“How am I going to find a good church near me?”
In the coming weeks, you’re probably going to relocate to a new city or new state. And if you’re one of the 975,000 international students enrolled in colleges around the US, you will be moving into a new country.
Congratulations. You have taken an important step in securing your future. And you’ve definitely done your family and friends proud.
But you’re probably afraid. You’re probably unsure if your faith will survive your college years. Sometimes you sit quietly and wonder, “Is leaving behind the people I love, the places I know and the practices I understand for college really worth it?”
In this article, I would like to help you understand the importance of finding a good church near you, and share with you the tools I found useful in finding a church near me.
5 Reasons I Searched For A Good Church Near Me
1. Not all churches know what to do with college students
When I was an international student in the US, I had to find a good church near me. But it wasn’t easy. The first church I attended was great but it looked like more of a retirement home rather than a church. I was the only person less than 50 during most of the meetings. I longed for peer interaction – just talking to someone who uses Google map instead of keeping a map in their glove box.
This was a good church. The word was sound but most of the members even the pastor didn’t know what to do with me. The generational gap was too big. And I felt left out and disconnected to the body of Christ.
2. The Law of Attraction: Beware of Attractional Churches
I found another church online. The first time I walked in their church building I was impressed. Their worship team was awesome. They had the fog machine on the stage and the pastor was like a rock star.
But I wanted to meet Christ. And I wanted to grow in the knowledge of Jesus Christ fruitfully and effectively. Three years later, I realized the church had nothing more to offer besides laughter, loud music, and a beautiful campus. And I had nothing to give them, I was just a consumer.
3. Statistics was not on my side
In 2014, a LifeWay Research found that two out of three students stopped going to church while at college. Another study from Fuller Youth Institute was more gracious with only one out of two dropping out. But before you get too excited, a study by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA confirmed the LifeWay Research study.
Jesus is not against going to college. He wants you at that campus because he has set aside something special for you. You’re going to be his light in that place. But above all else, he doesn’t want you to ‘forfeit your soul’ (Mark 8:36).
4. Theology is best done in community
The main reason the church dropout rate among freshmen is a lack of a church community. You and I are like branches on a tree. When we’re removed from the tree and are not grafted into another tree, we quickly wither and die.
Jim Putman wrote in The Power of Together, “A home group is a place where people can be relationally discipled as part of a spiritual family.” I’m glad that the attractional church had home groups. I met with fellow believers weekly not just to ‘to enhance [my] knowledge about the Bible’ but to build relationships that still stand even today.
5. You’re a member of a body
Here’s the thing. Christ called you to be part of a family. And the good news is, no matter where you go, there’s a family waiting for you. If you don’t connect with that family, you will be lost. And above all, useless.
If your eye gets detached from your head will it be useful? God gave you certain gifts so that you use them in his family and for his glory. Importantly, you need to go to a church near you where you can sit down and learn.
How To Found A Good Church Near You
If I hadn’t found a good church near me when I was in college, I would have ‘forfeit my soul.’ And I wouldn’t have learned the things I learned. I wouldn’t have impacted the lives of the people I met with the message of the Cross.
But I had many ups and downs and I would like to share with you some of the things I learned.
1. Know the church before you join
Before I left for the US I did some serious research on churches near my campus. At first glance, there were many churches. But as I dig deep on their visions and beliefs the list grew narrower.
This is what I did to know the church. I read the church bulletins online and listened to two or three sermons from the church. The exercise was time-consuming but it could have been worth it if I knew what to look for. I was looking for exciting messages instead of the gospel.
2. Check if the church has a college ministry
Not all churches know what to do with you. Honestly, some churches won’t invest in you because in four years you will be gone. They will be glad to tell everyone that their church has a member from Afghanistan or Zambia but will do nothing to equip to become a beacon of the gospel when you go back to your country.
But they’re some churches who know you’re an important member of the body of Christ. I really thank God for a church I found in Southern California called Bridges. They had a ministry for young people. Leaving Bridges Church when I left the US was painful. All the members of that church invested in my family.
3. Consult with your local campus ministry director
When I got to California, I contacted a local InterVarsity Christian Fellowship coordinator. I wanted to join a campus ministry but I forgot to ask for a local church he recommended. InterVarsity only had a program for undergraduates but not for graduate students.
Organizations like Campus Crusaders and InterVarsity have worked with young people like you for many years. They probably know good churches nearby. Shoot an email to your campus director, “Hey, can you hook me up with a good church near me. I’m looking for a church that I can grow and help others grow.”
4. Use a reliable online church finder
A year ago, I went to Boston and I wanted to go church that Sunday. I went to Google and searched for ‘church near me.’ I had about ten hits through the local search. But there was one problem. I had no time to search for what they taught.
So, I used the best church finder I ever used, The Gospel Coalition Church Directory. The nearest church was one block away. Needless to say, I spent that Sunday enriching my soul and fellowshipping with other believers.
Summary on finding a church near me
A long time ago, churches were few. You didn’t have to worry about finding a church when you move to a new town. You could go to a local bar, grocery store or ask anyone you meet in the street, “I am staying at there, what is the church near me?” And you would find a good home.
Things have changed. They’re more churches and even more churches with questionable teachings. So, you have to be careful with the online church finder tools you use. You have to know what church is really all about before you can be a member of a nearby church.
What are some misconceptions young people have that might cause them to dismiss the importance of finding a good church near them?