So in light of the fact that I've made such a big, public deal of how Melissa and I are "church shopping," and especially after making such a big, public deal of naming and shaming the places we wouldn't be considering, I felt it was important to explain where we've been attending the last three weeks, and why we (after only three weeks) think that we may settle in already. I'm planning this as a 3-day series on my blog.
Today, here's a list of all of the churches I've attended in the last six-ish years. Why the ones that didn't work didn't, why the ones that did work DID, and how this all led us to where we are.
I don't intend for this to be prescriptive so much as just reflective of our experience. We know attenders and members at many of these churches whose experiences are much different from ours. It also deserves to be said that a lot of our objections to places came down to style more than substance, or came down to differences of opinion on things that are still well within the realm of orthodoxy. Nowhere we visited was evil, nowhere was even necessarily WRONG, but many places just weren't right for us. To try to drive that point home, I have recommended several of these churches to others whose needs or tastes were different from ours.
I've left out the names of the churches that we did not stay to try to mitigate the impression I'm simply talking bad about a bunch of places, but many of them are likely easily discerned by folks who know the area, or us, well.
Sevenoseven / Cuyahoga Valley Church - Broadview Heights, OH (SBC)
We attended here for several years and attended membership classes (though never joined). We also attended (and briefly led) LifeGroups. We took premarital counseling/courses here. Melissa was baptized here. We were married here. We left largely due to a perceived calling to worship in our local community, and the long commute. We decided not to return due to our desire to find a church with more inclusive and egalitarian values, and because we struggled with the lack of couples to "look up to" in the mostly young and unmarried 707 congregation.
3-Year-Old Missional Church Plant - Berea, OH (United Brethren)
We attended this church for several months as their method of "doing church" was very much in line with what we felt called to do in our own community of Cleveland Heights at the time. It was also started by a good friend of ours. Around this time we travelled to Sheffield, UK for a missional church immersion experience with Church Doctor Ministries and came back ON FIRE to start such a movement in Cleveland Heights. The 35+ minute commute paired with our very hurt feelings over communication breakdowns surrounding our desire to partner with this church for mentorship caused us to eventually stop returning.
3-Year-Old Church Plant - Cleveland Heights, OH (SBC)
A recent plant in Cleveland Heights, Melissa and I attended here for a couple months before leaving. I was never comfortable with the SBC/A29-esque vibe of the place, though we both enjoyed the worship. We were also made very uncomfortable with the intense emphasis put on becoming members of the church, and the not becoming members seemed to be a certain path to eventual ostracism. It's possible our perception of this wasn't quite the reality, but it was definitely what we felt.
5-Year-Old Church Plant - Lyndhurst, OH (...SBC?)
We visited once with some close friends who were new Christians. We were taken aback by the warm, inviting atmosphere and friendly congregation. The worship was charmingly rough around the edges, but we were both unmoved by the preaching. The sermon we heard essentially boiled down to "You should believe in Jesus because crucifixion is incredibly painful." It hinged on an anecdote wherein a youth group member renounced his faith, and so his pastor stood him in front of a crucifix and made the boy say to "Jesus' face" that he didn't believe. The kid found himself unable to do so. ...and scene.
A United Methodist Church - Cleveland Heights
An insanely beautiful stone church building. A bizarrely 70s themed worship service (including an intro video that I think was from the film version of Godspell). And a very well written sermon that was very drily read verbatim from a script by the pastor. Pass.
A PCUSA Presbyterian Church - Cleveland Heights
We only attended here once. I liked this church for its liberalism, it's intellectualism, its activism, and its liturgy. Melissa couldn't engage with the highly structured, Catholic-resembling order of service.
Another PCUSA Church - Lyndhurst (PCUSA)
This church was a little more laid back than the first PCUSA parish we checked out. It also holds a "contemporary" service that is reportedly more laid-back still. We wouldn't know, though, as two attempts to attend it in three weeks were thwarted by them not holding it. We decided to check out another area church after the second week we planned a failed visit here, and that other church is likely where we're staying.
IMPORTANT VISITS ELSEWHERE:
St. Thomas Crookes - Sheffield, UK (CoE)
This church is a part of the Church of England/Anglican and has been occasionally called the fastest growing church in Europe. They are responsible for much of the recent resurgence of "missional" church and if you met these people you'd immediately see why. I get chills describing the place, it's that impactful. We lived among them for a week and believe me when I say that once you've seen this it's hard to go back.
Threshold Church - Toledo, OH
This church is attempting to replicate the St. Thom's model in Toledo, and we met their leadership team on our trip to England. We love Tom & Scott, and what they're doing in Toledo. (And, far from teetotalers, they're also opening a brewery in downtown Toledo).
Grace United Methodist Church - Perrysburg, OH
My parents' home church. This warm and welcoming place boasts impressive missions work, engaging teaching, a moving and modern worship service, and cronuts in the lobby on Sunday. This church was very much the model for what we eventually decided we wanted in a church.
Quarry Ridge Community Church - Sylvania, OH (Church of God - Anderson)
My grandparents' home church, this church plant is one I only attended twice, but the engaging and well-researched preaching was incredibly important to me. It is affiliated with the Church of God (Anderson) denomination I grew up in, and seeing a non-dysfunctional version of that kind of church in Northwest Ohio was very encouraging to me.
Tomorrow: Our baggage. How our experiences in Catholicism, and a failed/fallen church influenced our church shopping experience.
Thursday: How we chose Mayfield Church, and why we already think we may stay.