Two years ago I moved to Denver. I was pursuing the woman who is now my wife. She was starting at Denver Seminary, pursuing a master’s degree in counseling. I was working from home at the time, so finding work wouldn’t be an issue.
I arrived in town on a Sunday, and that night EA and I took off to try the first church on our list. Being new to town, we ended up driving around for 30 minutes without any luck in finding it. We threw up our hands and gave up.
The next week I think we ended up perusing websites, and eventually decided not to go anywhere. We were 0-2.
The following Sunday we were determined. We drove downtown, and after finally finding a parking spot we showed up for our first Sunday morning service.
This particular church was celebrating its fifth birthday, and—this being our first visit—we sort of felt like we’d shown up in a living room with a bunch of people we didn’t know as they reminisced over the past five years.
The next week we showed up at our current church—Park Church. About 30 minutes into the service, I leaned over to EA and said, “I think this is the one.” She nodded her head in agreement.
After the service, we went to the quick “Introductions Meeting” and learned more about the church.
That Thursday night, we showed up at one of the many small groups happening around the city.
The next Sunday, I played bass guitar with the worship band.
The Sunday after that, we greeted folks as they walked in the door and we administered the elements during Communion.
And we haven’t looked back.
I’m now a music deacon at Park Church, and EA is heavily involved with all things aesthetic … so when we want things to look dark and heavy on Good Friday, or full of life and light on Easter Sunday, EA is a big part of making that happen.
Two years ago, we had no idea that we would end up buying a condo in Denver—that we would love this place and feel so committed to it. And joining a church community has been the driving force in that, without a doubt.
A church community is important
For some couples, especially when they show up in a new city, it’s easy to go into isolation mode and not meet any new people. I want to strongly encourage you to avoid that temptation; getting involved in a solid church community is critical for any married couple.
Just last night, we had about 20 people over to our house for our small group meeting. After discussing the sermon, we broke into a guys’ group and a girls’ group. We talked about what’s going on in our lives and prayed for each other.
One of the guys who has been showing up for about a month spoke up. “Last year was one of the darkest years of our lives,” he said. “I was working nearly 80 hours a week, and my wife started having serious panic attacks. We’ve grown a lot, but I would never wish the year we had upon anyone.”
But then he said that the past month had been one of the best months of their lives. “Since we started showing up here, my wife hasn’t had a panic attack. And as I enter another year of teaching, I’m determined not to let it take me over like it did last year. And I need you guys to call me out if I stop showing up here.”
Now you might be thinking, That would never happen to me! And you might be right. But I hope that story highlights the importance of having others around you who know and love you—who will keep you accountable and seek your best.
Here are a few tips on getting established in a new church, based on our experience:
1. Dive in and serve. There’s a tendency among church-goers to consume and complain. Meaning, they sit in the pews and listen to the music and the preacher and then find things to nitpick about.
This is my charge to you: Don’t fall into that trap. Get involved. Serve. If you don’t like something, find a way to respectfully bring it up with the leadership. And come to the meeting with a solution (that you can implement) in mind.
2. Show up consistently. Film director Woody Allen once said, “Seventy percent of success in life is showing up.” The same could be said about building community at your church.
Make church a priority. If you have to schedule a flight home a little earlier to make it to church, do it. If you have to come home early from camping, do it. If you’re tired and overwhelmed, go to church anyway. In fact, go because you’re tired and overwhelmed. And if you go to a church where you can’t show up tired and overwhelmed … it might be time to switch churches.
Hebrews 10:23-25 tells us, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” It’s important that we are reminded of the gospel on a consistent basis—in the songs that we sing, the messages we hear, and the elements we consume.
So show up. On Sundays. To other events, too. It’s important. So act like it!
3. Invite people into your home (even if you only have 600 square feet). Our first apartment was tiny—only 600 square feet. But definitely enough room to have a couple over for dinner.
Often, we’d have 10-20 folks over on the weekend, too. We found a way to make it work. And we all grew closer together because of it.
There are conversations that will happen in your home that will never occur at church. Inviting people over provides a context for them to open up and share their lives with you … and for you to do the same. It provides a context for you to not only get to know each other better, but also to speak truth to each other.
Having people over gives us the opportunity to live out the things we hear taught at church on Sunday. It gives us the opportunity to help each other transform into the type of people God wants us to be.
4. Invite friends to join you. Not long after moving to Denver, I started recruiting my friends from Arkansas to come join me. About nine months later, one of them came. Three months after that, two more moved.
And I’m working on another two.
If you have close friends who are able to relocate, ask them to come join your community. It’s important to have close friends around, and it often makes building that community that much easier.
5. Do it even when you don’t want to. We host a small group on Tuesday nights at 7 p.m. And without fail, every Tuesday at 4 p.m. I I start thinking, Man, I really don’t want to have people over tonight. Maybe we should cancel.
And then, every Tuesday night at about 8:30, I start thinking, I’m so glad we did that. My soul is refreshed.
There will be days when you want to quit. To burrow into a hole and isolate yourself.
Resist the urge. Realize that community is hard, but community is good. As Hebrews 13:1-2 says, “Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”
6. Do it with others in mind. We have a newly-married couple in our small group. They first came to our group about a month before getting married. I still remember their first week back after the honeymoon.
When we split into groups of guys and girls for personal discussion and prayer, I asked this new husband how married life was treating him. He answered, “Not great. We had a huge fight yesterday. We’re almost back to normal, but not quite there yet.”
All the married guys in the group smiled knowingly, and I told him, “I’m really glad you’re here, man.” We did our best to speak truth into his life and pray for him. I think he left feeling encouraged.
Philippians 2:4 reminds us, “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Keep this in mind: If you’re hosting a small group at your house, it’s not primarily about you. It’s about the folks showing up every week and what they’re struggling with. It’s about listening to them and praying with them.
It’s not easy, but it’s good.
Copyright © 2013 by James Lepine. Used with permission.