Students are returning to in-person church services after a year and a half of majority online attendance. Increased demand for church community calls for navigation of the numerous church options in and around Grand Rapids, and Calvin students are eager to join in the hunt for a church home.
In early 2020, Jesse Kinyua, a junior studying organizational communication, found online worship to be lacking some of his favorite aspects of the church experience. He missed how his pastor, Tarence E. Lauchiè of Grace for Nations church, would come down from the pulpit and preach among the congregation. “It used to be amazing,” Kinyua said.
Likewise, Reagan Herbert, a sophomore majoring in Spanish and French, said that watching worship through a screen made her miss worshiping in a community. “I love worshiping with other believers because it brings the Body of Christ together.”
Kinyua is one of many Calvin students returning to in-person worship services this semester. Many first-year students, sophomores and juniors are visiting different churches in their search for a church home; a common effect from the pandemic since many churches only produced online services.
Kinyua, for example, said that he was looking for a new church to attend because his previous church was still only holding virtual services to protect congregation members who are considered at-risk in the pandemic.
“It is exciting because I get to make new relationships and connections; it is exhausting because finding a place where you feel comfortable to be yourself is not easy,” he said.
Delvin Fernando, a junior studying secondary education and history, told Chimes he has been to at least 12 churches since his first year. He was home in Indonesia last year, and he took a semester break from online school. Back in person this semester, he decided to attend his housemate’s church. “In looking for a church community, I’m thinking more of how I could be a better member of a church rather than finding the perfect church that fits what I want,” Fernando said.
Some other students have found unexpected blessings from virtual services. Marian Henderson, a junior majoring in biology and Spanish, started watching an online Spanish church based in Columbia. “It was a great experience! We were able to practice our Spanish together while also digging into God’s Word,” Henderson said. For Henderson, who has also started visiting different churches, the process of looking for the right church community has been daunting because there can be pressure to “get it right as soon as possible.”
For most students, finding the “right church” takes doctrine and community into consideration. Henderson focused on whether the church’s sermons were scripturally sound, and if the worship was Christ-centered. Henderson told Chimes she was also searching for a community that was intentional about challenging one another to learn and grow together in the faith. Kinyua similarly said that he was looking for an “intentional community and a place that feels like home.”
“It’s a broad and somewhat generic answer, but it best encapsulates a strong innate human desire that most, if not all, share,” Kinyua said.
Pastor Mary Hulst advised students who are looking for a new church to ask many questions. A few were: “What does this church believe? How do they behave with neighbors in the community? Where can I belong at this church? Will being a part of this church make me more like Jesus?”
Pastor David Sung, who pastors Living Water CRC, cautioned against too much visiting and a consumerist attitude towards churches. “It goes against the grain of the true nature of the church,” Sung said, “to stay with a church as long as it has something in it for us, and move on to visiting different churches again once it loses that initial attractiveness.”
“My advice for you is to set a time limit for the search for church in a new town, and pray regularly and intentionally for God’s guidance on your choice,” Sung said.