Upon arriving in a new city or on a college campus, you might think, “How am I supposed to find a church in this place? I just got here! I hardly know where the dining hall is!” The even more confounding question follows: “How am I supposed to find the church that God has in mind for me?” There’s no exact answer, but there are a few actions you can take.
Look around. Luckily, many tools exist to guide individuals toward church communities. If you have no idea where to start, try the website www.9marks.org or your denomination’s website. More importantly, unplug from the computer and plug into community. Use your campus activity fair, flyers, and just plain word-of-mouth. As tempting as it is to find a church all by ourselves, using people to get information, advice, and maybe even a ride can be a humbling reminder that the main goal, after all, is to connect with God’s people, not a building.
Look to Scripture. With passages such as Acts 2:42-47 at hand, establish a short list of basic expectations you have for a Christian community. Using the Acts 2 model, you might look for a commitment to biblical teaching, genuine fellowship, prayer, and outreach both in word and in deed. Also, during the college years, a congregation that’s multigenerational and economically diverse can provide a valuable perspective other than the twenty-something perspective you get on campus.
Look to God. While discerning what church God has in mind for you, you can know one thing for certain: it’s not necessarily the church that you have in mind for you. When I started college, I sought a big non-denominational church, but God surprised me with a mid-sized Presbyterian church. Naturally, when I found myself in a new place this last summer, I sought a mid-sized Presbyterian church, but God surprised me with a big non-denominational church! Each time, I began by asking myself, “Which place is most like me?” Then I progressed to asking God, “OK, fine, which place is most like what I need?” Each time, I’ve wound up meeting someone that God wanted me to meet or learning a lesson God wanted me to learn. When we set aside our own wants, God can give us what we really need.
You can collect flyers and make lists, but as Adam McHugh says in Introverts in the Church (which applies to extroverts too), “finding a church home is more complex than matching a church to a list of requirements…churches have a way of choosing us, a process that is mysterious, sovereign.” Look with an open mind to God and to the tangible resources he provides, and the Planner himself will guide you into his church.
This week, we’re posting practical tips for following Jesus as a college student. Read Part 1, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5.
Julia Powers is an English major at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, VA, currently serving as a small group leader and as her chapter’s prayer coordinator.