You're Looking For a Church? Finding a Church that
is right for you.
So you're looking for a church. Not just
any church. But a church where you will not only feel at home, but a community
where you will be spiritually, intellectually, and emotionally challenged so that
your faith will continue to deepen and grow. This article is for you.
If you are already committed to a particular denomination.
course, if you consider yourself "brand loyal," and will only consider
joining a church of a particular denomination ... Roman Catholic, Easter Orthodox,
Episcopal, Baptist, or whatever ... your search will be rather easy. Just open
up the yellow pages of your local telephone book, or do a google search on the
internet and find the nearest church of the right brand and start attending. If
there are more than one congregation of your preferred brand within an easy walk
or drive from your home, you'll want to try more than one before making a decision.
If you're open to considering a variety to churches.
This article is written for those who won't want to limit their search to churches
of a particular denomination. If want to find a church that will feel like home
-- and also offers an opportunity for spiritual, intellectual and emotional growth
-- you're search is going to be more complicated ... but hopefully, more rewarding.
Finding this sort of church is not so easy. Further, because congregations and
pastoral leaders differ so widely even within the same denomination, you'll need
to extend your search beyond the denominational brand name.
One: Taking a Spiritual Inventory
The first step in doing so would
be to take a spiritual inventory. Where are you at this point in your spiritual
life. (I would suggest taking the faith profile test that I've developed. This
will help give you a sense of where you stand by comparison to other Christians,
and also should be a helpful first step in helping you to find a church that is
right for you. To take the faith profile test, click here.)
Do you consider yourself a "born again" evangelical Christian, and do
you want a congregation and pastoral leader who will reinforce and strengthen
that faith? Are you attracted by a style of worship that involves greater expression
of enthusiasm, music that includes contemporary "praise songs," preaching
that is biblically based? Then I would suggest one of the newer "mega-churches"
that you will most likely find conveniently located near the exit to the local
thru-way or super-highway. Often these churches will not be related to a particular
denomination, or if they are, they will not emphasize this denominational affiliation
in their advertising.
Alternatively, do you prefer a more "liturgical
church," where the hymns sung by the congregation are often those familiar
from your childhood, where the prayers are often read from a prayer-book, where
the congregation and probably the minister are less emotionally expressive? Do
the words, dignity and solemnity appeal to you? Do you prefer sermons that are
thoughtful rather than loud? In this case you may want to consider a so-called
"mainline congregation" affiliated with one of the major denominations
such as Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Methodist, Lutheran or United Church of Christ.
Click here for the websites of all the major denominations in the US.
Most of these websites have search tools where you can find the congregation nearest
you. Denominational websites.
But your church should not end as a choice between
one denomination and another.
In addition, you may have a particular
interest in a congregation that considers itself part of the "religious right,"
and takes an active role in supporting traditional marriage, campaigns against
abortion rights, does not ordain women, etc. If so, you may want to consider a
congregation affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, the Missouri Synod
Lutheran Church, or the Presbyterian Church of America.
If, on the other
hand, you are interested in a congregation that is fully welcoming of gay people,
ordains women to the ministry and priesthood, tends to oppose the war in Iraq,
and sees fighting poverty and protecting the environment as the real "moral
issues" of our time, then you will want to consider a congregation affiliated
with the United Church of Christ, the Presbyterian Church (USA) or even a Unitarian
or Universalist congregation. Again, however, I would emphasize that denominational
labels can be misleading. There is no substitute for actually attending a particular
church on a particular Sunday morning.
Another practical suggestion is to "ask around." Churches tend to have
reputations just as people do. If you meet someone whom you like, ask if they
attend church and if so, whether they would recommend it to you. Sometimes your
children can be valuable sources of information. Do their friends attend Sunday
School or youth program at a particular church? If so, they may have a sense of
which churches have a strong youth program as well as a good reputation in your
Watch the local newspapers for advertisements or news stories
about music, social service programs, or other special events sponsored by local
churches. Attending one of these special events may be a way of getting a feel
for the character of a given congregation.
But, above all, don't be afraid to test out several different churches before
making a decision. First impressions are important. They can also be limiting.
So you will want to go back for a second visit. Don't be afraid to ask for an
appointment with the minister. There is nothing ministers enjoy more than talking
with potential members about their church. AND, if the minister can't communicate
vision and enthusiasm for the mission of his or her church with you in a one-on-one
conversation, that could be a warning sign.
Personally I would not commit
to membership until after attending a particular church regularly for several
months. Get to know the clergy, the lay leadership and the church program thoroughly.
Understand what a particular congregation expects in terms of a commitment of
time, talent and, yes, money toward its mission and ministry.
Is the congregation you are considering joining likely to
offer a combination of nurture and support, with challenge and opportunity to
learn, grow, be of service to the wider community so that you may become more
of the person you are capable of becoming? If so, then you may well have found
your new, church home.
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The Rev. Charles P. Henderson is a Presbyterian minister and
Executive Director of CrossCurrents.
He is the author of God and Science (John Knox Press, 1986).
A revised and expanded version of the book is appearing here. God and Science (Hypertext Edition,
He is also editor of a new book, featuring articles by world class scientists and theologians, and illustrating the leading views on the relationship between science and religion: Faith, Science and the Future (CrossCurrents Press, 2007).
Charles also tracks the boundry between the virtual and the real at his blog: Next World Design, focusing on the mediation of art, science and spirituality in the metaverse.