5 Steps to Finding a Good Church Fit for You

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.

ME Church from 1910 postcard

Public domain via Wikimedia

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.

Church interior

 

 

 

 

 

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

*****

You can help me if you wish! Jesus without Baggage has grown steadily ever since it began three years ago. However, it could grow more quickly; I have a bit more than 1000 followers (I no longer count my hundreds of inactive Google+ followers). If you enjoy this blog and approve of its message, there are several things you can do.
1. If you do not follow Jesus without Baggage, consider following the blog either by email or by liking the Jesus without Baggage Facebook page. You can do either one, or both, in the column to the right, just below the archives box.
2. Share the posts you like with your friends by any method you wish. There are several sharing options below this message that make it easy to do; if you want more options, let me know and I will add them. You can also share directly from the Jesus without Baggage Facebook page.
3. Comment on the posts to respond to and add to the content, or to let us know how you feel about it. Comments make the posts more interesting for readers and also help me to know how I can better proceed in the future. I make many decisions based on comments.
If you can do any or all of these things it will make Jesus without Baggage stronger and more effective. Thank you so much for your support; you don’t know how much I appreciate it.

 

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23 Responses to 5 Steps to Finding a Good Church Fit for You

  1. tonycutty says:

    Tim, you said, “Doctrinal issues are not the only factors in finding a good church fit, and they vary tremendously within any denomination” – and this is pivotal. In my church (which is a Church of England congregation) we are ‘allowed’ to hold our personal ideas on God even if they are ‘different’ from those of others. By this I mean that nobody is rejected because they hold different views. This is important as there are usually as many different views as there are people in the congregation! and it means that there is scope for debate, something sadly missing in most churches where people are expected to ‘conform’. Good post bro 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Chas says:

      Tony, I agree with you about the Church of England. Because of its rigid form of worship and prayer, its clergy does not seem to have formed any separate views that they would try to impose on others. Having said that, I am aware of churches of that denomination, attended by friends, that hold services more like those of more free-thinking Protestant denominations, usually held separately from more traditional ones. In that way, they are serving a wider congregation.

      Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Tony, you are lucky to have a communion that can embrace such a variety of views as the Church of England. My Presbyterian Church (USA) is similar. And you are right that there are as many views as people. This shows that people are able to think for themselves which is a very healthy thing.

      Like

  2. Chas says:

    Tim, I largely agree with your assessment. In my own experience, it is the congregation and the worship that are most important, because I enjoy the latter greatly, if it is focused on God rather than the author of the song/hymn. The preaching is less important, because it provides food for thought, even if the content is not led by the Holy Spirit.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Chas, I agree that normally preaching of any kind does provide food for thought, but unfortunately some ministers I have known have a narrow range of interests and preach the same few things over and over. After a little while, there is no fresh food for thought to be had.

      On the other hand, most ministers are not so narrow in their preaching.

      Like

  3. C Faivre says:

    I would suggest that a person who is in search of a church ‘community’ attend more than one service at any one church. Like any other gathering of humans, church congregations differ from one service to the next and it takes time to get to know them. The person next to you does not represent the whole congregation…remember that!

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      C Faivre, I absolutely agree. I would recommend attending several services, Sunday school classes, or study groups in a church (or whatever you are interested in) before making a decision to choose that church.

      Thanks for the excellent suggestion!

      Like

  4. We’re happy in a small Episcopal Church that isn’t rigid in dogma or opposed to our political beliefs. It’s a comfortable fit for us.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Edie Taylor says:

    I was sent to fundamentalist churches as a youngster but left “church” completely around age 17. My experience had left me spiritually dry (warped?), with no interest in that direction, except for occasional vague wishes for “something” . I spent my time with agnostics, atheists,and lapsed Christians of various denominations. My first husband had only an academic interest in “religion” and I would have been reluctant to admit to him any such interest. After his death I married again, this time to a practising Episcopalian, very involved in church music.He liked me to go with him, and for a long time I found the liturgy mystifying. I used to say to him “they say the same thing every week, what’s the point of that?” But I was struck by the importance of “reason” as a basic tenet of the church, and the absence of of a required set of beliefs. I did ultimately join the church, even thought the language was hard for me I had been so indoctrinated as a child that I still felt obligated to take everything literally. Now I have come to see the value of the liturgy in uniting everyone despite their varying beliefs. Sometimes now I doo’t feel much, other precious times I am lifted up to feel God’s glory.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Hi Edie, I am so happy that you found a good church for you. I was also a fundamentalist, and I can say it was a judgmental, legalistic, and discouraging situation. I could never have grown spiritually in that environment.

      Even though the Episcopal Church might still be a bit strange for you, I am glad you have found a better fit!

      Like

  6. Chas says:

    Tim, this thought is for your person under the ‘Question on Finding a Church Fit’ section, as it fits my category to some extent. I have not told the pastor of the church to which I go anything about my beliefs, as they disagree with about 9 out of 10 of the stated beliefs of the church, and it would be likely that, if he knew this, he would not want me to go there anymore. However, if the subjects that interest me occur in conversations with other people, then I do not hesitate to say what I think on these subjects. There is, of course, a risk that they might report the conversation to the pastor and he might then take whatever action he feels fit, up to excluding me from the church. Because of the difference between the ‘official’ church beliefs and my own, I have not chosen to become a member of the church, more of a ‘permanent visitor’. Unlike your correspondent, however, I don’t think that anyone could consider me to be ‘lukewarm’!

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Thanks Chas, I hope the person finds your comment helpful. I am sure the people they refer to as thinking them luke-warm has little to do with her level of spiritual passion or involvement, but rather her acceptance of fundamentalist beliefs and practices which are considered in their eyes necessary for one to be a good Christian.

      Like

      • Chas says:

        Tim, Some of the members of the church that I attend would probably describe me more as ‘challenging’ than lukewarm. My challenge is to give God the honor He deserves, and even a fundamentalist finds it hard to respond adequately to that challenge.

        Liked by 1 person

        • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

          ‘Challenging’ is a good word, and a nicer one than luke-warm, for those who have begun thinking for themselves in churches that do not encourage questioning their traditional beliefs and practices.

          Like

  7. I have recently moved and had to find a new church. I found that what saved me some time was the use of the Churches Websites (though I appreciate these can be limiting). Most churches publish their vision and beliefs and you can determine whether you agree with those before you go. I was also able to listen to some podcasts of the sermons from different churches and get a feel for the leadership. You are right that even within a denomination there are some differences. Here in Australia the Anglican Church is generally the same however there are some doctrinal differences among the diocese here. Some do not support female priests while others do for example. I have no problem in being a misfit in church and trying to make change…with out the rebels we can’t move forward…Jesus is my number one rebel misfit!

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      I agree Karen. Church websites are extremely useful in getting an idea of what a church is about. If I revise the article in the future, I will include that point.

      I have no problem being a misfit in a church either, but sometimes it becomes so restrictive and conflicting that it is impossible to influence change. However, that is a decision each person must make.

      Thanks for following me on Twitter. As you know, I follow you as well.

      Like

  8. Lana says:

    To all, yes, views do seem to differ by church. I went to a southern baptist church that was nothing like any other southern baptist church I’ve been to (no legalism, rules, focus almost entirely on prayer, no alter call, etc). Ultimately, though, there were still certain things that held them back because they belonged to the southern baptist – say women’s roles. *sigh*

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Jane says:

    I reached a place where I felt that religion had become exactly what Jesus preached against, and that Salvation is something more then what is being preached; and that ‘leaning on your own understanding’ when it’s done while seeking to know God, is essential, and not something to be discouraged. How else can you ever gain conviction? By, demagoguery, alone?
    I think in terms of the Holy Spirit and the unclean spirit, and think that the pouring out of the Holy Spirit into the world is something that is not stressed enough, because the affects are profound and very real for anyone who seeks to know God.
    I do not agree entirely with original sin, and think it’s an interpretation that scapegoats women, and is not Biblical. (Just as presenting Mary Magdalene as a prostitute was not.) I vehemently disagree with the exclusion of women, as if women are meant only to be bit players on a stage built exclusively for men.(I’m tempted to say that if the Pope ever finally does something about that, I will convert. Because I love this Pope. But, I don’t think they’d have me, in my current state, any more than the Baptists would and I don’t see me changing enough to suit either of them.)
    Also, I feel that people have adopted superstition as doctrine, and Dante’s view of hell as if it is Biblical. I do not believe that the entire Bible is ‘the word of God’, and although it may have been inspired by the Holy Spirit, if a revelation was not made to me, I don’t feel ‘obligated’ to accept it as such (this makes me a Deist, but not entirely).
    I think that knowing what Jesus did not say is equally as important as knowing what He said. Because, the only ‘direct’ communication from God, in the Bible, is the words of Jesus, and to me that’s a very important distinction that is somewhat diminished when you put the rest of the Bible on equal footing with Him.
    I also don’t believe that the Bible was ever intended to be taken literally, in its entirety. (Some of it is obvious allegory, and there is serious truth to be found in allegory that can only be found by looking at it that way.)
    I feel that some people have begun to worship the Bible, in place of God, and it more than borders on idol worship, it steps over the line; and those same people seem to miss the whole point of Jesus’ mission, by focusing more on the Old Testament than on the New, and for all the wrong reasons. These are the same guys who cherry pick which verses to apply their strict dogma to, especially when it provides them with ‘male authority’. But they don’t seem able to recognize Truth, so what makes them think they should be authoritative?
    So, I went to beliefnet.com and took the Belief-O-Matic test. Now, I am an Evangelical Friend, and it is a perfect fit for me! We are not all in the same place, but it doesn’t matter, it’s just a supportive community that emphasizes the Holy Spirit and the Gospels, with some group Bible study, but without anyone tyrannically ‘telling’ you what you have to believe; and that satisfies my soul, in ways I haven’t felt in church in a long time. They accept me as I am. So, I recommend taking that Belief-O-Matic test on beliefnet.com. Maybe my result will change later on, as I’m reaching the conviction that we’re all just swimming around in the chaos which is sometimes caused by and sometimes helped by religion, as if that fact, in itself, is part of the lesson that we need to experience in order to grow and understand the human condition and our relationship with God.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Jane, from your description it seems you have been on quite a journey–and a successful one. You are inspiring, and I agree with you on so many things:

      *Much of today’s teaching in churches has become exactly what Jesus preached against
      *Thinking on your own should not be discouraged
      *The concept of original sin is misguided and harmful
      *Women should not be disparaged or considered inferior in any way
      *The Bible does not teach a burning hell of eternal suffering
      *The entire Bible is not inherently the word of God
      *The words and example of Jesus are our clearest insight into God

      Everyone is welcome here, but I think you are very compatible with the direction of the Jesus without Baggage community. If you would like more insight into Jesus without Baggage you might want to check out this page:

      https://jesuswithoutbaggage.wordpress.com/

      I hope you continue visiting and commenting here!

      Like

  10. Steve says:

    The church I have been attending has disbanded because of low attendance and a lack of funds. With every change of preachers people drifted away. Our life groups are still meeting and we are sharing notes about what we find at other churches. My plan for church shopping is to start with the ones closest to where I live, and work my way out. Walking distance sounds good.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      It is sad that the church disbanded, but I think continuing the small groups is a great idea!

      When looking for a new church one might as well look for specific things they like in a church, and nearness is a good one. Do you know what else you’re looking for in a church?

      Like

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