As if college wasn’t complicated enough, let’s add choosing a church to your “to-do” list. Now you must somehow select from amongst all the churches in Salem—of which there are many—your perfect fit. How do you even begin?

Thankfully, there are those who have gone before you.

These people may not give you the foolproof “5 Easy Secrets to Church Shopping,” but they can offer you some tips.

So where do you begin? Ideally, you should start with research.  Cue the collective groan from all the students..

While it might seem needless, Jordin Lineback highly suggests looking at a church’s website before visiting, especially after she attended a church she would later describe as “a little weird.” If you look before you leap, you may save yourself a trip—and an unpleasant experience.

Corban’s assistant professor of systematic theology, Mark Jacobson, brought up a few other strategies students should consider. He suggests listening to the online sermons as well as talking with someone familiar with the church. Both are easy ways to find some insider information.

Also, life often requires a little trial and error. Jenna Stebly encourages students to look into several churches before making their choice.

After all, the first find isn’t always the best, and this might be the best time to do a little searching.

“Find a church that fits you; don’t choose one just because everyone else is going there,” said Stebly.

But how should you know what to look for? Jacobson suggested several items, beginning with community involvement.

“Look for a church that welcomes building bridges with unsaved people in the local community and that finds creative ways to do it,” said Jacobson.

This is one of the best ways to discover the heart of a church.

“I usually suggest that students, or anyone, look for a church primarily in which the ministries that God has gifted them for can be put into effective use,” he added.

What about doctrine—the key ingredients of the church? How do you know what’s right? Jacobson’s answer: stick to the basics.

It is also important to remember that unlike a trip to the grocery store, “church shopping” is a process.

Brittany Croft offers an excellent example of this. Although she will be a junior this spring, she is still searching for a church she can invest in.

“It takes time,” she said.

Jacobson suggests visiting a church for a month, if not more, in order to truly determine its fit. He advises students to not make “quick decisions based on first impressions.”

Another things to remember is to not make comparisons.

“Be gracious,” said Croft. “You’re not going to find a church that’s the same as the one you had at home. Find one you agree with, but don’t be too [much of a perfectionist].”

“Church shopping” isn’t easy, but it also isn’t as complicated as it seems.

Once you know how to approach it, the task shrinks down to a manageable size. Finding baking powder in Costco can seem like an impossible mission, unless you know what general items to look for—flour, baking goods, etc. It’s the same with finding a church in Salem. Once you know what to watch for, it’s only a matter of picking, choosing, and maybe a bit of testing.

For a map of some local church’s and what students have to say about them click here.