6 Steps to Finding a Good Church Fit for You

Have you recently moved and are looking for a church? Have you become dissatisfied with a church that teaches misguided beliefs like angry god, punishment in hell, and legalism? Or perhaps it is just time for another church that better fits your changing needs. I cannot tell you for sure how to find the right church for you, but I may be able to share some useful pointers.

Because of the nature of my blog, which discusses harmful religious baggage, I frequently get questions about how to find an appropriate church. Often the question is something like ‘What denominations embrace views similar to Jesus without Baggage?’ But I think what readers really want to know is ‘Where can I find a community of like-minded believers?’


A Recent Question on Finding a Church Fit

Just yesterday, I received another such request; it was titled, ‘Church options for a recovering fundamentalist’:

Hi Tim, I just discovered your blog and couldn’t be more grateful for all of your efforts. I was raised in a very legalistic – cult like – environment. Now that I question virtually everything I’ve been taught, I can hardly sit through any church service. What churches have you found that teach from a foundation of love rather than fear of hell?

I replied in part that there are a number of denominations that typically teach from love rather than angry God, hell, and legalism, with some examples being: American Baptist Church, Disciples of Christ Church, Episcopal Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Presbyterian Church, USA, United Church of Christ, and United Methodist Church. But I also pointed out that congregations differ within any denomination, so there are some that might still teach harmful beliefs.

The only way I know to test a good fit is to visit individual congregations.

However, one thing I seem to have noticed is that any congregation that is gay-affirming is more likely to also be love-oriented on other issues rather than baggage-oriented, and it so happens that there is a site that identifies such churches by state and city. So one might be able to shorten their search by checking out gay-affirming churches near them in the United States or Canada at https://www.gaychurch.org/find_a_church/list-churches-by-state/?loc=IN

There are also other steps that can reduce the randomness of the search and increase success.

Six Suggestions on Searching for a Compatible Church

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, worship style, the level of personal involvement, services 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 as much.

2. Consider searching for a congregation—not necessarily a denomination

3. Check for gay-affirming churches near you as mentioned above

4. Develop a list of potential churches

  • Ask like-minded friends in your area about their churches.
  • Don’t overlook non-traditional small groups like house churches or believers groups that meet in restaurants or rented rooms.
  • Google a list of churches within the distance you are willing to travel, or use other sources.
  • Avoid conservative denominations that are obviously hostile to your beliefs unless you know something different about a local church.
  • Select a starting list of churches that might meet most of your preferences. Then do as much research on each church as you are willing to do to decide if your list needs revision. Church websites are a good place to start.

5. 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 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. You can continue attending a potential match while still trying other churches–but try not to be a constant church hopper, which never brings a feeling of community.

6. Don’t be upset if eventually the church is no longer a satisfactory fit

  • Congregations often change 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.
  • 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 searching, and which can continue to provide support even after you have found a good church fit.

If you have other 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!

This article is edited from one posted on January 4, 2016 and updated with additional information.


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17 Responses to 6 Steps to Finding a Good Church Fit for You

  1. Nickel Boy Graphics says:

    Appreciated this great post! I would like to add one thought to item #3 “Check for gay-affirming churches near you as mentioned above.” Even if you are not gay, it may be important to consider this because otherwise you may miss out on an opportunity to invite someone that you know who is gay to a church-sponsored event, program, or worship service. Thanks!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Johanna Meyer-Mitchell says:

    Amen and thank you! I am a United Methodist because of Open Minds and the Methodist Quadrilateral, meaning there is not a prescribed set of beliefs. I have found that the best way to find a compatible church while traveling is to look churches up at the Reconciling Ministries Network site, rmnetwork,org. I’m happy to find a place to look up gay-affirming churches in other denominations when I can’t find a Reconciling church where I’ll be on Sunday. And it’s not because I’m gay, but, as you pointed out, gay-affirming churches are more likely to have a theology that emphasizes love rather than a prescribed set of beliefs.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. John Draper says:

    Thanks for the post. I hate church shopping. If I go back to church — and that’s a big IF — it will probably be in the Episcopal Church. I don’t know. Reciting the Nicene Creed every Sunday doesn’t really feel right. Funny thing, though, about four years ago I went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land with my mom’s Episcopal church in Seattle, which, by the way, happens to be the fastest growing Episcopal church in America. Anyway, of the 20 of us, you could probably find only one or two that bought the entire creed hook, line and sinker. They were just good people.

    One more thing, I don’t think any Christian denomination really fits with what Jesus believed. Jesus was a Jew. He believed in obeying the Torah. No thanks.

    Liked by 2 people

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      John, I don’t really like church shopping either, but it is rewarding when I find the right church. You mention that there were only a few in your group that accepted the creed ‘hook, line, and sinker’; I think that is probably true of most of us; we say the creed with reservations. It is an expression from an ancient culture to address issues of that time.


      • Johanna Meyer-Mitchell says:

        My church does not recite any creed regularly. My adult Sunday School (really more a discussion group than a class) is studying creeds, and finding we disagree with much of what they say but can understand where they came from. I think we say one of the creeds about 1-2 times/year; I could not stay in a church that recited a creed weekly. As a teen, I left the church because I just could not say the Apostles Creed one more time. I’m saying this to let you know that there are churches that do not recite a creed every week.

        Liked by 1 person

        • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

          Johanna, I spent my earlier years in Baptist and Pentecostal churches. I did not attend a church that recited creeds until I was about 45. The creeds are still not that important to me.


  4. newtonfinn says:

    Such an informative post about a crucial subject. I was blessed to grow up in an American Baptist church where love, affirmation, and openness were the very air we breathed. Only when I later learned about the confining and warping experiences of other Christians raised in more fundamentalist, judgmental churches did I begin to understand the widespread venom toward religion and the rise of militant atheism. It’s high time that liberal Christianity reclaimed what, just 50 years ago, was its central position in American religious life. Mid-size cities like mine were literally held together and shaped into true communities by the vibrant mainline churches that often were clustered in the downtown area, and this includes the more liberal Catholic churches inspired by Pope John XXIII. When those mainline churches went into decline, there were no social institutions of equivalent strength and spiritual depth to take their place, and the social Darwinist society we now live in emerged in this vacuum. By the way, Tim, I just figured out why I have not been getting email notification of new posts and comments on this website. Hopefully, I’ll get it straightened out today and be back in the swing of things. I’ve really missed the inspiration and interaction offered by Jesus Without Baggage.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Hi Newton, it is so very good to hear from you again! I don’t know what has been blocking my notifications to you but I am glad you figured it out. I have really missed your voice in the conversations.

      I wish I had grown up in your American Baptist church; I started out as Baptist but not American Baptist–big difference! It seems that most religious groups have been in decline for some time; I think part of it is just the different cultures of the younger generations that experience spirituality differently and are not as comfortable with old traditions. Perhaps another is the growing and very public offensiveness of many of the more conservative churches. But God’s kingdom continues despite all things.

      If you are willing, once you fix the notification problem I would be interested in learning what the problem was so that I can be aware should someone else have the same issues with my blog–but only if you are willing. You can email me at tchastain@cfl.rr.com if you wish.

      Welcome back!


  5. Susan says:

    How many times does one need to return to a church to get a good feel as to whether or not it’s a fit? so often if you go back a second or third time, people assume you are staying. I left my smaller church a year ago due to a couple of people, inadvertently enabled by pastor, who had managed to alienate enough people that it was on a major decline. Was an older congregation anyway with few young families joining. (The pastor was actually a part time lay person, certified by our Presbytery and he didn’t have the skills necessary to deal with the conflict that was created by one of these people.) I had been heavily involved in this church in many aspects, including governing. I eventually got burned out. I found it difficult to church shop as I seemed to be in mourning for the wonderful church/congregation I initially joined. Just can’t seem to settle on a new church. Some of us who left are starting a weekly bible study so hopefully that will help some. Any suggestions?

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Susan, I am afraid this is a question I cannot answer. But I would assume that determining whether a church is a good fit would take several visits. However, I think this ‘slow’ work of investigation is well worth it to find the right church.

      Trying to find a church that is like the one you loved might be even more difficult as all churches are different. So you might choose a church that has other good qualities for you or just keep looking. I really like the idea of a Bible study group; it can make a big differences in meeting church and fellowship needs.

      Good luck! I hope you find what you need really soon.


  6. It was really great how you said that I can start by selecting a few churches that I feel might meet most of my preferences, then do as much research on each church in order to reach a decision. It might be a good idea to try doing that. I have a rather unconventional way of seeing things, but that does not mean I am nowhere near spiritual. I guess all I need is to find a church where I can openly be myself and not be judged. Thanks for sharing this article. It’s really encouraging.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Susan Frank says:

    How does one find a church without church hopping? I realize it may take more than one visit but do you alternate weeks; months… what is the best way to do this and give a church a fair chance?

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Good question, Susan. But I can’t give an answer; situations will be different and I think the individual doing the searching must determine how to arrange the search. Things will likely change as they go so that adjustments are made along the way.

      Sorry I could not be more specific. I hope you find a great church for you so that you can be there for awhile!


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