When Church Doesn’t Feel Like Community

My Christian walk and my personal self has changed and grown in the last ten years. I think that’s healthy. In some ways I’ve matured for better and for worse and my lens of self and the world has a decade more of experience behind it.

What happened this decade? Well, around 23/24 I decided I wanted to own my faith and not continue in my childhood church. I wanted an identity outside of my family. I didn’t want to attend where my parents did and the church I grew up in was fairly toxic to me and limited me in a very patriarchal, family-forward, cliquey way.

My new church felt great. The gospel was still preached soundly, there were more working and single people, and the congregation was large enough that they had branched out to more ministry opportunities and no one felt encumbered to do 50 things a year just to keep ministries afloat. My brother and future SIL even plugged in to the young adults group and eventually the head of it officiated their marriage ceremony.

But like many churches, my church changed too, just like I did. They cut budgeting and lost a lot of young adults in my age range. The younger folk went to other churches where they felt their age group was better represented and cared for. They moved on because my church didn’t seem to have a space for them anymore. Like many churches, it then died down in numbers a bit, and became families with kids and mostly seniors 55+.

In my first few years, with the budget cuts, the associate pastor and his family made a critical decision to stop being paid by the church and leave to help finances. I had become close to their family and it was a deep cut for me. Just like that they were gone suddenly. I then plugged in and flourished helping in kids ministry. Then, last year, with covid impacting the budget again, the church made a hurtful sweep of layoffs and laid off EVERY paid woman staff member: our minister of music, our children’s pastor, her assistant children’s ministry person, and a secretary. No men, only women. Women who held power in the church. Women I looked up to. It felt purposeful. It felt hurtful. All the representation of women strong in their faith who had pursued it as a career were gone. Half of them were my closest church friends I had built a relationship with. Again, gone in what felt like overnight. On top of that? Our lead pastor decided to take a big pay cut and retire early, passing on his flock to the hands of a very capable but very young pastor who isn’t even 30 yet.

With all of that came a creep. A them vs us creep. A church is essential so forget your concerns creep. A family forward, patriarchal creep. My old lead pastor repeatedly complained so many times last year that Millennials were bad and even mocked us saying we have safe spaces in colleges where we can “hold puppies and be pat on the head.” The new young guy has been bringing political points to the pulpit to garner the support of the older attendees and distance himself from his age. My dear church turned into the place I decided to leave at 23.

I’ve learned I am too “woke”, too feminist, too moderate, too open to wanting those who don’t look “christianese” being part of our congregation, to belong there. But I still have my faith. I still securely press on for the goal. So what now?

I’m caught between choosing a more relaxed denomination where I may not doctrinally agree with everything but feel more welcome, a more milk than bread congregation where I can’t learn much but all are welcome, or sticking it out at a place I’ve outgrown again.

I want a church family, not just a house of worship. But I’ve evolved too much. Some may think I’m a fake or falling for the world’s progressive antics and straying. I’m here to yell into this little void that I am working so hard to hold on to hope and my personal relationship with God is not going anywhere. I just want to belong. Somewhere.

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