Ask not what your church can do for you


My hopes simultaneously soared and deflated at the same time. We had a new young family with six children visiting our church that morning. They had just moved to the area and were looking for a new church home. We all went out of our way to make them feel welcome, included, and wanted. We learned their names, the names and ages of their children, where they lived, what had brought them to the area, their prayer needs, and found a number of people in our congregation who had things in common with them.

Let me suggest that you may be asking the wrong questions. There is really only one question which needs to be addressed when searching for a new church home.

This was all on Sunday morning. “Don’t get your hopes up,” I silently told myself. “They won’t be back.” But they were! They came back on Wednesday night to see the puppet show our youth had been working on. My hopes dared to rise a little, as one of our ladies engaged them in a lively conversation. Then I heard the anticipated words. “We’re still shopping around for a new church. We want to check out some of the other churches in the area.” Well, of course there’s nothing wrong with that. And I heard our lady say, “We’d love to have you here. But you need to go where God calls you.” This is the expected “churchy” response. But it has become rather trite in my mind.

Let me explain why. You see, we are a small church with limited attractions for young families. We can’t compete with the programs the larger churches in our area have to offer. Not that we are in competition, per say. After all, we are all on the same team working for His kingdom. But I sometimes wonder if any of these families look at our church and think, “This church has some holes. Maybe God sent us here to help fill those holes.” In other words, ask not what this church can do for you. Ask what you can do for this church.

What is the first thing you look for when shopping for a new church? Is it the dynamic and charismatic preaching? The music? The programs? The convenience of multiple services which fit your schedule? Are the people friendly? Does it offer classes to fit your needs? Is it close to your home? These are common things which many people look for when deciding on a new church. To put it bluntly, what can this church do for me? How can this church meet my needs and my expectations?

Let me suggest that you may be asking the wrong questions. There is really only one question which needs to be addressed when searching for a new church home. Does this church preach and teach the whole word of God? If the answer is yes, then everything else is just preference. While there is nothing inherently wrong with personal preference when looking for a new church, why not ask yourself, “What can I do for this church? Can God use me here? What spiritual gifts has God blessed me with that I can put to use here? Does this church need me? Does God want me here?”

Let me also suggest that you consider joining the church which needs you the most.

Years ago, in his book, The Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren made a statement which affected me profoundly and made me completely change my whole way of thinking. He simply said, “It’s not about you.” What? It’s not about me? It doesn’t matter whether I prefer hymns over praise music? Nope. It doesn’t matter that this church has a lot of programs which would fit my needs? Nope. It doesn’t matter that I can go to church on Saturday night and sleep in on Sunday morning? Nope. It’s all about God. It’s not about what you get out of the church, it’s about what you bring to the church. Do you ever leave after church thinking, “I didn’t get anything out of that service today?” Well, I’ll let you in on a little secret. The service wasn’t for you. It was for God. What did you put into the service? Did you come to church to worship God with your whole heart?

Having said these things, let me also suggest that you consider joining the church which needs you the most. If there’s not a children’s program for your children, perhaps your kids can be the nucleus for the start of one. After all, it’s hard to attract families with children when there aren’t any children’s programs. But in order to have children’s programs there have to be children. This becomes a catch -22 for a lot of small churches. Does the megachurch down the street really need your teenager to add to the hundreds of teenagers they already have? Or could your teenager make a difference to the small, struggling church which only has half a dozen youth? If there are not a lot of singles or young couples, maybe you could begin a small class and attract others to your group. Could you use your skills as a Sunday school teacher in a small church where the congregation is stretched thin to meet the needs of the church? Can you add your voice to the choir or praise team which is pitifully small? Or is it easier to simply join a large church and blend in, without anyone asking you to do anything?

Now please don’t get the impression I am criticizing larger churches. I’m not. My husband and I served for many years in a large church which we loved, before being called to another church. However, I will say that even after we had been gone for a number of years, people didn’t realize we had left. They simply thought we were attending another worship service. Since then, we have served in several smaller churches, and I have to say that I like being in a church where I am missed if I’m not there. I like knowing everyone and knowing I am needed. If one person is absent, it affects the whole body.

To rephrase a familiar quote by JFK, “Ask not what your church can do for you. Ask what you can do for your church.” Pray about where God wants you. Pray about where God needs you. Make sure your choice is directed by His will, not your preferences.

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Ellen Fannon
Ellen Fannon
Ellen has been making up stories since before she could write. Ellen is a practicing veterinarian, former missionary, foster parent, pastor’s wife, and church pianist/organist. She originated and wrote a newspaper column on pet care for six years before taking an assignment with the Southern Baptist International Mission Board. She lives in Valparaiso, Florida with her husband, son, and assorted pets.

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