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How to Find a Church

So 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.

Of 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.

Step 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.

For an overview of the three major branches of Christianity: Protestant, Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox.

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.

Asking Around

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 community.

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.

Church Shopping

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.

Bottom line ...

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.

Charles Henderson

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The Rev. Charles P. Henderson is a Presbyterian minister and author of Faith, Science and the Future, published in 1994 by CrossCurrents Press. He is also the author of God and Science (John Knox / Westminster, 1986) which he is now rewriting to incorporate more recent developments in the conversation taking place between scientists and theologians. He has also written widely for such publications as The New York Times, The Nation, Commonweal, The Christian Century and others.

For further information about Charles Henderson.