Let me begin by saying that I cannot tell you for sure how to find a good church for you, but I feel I should address it the best I can since I get this question often. Frequently the question is along the lines of ‘What churches (or denominations) embrace views similar to Jesus without Baggage?’
What I think readers really want to know is ‘Where can I find a community of like-minded believers?’
The reasons I can’t answer this question are 1) Every congregation is different, and 2) Doctrinal issues are not the only factors in finding a good church fit, and they vary tremendously within any denomination.
The only way I know to test a good fit is to visit individual congregations, but there are steps that can reduce the randomness of the search and increase success.
My Own Journey from Church to Church (Skip this section if you wish)
I sometimes tell my grown son to always stay with the family denomination—and to call from time to time to see which one it is. I was raised in a very fundamentalist Freewill Baptist church until I joined the Church of God (Cleveland) at 18, which was an improvement for me at the time. I was very active in the Church of God for 15 years until I joined the Assemblies of God, which was an improvement for me at the time. I was very active in the Assemblies for about 10 years.
In all three cases, I was quite dedicated to each denomination so that when I moved from place to place I chose a church of that denomination.
By the time I left the Assemblies, though, I concluded that denominations are not what matter to me; the congregation is what is important. So we visited churches of various denominations and chose a mainline church congregation. But after 15 years the congregation has changed so much that we are, ourselves, looking for a better fit.
A Recent Question on Finding a Church Fit
A regular reader of my blog is from a rigid fundamentalist background but has escaped it. They are also extremely well-informed on baggage issues and have resolved them very well (before they ever began reading my blog), and they are quite stable. But the reader still expresses a yearning for a like-minded community:
My problem is I haven’t found alternative Christian communities. I like my friends (most of my university friends are nonreligious), but I also want to be part of a Christian community. But whenever Christians get to know me too closely, it creates tension because, clearly, I’m ‘lukewarm’.
My mom’s advice is don’t tell people what I think. I’m not going around bragging about my beliefs, but at the same time, I’m not going to hide who I am either. You should blog about this sometime because I’m not really sure what to do.
This is a very understandable situation and a valid yearning, but who am I to suggest to a person, so advanced in their journey, what they should do? How can I tell anyone how they should find a church? Yet other readers pose similar questions.
So here are some options for your consideration as you look for a good church fit.
Five Suggestions on Searching for a Compatible Church Community
1. List the things you want in a church community.
- This might include doctrinal positions, denominational affiliation, church size, personality of the church, sense of community, racial mix, the kind of minister you prefer, music, worship style, the level of personal involvement you want, services and outreach to the needy, whether they are gay-affirming, and other factors.
- Don’t expect a perfect fit and don’t be picky about things that don’t matter so much.
2. Consider searching for a congregation—not necessarily a denomination.
3. Develop a list of potential churches.
- If you have like-minded friends in your area, you can ask about their churches.
- Don’t overlook non-traditional small groups like house churches or believers groups that meet in restaurants or rented rooms. Community is not restricted to organized churches.
- Google a list of churches within the area you are willing to travel. You can use other sources as well.
- Avoid conservative churches and denominations that are obviously hostile to your beliefs. Unless you know something different about a local church, Southern Baptist churches and other fundamentalist denominations are not likely prospects.
- Select a starting list of churches that might meet most of your preferences. Then do as much research on each church as you can, or are willing to do, to decide if your list needs revision. The churches’ websites are a good place to start.
4. Begin visiting the churches on your list.
- You will likely learn a lot about other churches and denominations in the visiting process, and this is good education! You might also discover better insights into what you like and dislike in a church, so that you can improve your list in suggestion #1.
- Adjust your potential church list as you learn new information.
- Don’t be disappointed if it takes a little while to find the right fit because life will be much more fulfilling with a good fit than if you choose a poor fit too quickly. Of course you can continue attending a potential match while still trying other churches, but try not to be a constant church hopper; that will never result in a feeling of community.
5. Don’t be upset if eventually the church is no longer a satisfactory fit.
- Congregations often change a lot over time, and this can be a healthy thing. You are likely to change too. Change can create a situation where the church is no longer a satisfactory fit. I am leaving my current congregation because it has changed so drastically. I left my three denominations because I changed so drastically.
- If the church is no longer a good fit, and you don’t want to try to influence change in the church, you can begin a new search process. This is not a sign of failure; it is a sign of growth. You can always stay in touch with great friends you made in the former church, and it is good to have friends in different churches.
The Importance of a Like-Minded Community
I believe being part of a like-minded church community is very import for our spiritual health and growth, so it is worth the time to search for one systematically. In the meantime, you can try to find like-minded blogs and other sites that can serve as an online community for you while you are looking, and which can continue to provide support even after you have found a good church fit.
If you have suggestions for finding a like-minded community of believers, please share them with us in comments below so we can all benefit from your insights.
Have a happy church search!
Image credit for church interior: By Adrian Pingstone at en.wikipedia (Own work Transferred from en.wikipedia)
[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
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