church searching is no fun for sure. My brother just moved and he and his wife and 4 little ones can probably relate!
    So, our story is one where upon arriving on a rainy day we were greeted by wonderful volunteers carrying big umbrellas and escorted us to the door. We checked in our kids in the children’s area, but Will was about 5 weeks at the time and for germs sake/nursing baby/etc. we kept him with us sleeping in his car seat. Adam and I both had out-of-town siblings with us and all sat near the back. I had 2 people separately come up to me and ask me if I would like to take the baby to childcare (no). By the second time the guy strongly urged me to use the overflow room so to keep distractions to a minimum, I was just offended. The church is very well known and loved by dear friends of ours so I chalked it up to a couple poorly trained volunteers and decided that it wasn’t for us. When we saw Crossway lined with strollers, we knew we had found home. :)

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      Author

      That’s a typical line I have heard. . .and experienced. Similar situation for us. One church we visited, a lady asked us THREE times if she could help us by taking our baby. I relented out of deference to the lady. I hope the other kids didn’t get sick! They can thank the persistence of the lady who didn’t want our child in the service:)

  3. We have had a somewhat similar experience, and probably left in about the same amount of time. We walked into the church we were visiting, and had someone say hello to us but kept going their way. Main entrance also hard to find. WE walked in the door closest to the parking lot, which was not the main entrance. We stood in the hallway looking confused for a few minutes, people walking by us, some kind of obvious fellowship going on in this fellowship hall area which we were standing outside of, no one talking to us at all. It was a fairly small church, so I know they had to know we were visitors. The nursery wasn’t hard to find (we have a 20 month old), but when we got there, there was no adult in there and it was about 10 or so minutes before service started. We stood outside the nursery waiting. A lady walked into the nursery, put her stuff down, walked back out. We are standing right outside the door with our child. She says nothing to us. Then another lady comes over and they proceed to talk, neither talking to us, and then they walk off, once again leaving no one in the nursery. We had about had it at that point, and then as we are standing there, the head pastor walks by us and says, “excuse me” because apparently we were blocking the hall, no hello or anything. So yeah, needless to say, at that point, we left!

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      Author

      That’s crazy, Amy! I think the issues you and I are expressing stem from a larger problem in the church to people merely gathering for their own edification and not that of others or of thinking about loving neighbor. It’s almost as if the suburban mindset of driving in your garage and closing the outside world out has been transferred to the life and matters of the church. Thanks for visiting and for sharing your experience and thoughts. Very much appreciated.

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