Have you ever driven by a church before and decided that simply based on appearances, the place looked interesting? Somewhere in the recesses of your busy mind, you thought, “Someday, I’d like to see what that congregation is all about.” I’ve done this. I did it for years, but never really believed I’d have the chance to visit any of them. Once I made up my mind that it was time to move on from the only church I’d ever known, these were my first stops.
Somebody might tell you that assessing a church by its building is the same as judging a book by its cover. They may be right, but they could also be incredibly wrong. Many authors aren’t visually talented enough to create their own art, so someone else gets to do it. Churches, on the other hand live wherever they can until they get enough money to purchase or construct a building. Once they have their own space though, their priorities become clear. Church architecture once was considered an opportunity for extravagant worship, but now, congregations can live in ugly stadiums and warehouses as long as they have the right technology or space to house what they value within those four walls.
After making an appearance at, and searching for Jesus in a few of the places I’d always wanted to hit up, I realized that the cool buildings were furnished with everything I didn’t want- primarily vanity and ecclesiastical debt and/or financial irresponsibility. One pastor elaborated on the cost of their building in relation to the tithes they were receiving while I was there, which might sound like a horrible thing to experience, but I was actually grateful for the openness about their fiscal commitments. I will say that a big fat pastor with his big fat building seemed to be lacking self control, so I moved on, regardless of their transparency. It was then that I knew I’d have to start looking based on other criteria.
Location was a bad idea. I live in a flat, white town in Idaho. If you’re not from the Gem State, you’re probably thinking that all of Idaho is Caucasian and you would be mostly correct, but we do have some diversity here. There were areas I wasn’t keen on traveling to because believe it or not, there are places less diverse than Meridian. I didn’t mind semi-long drives to get to church, it always meant more hang time with the Almighty while I traveled, so I started examining denominations. I think the battle between denominational churches and their wily counterparts might be a post to itself, but I had to consider the structure of the church I wanted to be a part of. Denominations have responsibilities and guidelines that the non-denoms don’t- I wanted accountability and hierarchy at whatever church I landed at.
In all of my ecclesiastical promiscuity, I visited a lot of churches. I mean, I really got around. Boise has a variety of congregations, old and new, conservative and liberal, we even have a multitude of ethnic churches around the valley. I’ve been to a handful of them- and stuck out like a white guy at a Nepali church ought to. When I was introduced to Jesus eight years ago, I didn’t know what to look for in a congregation. I simply participated at the church where I met God. It’s so much easier going into something like this blind, without opinions or expectations but to remain naive is irresponsible. Sometimes, I hate caring about how things go-yes, I grow weary of having such strong opinions about everything. Oh well, it’s exactly those vehement values that gave my search meaning, even if they did complicate the process.