When my family moved from Washington State to California, my parents braced my brother and me for a church search that could take some time. But after just one Sunday, we fell in love with a congregation, and my family still attends there more than 15 years later.

In leaving home for college, I hoped for the same narrative. Instead, I found it to be the complete opposite. In fact, up until about six months ago, I had been going on six years without a home church—which is a familiar reality among many Gen Z Christians.

Roughly one-third of young people are attending church less often today than they did before the pandemic. A 2022 study from the Survey Center on American Life found that the pandemic appears to have caused those who already had the weakest commitments to regular religious attendance—including young people, single folks, and self-identified liberals—to stop attending church altogether at a much higher rate than other Americans.

Throughout my church search, I struggled with thoughts of self-doubt, wondering if I was the problem: Was I just being too picky in my expectations? Was I discounting churches for superficial reasons? In my mind at the time, the reason I had not yet found a church home was a mix of equally valid contributing factors over the course of my college career.

In my first year, I visited what felt like hundreds of churches by bus, since I didn’t have a car. And when the pandemic hit during my sophomore and junior years, I began tuning into my beloved church from back home. By senior year, I was determined to find a community and released any expectation of finding a one-to-one comparison with my home church.

I began commuting 40 minutes into the city in search of a rich community of diverse believers—ethnically, generationally, and socioeconomically. I decided I would commit to a church that I loved regardless of how far I had to go to find it. But I quickly realized how hard it was to get integrated into a church community when you are the only one who lives far away—I couldn’t stop and get coffee after work like the other members who all lived in the area.

Meanwhile, Sunday after Sunday, I felt the isolation of church homelessness.

One reason for this was that many of the congregations I visited were homogenous, and I desperately wanted to learn and be challenged by a diverse group of people. Other reasons were a bit more clear-cut: One church I went to played Pitbull music during the offering. Another church’s website used an AI bot to “show me around,” but for any additional information on leadership and community involvement required me to join their Slack channel. In yet another church I visited, the pastor made a casual remark from stage that read, to me, as a giant red flag.

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Some churches I simply did not trust, partly because of their involvement with denominations struggling with scandal or dismissing sexual abuse. Unfortunately, in these times, committing to a church often requires a delicate balance of trusting fellow congregants and being on guard. And especially as a young woman, I wanted a place where I could allow myself to be vulnerable.

Even when the wider denomination is struggling to pursue justice and accountability, I know there are individual churches that are doing well. But how do I know which congregation or church leader will be the subject of the next scandal—or whether I won’t be the next victim?

Studies show that I’m not alone in this fear. According to a 2022 Barna study, 27 percent of people say their doubt in Christianity is due to past experiences with a religious institution. Statistically and anecdotally, many Gen Zers I know share a concern that church just doesn’t feel safe amid so much scandal.

There’s another oft-cited reason people avoid committing to church: In my social circles of young people, I hear many say they just haven’t found a church that shares all their convictions.

In this, I am reminded of the haunting warning C. S. Lewis gives in The Screwtape Letters, where the “devil” writes to his protégé, “Surely you know that if a man can’t be cured of churchgoing, the next best thing is to send him all over the neighborhood looking for the church that ‘suits’ him until he becomes a taster or connoisseur of churches.”

I’ve also heard from others who simply don’t see church as a requirement of the Christian faith. As Daniel K. Williams writes, “What if the problem with dechurched evangelicals is not their faulty understanding of faith, but rather evangelical theology’s own lack of emphasis on the church?” He makes the case that evangelicals need to rediscover a compelling theology of church—to establish a uniquely evangelical answer to the question, “Why church?”

Even for me, the lies of isolation were around every corner. I hit periods of simply not attending church, telling myself that it wasn’t a necessity. Sometimes I quoted Matthew 18:20 to convince myself that I was always “at church” when I was with two or more gathered in Jesus’ name.

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In this, going to a Christian college was a double-edged sword. It’s easier to avoid attending a local church when you’re constantly surrounded by Christian community—attending chapel three times a week and engaging with biblical curriculum every day. But I always felt ashamed, like I was a bad Christian, whenever people asked me what church I was going to. It seemed like being connected to a home church was some ultimate litmus test of my spiritual well-being.

Yet none of these excuses ever solved my deep longing for Christian community. Church homelessness is a lonely place to be, and it’s also a vulnerable foothold for the enemy to slip lies into our minds. Satan knows church searching is exhausting and requires faith to persevere as we look for a healthy congregation that will challenge us to serve others and grow in our spiritual walks. This is why he often encourages us toward apathy and indifference, to distance us from our desires for God and community. This, paired with loneliness, can be a powerful combination.

Church is essential for our faith, not to mention that in-person worship can improve our overall well-being and lower our psychological distress. But overcoming church homelessness takes time, mental energy, and emotional endurance. Many of us struggle with the resilience to face it—especially those of us who are young adults or single.

Yet there might be a hidden blessing in this very struggle. To quote Romans 5:3–5, “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”

More than anything, I’m grateful the Lord cares about our suffering and sees us through it all.

A few months ago, as I had done many times before, I walked into a new church all alone—when every ounce of my being did not want to walk into the sanctuary by myself. Just then, I heard a still, small voice in my head say something that gave me an immediate sense of peace: “A church should be the safest place to be alone.”

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Since then, I’ve attended the church’s connect class, signed up for a small group, and joined their women’s ministry. I’ve written down the names of people I meet each week as a reminder of my answered prayers for Christian community. This Sunday, I will be sitting in the sanctuary, surrounded by fewer strangers than the week before—with my Bible and notebook, my list of priorities, and an open mind—praying this is the place where I can plant my roots and thrive.

And as I continue to show up each week, God continues to demonstrate his faithfulness to me. Each Sunday, I thank the Lord for giving me the strength to battle loneliness; and the more I get plugged in, the more my loneliness dissolves. Beyond that, I’m grateful for the opportunity to see more of God’s kingdom at work around me and to meet other people who each have their own unique reasons for showing up at church despite their personal obstacles.

This is not to say there aren’t still Sunday mornings when I don’t feel like waking up and going to church. But when I look back at some of the toughest times in my life, I see that I felt furthest from God when I wasn’t surrounded by other like-minded believers—and the only way I got out of those trenches was when I decided to give church another chance.

In fact, there have been moments in my life where the only reason I still hold on to my faith is because I knew there were other Christians praying for me. On days when I feel upset with God or discouraged at our sinful world, I know someone is praying for me to regain a sense of hope.

In all this, I want to remind those suffering from church homelessness—especially my fellow young adults and single people—that you are not alone. More than that, you don’t have to be content with this loneliness. You can be resilient and find the family God has promised you.

And every time we make the decision and effort to show up for service on a Sunday morning, our very presence in the house of God means the devil has failed to cure us of churchgoing.

Mia Staub is the content manager at Christianity Today.

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