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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