In the spirit of John Green’s book of the same title, our theme for the month of October is “the Anthropocene reviewed.” Writers were asked to review and rate some facet of human experience on a five-star scale.

For the first time in a while, I find myself looking for a new church. “Church shopping,” as it is sometimes referred to.

Over the last three years, I’d been a regular attender at The Lakes Church, a church plant in Fruitport, Michigan, near my hometown of Muskegon. A friend had invited me to the church’s young adult small group in the fall of 2019. (Yes, you read that correctly. An actual, thriving church gathering for that mystical phase of life that is post-college but pre-kids.) 

After connecting with my new small group, I started showing up on Sunday mornings at The Lakes Church. Before long, I decided to make the switch from my home church where I grew up. Although the pandemic sadly dismantled our small group and disrupted in-person worship, I still watched The Lakes Church’s online services. I returned to in-person worship once I was vaccinated.

Now that I’m newly married and my husband and I live in the northwest Grand Rapids area, we’re looking for a church community closer to where we are. It’s the first time we’ve lived in the same city and have the opportunity to regularly attend church together. And I’m grateful we don’t have to approach this undertaking alone. 

Church shopping is challenging, after all. I struggled in college and I find myself struggling again today. It’s nerve-wracking to keep showing up to new places and a bit disorienting trying to imagine myself immersed in the congregational life. It’s also tough to grapple with the overall experience when some aspects of the service are great while others fall short.

At the same time, however, the process of visiting new churches has been teaching me a lot about myself and my faith. I think the pandemic exacerbated a lot of shortcomings in the church, but it also revealed some uncomfortable truths about the way I approach worship. I’ll admit that I probably put too much focus on what I get out of the experience and forget why I’m there in the first place. Instead of hoping the church will automatically redeem itself for me, maybe I should make more of an effort to be part of positive change.  

That being said, it can’t all fall on me, and some discernment is necessary when it comes to evaluating church congregations and teachings. I’ve heard recent remarks from pulpits that shouldn’t belong, and I’ve been in sanctuaries that did not appear welcoming. When instincts make these shortcomings clear, I think that transcends any misconceptions regarding a self-centered approach to worship. 

There is no such thing as a perfect church, but I know there’s a good community out there that my husband and I can call our church home. And although the process can be a little overwhelming, we want to keep searching.

For all its challenges yet possibilities, I give church shopping three stars.

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