Choosing a community within Jesus' worldwide Church
April 15, 2006 12:42 PM   Subscribe

How do people decide which community of Jesus' church to go to?

Clearly, following Jesus is the main criteria but how do you determine if enough people in a church are doing this, and what is enough.

Is it just OK that the leadership seem to be following Jesus agenda or is there another criterian.

This is a tough one - We are really struggling!

Thanks for any thoughts / experiences
posted by pettins to Religion & Philosophy (21 answers total)
I'm a little confused about the question- are you trying to determine the criteria for finding a church for yourself? Or are you wondering what sort of things influence people to attend the churches they do?
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 1:02 PM on April 15, 2006 [1 favorite]

are you asking how other people choose a church, or for advice on how you should choose one?

i suspect most people don't choose their church at all - they go to the one they went to as a child, or the nearest to their house of the same denomination, or the church where their friends go. and to me - an atheist - this seems quite reasonable, because a church is a social structure, a community, and for that community to work, people have to share similar ideals, have comparable views, etc; and a good way to guarantee that is to behave as i described above.

but i think maybe you are asking how to choose a church that will best help jesus. there, i have no real idea, but perhaps it depends on whether you think jesus will help you, or whether he expects you to do your work alone. if the former, chose a church where miracles have occured, since that shows that he is already involved there; if the latter perhaps a rich church, since they have more resources?
posted by andrew cooke at 1:04 PM on April 15, 2006

Yes, good point - Just to clarify, we are appraising whether to stay at our current church or move to another one and struggling to work out the key criteria for the decision.
posted by pettins at 1:15 PM on April 15, 2006

That would involve you and your other half sitting down with your Bible, I think, and maybe the works of theologians that really represent your beliefs. You may find that you two need to come to a decision about what really represents following Christ to you. This means radically different things to different people. This process takes a long time, especially the part about working out your most essential beliefs.

Next, you two need to talk to lots of churchgoers and find out which church culture, which preacher, which church community most clearly expresses your essentials. Is the content of preaching, the church culture, or the activity of the church community the most important way of expressing these essentials? You need to work that out as well. This process also can take months.

Then once you are in your chosen church, it may be some time before you are sure that it is the church for you - maybe years. And it may be that the church that best reflects your needs may change over the years. This is okay.

Good luck and God bless you!
posted by By The Grace of God at 1:21 PM on April 15, 2006

To clarify the first part - I think you might best come up with a series of Bible verses, stories or lives that represent the key criteria for you, and then to work out what they are commonly expressed as in the church culture of 2006. That's one of the big things the Bible is for - to help you think through your own Christian life.
posted by By The Grace of God at 1:23 PM on April 15, 2006

we are appraising whether to stay at our current church or move to another one and struggling to work out the key criteria for the decision.

In addition to the other suggestions, I would advise you to simply attend several services at the church or churches you are thinking of switching to. Spend some time getting to know the pastor, paying close attention to the messages that are preached, seeing what kind of ministries they have, involvement in the surrounding community, etc. Don't just go by word of mouth or recommendations from other churchgoers -- see for yourself, and don't consider it time wasted.
posted by Gator at 1:36 PM on April 15, 2006

Are you asking 'how do I choose a church' or 'how do other people choose a church'?

What is important to you? It sounds as though you're looking for a church that "follows Jesus' agenda" (never mind that it's Paul's agenda). You need to define what that means to you. Then, look at what the congregation is actually doing. Where are their mission and outreach efforts going? Are you comfortable with it? If you're not comfortable with it, find another church, unless you are really and truly willing to put forth the effort to change them.

I don't think it really matters what the denominational leadership (global/national/state/regional/diocese) is saying. What matters is what that specific church congregation is doing.

"The greatest cause of Atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, and walk out the door and deny him with their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable. " Brendan Manning
posted by jlkr at 1:42 PM on April 15, 2006

I think feeling like you're a part of the community is important. Feeling like you "fit in", like you can get to know people and feel like who are you matters. When I moved to NYC, I visited a lot of bigger churches in Manhattan that attracted a lot of young people, but I didn't feel comfortable at them- Donald Miller said in his book "Blue Like Jazz" that he felt that going to big young churches was like "going to church at the GAP", which is exactly how I felt. And it discouraged me, and I stopped going for, gosh, over a year. Last Easter, I was on my way to a church far away in the neighborhood when I stumbled upon one really close to my house. I was the only young person there, and so I immediately felt like I had a job- talk to every other young person who walked in the doors to make them feel welcome. Now there's a nice group of us and I really feel at home.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 1:45 PM on April 15, 2006 [1 favorite]

For us the criteria was first, does this church believe in the Bible as the word of God, and then, do we "feel led" to join this particular congregation...

It helps if you "know who you are" (in our case, nondenominational charismatic types) because that helps you narrow the selection down at least a little.

If you like, email me (email in profile) as there is much I could say on this but have to run go get ready for a music practice.
posted by konolia at 1:59 PM on April 15, 2006

There are often very important and distinct differences among Christian churches. While I'm sure a lot of churches operate on charismatic leadership alone, it seems at least worthwhile to find the theological differences before changing to a different demonination.

The differences can seem absurd or pointless, especially between related churches (Anglican and Catholicism) but diverge greatly and really push the boundries and really be Christian in name only (Christian Science, Mormonism). That's not to be disrespectful to those churches, but gnostic knowledge has always been regarded as heretic at worse and non-mainstream at best. It'd be awkward to join a church and then find out that they believe reality is merely an illusion?
posted by geoff. at 2:12 PM on April 15, 2006

I'm not even a believer, but I'd actually judge a church by its works as much as by its outward protestations of faith.

I could name a church not far from me which has just built a new $2,000,000 rock-stadium-like church, which has its own record label which makes millions in CD sales but declines to make its accounts public. They run a charity, but it's recently been revealed that rather than spend their profits on it, they've taken taxpayers' money in government grants instead, and spent it very unwisely.

On a scale of one to 100, where one is "morally neutral, at least doing no harm" and 100 is Jesus, I rate that church less than zero. They are actually making the world a worse place, bringing Christianity into disrepute and making themselves rich at the same time. They are, it seems to me, exactly the kind of people Jesus tried to kick out of the temple back in the day.

If I was looking at churches, I'd look for one where the number was a lot further into positive figures.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 4:18 PM on April 15, 2006

After doing your homework as has been suggested here, why not ask God where he'd like you?
posted by weston at 5:13 PM on April 15, 2006

I read pretty much everything in the Wikipedia Religion Portals.

After a pretty thorough search, I found The Religious Society of Friends (a/k/a the Quakers). Their liberalism and historical commitment to peace really resonated with me.
posted by chota at 5:15 PM on April 15, 2006

"Yes, good point - Just to clarify, we are appraising whether to stay at our current church or move to another one and struggling to work out the key criteria for the decision."

I've never moved in particularly observant circles, but I've not known many people who appraise whether to stay at their current church for no particular reason.

What is it that has you questioning whether to stay with your current congregation, or is that something you'd rather not discuss here?
posted by Good Brain at 5:18 PM on April 15, 2006

As a Lutheran who moves around, I've noticed that even among Lutheran churches, I only feel comfortable in 1/3 of churches I've attended. In theory, all of them believe the same things that I do, but the external signs of their belief (the actual service, the attitude of the congregation and their pet causes, the sermon, etc.,) can be pretty far from what I require. Granted, I'm picky, but I do believe that you should be comfortable in a church, that you should be pleased to be counted with them.

I believe the difference between individual churches is as important as the difference between Christian denominations. My parents were die-hard Calvinists, but they moved to a town where there wasn't a Calvinist church for hours. Eventually, they joined a Lutheran church after talking to the pastor. The conversation went much like this:
My parents: Our beliefs are close to yours, but we have these reservations which we can't give up.

Pastor: Good. Hold on to those. We might be as close as you'll get to that, and you're welcome to become members, if you want to.
Despite those reservations, they have been members there for over 25 years now. Their church doesn't know that they're harboring Calvinists in their midst, and my parents really appreciate the church despite the small theological differences.

Talk to konolia, and you can email me if you want information on specific mainstream denominations.
posted by nicething at 7:05 PM on April 15, 2006

Real Live Preacher could be helpful.
posted by evariste at 7:07 PM on April 15, 2006

You might also find the Orthodox Presbyterians interesting.

Or even the Catholic Church.
posted by evariste at 7:10 PM on April 15, 2006

If I've understood you correctly, you're not just thinking about joining a church, you're thinking about leaving your existing church -- which makes it more difficult.

You need to strike a balance between two contradictory imperatives: on the one hand, the need to 'keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace' (which may mean staying where you are), and on the other hand, the need to grow in your Christian vocation (which may mean moving on).

In the end, it has to be your decision. But you might find it helpful to read Ephraim Radner's reflections on the theology of staying put. Radner is a conservative Episcopalian, who is deeply unhappy with the current direction of the Episcopal Church but nevertheless committed to working within it rather than leaving it. That may strike a chord with you, or it may not; I don't know. But Radner's list of imperatives -- which includes 'struggle for the truth', 'presume charitably', 'maintain communion' and 'be open to correction' -- is worth bearing in mind, whatever your particular situation.

Anyway, I wish you all the best -- and Happy Easter.
posted by verstegan at 3:44 AM on April 16, 2006

Go to a bunch of different ones within your same denomination or just go to others here and there as you feel led to (a list of demoninations' creeds/doctrines should be easy to hunt up with a few google searches), and you'll probably "just know" when you've found it :-)

I am a member at one of them, but actully go to a handful depending on the week ;D
posted by vanoakenfold at 6:53 AM on April 16, 2006

If you want to understand the differences in various Christian (and other, for that matter) churches, get a copy of Handbook of Denominations in the United States which offers a useful, objective snyopsis on just about everybody. The link is to, but you can pick up an older but still useful edition through for under $5. Once you narrow it down to a few you'd like to check out in your area, contact the minister/priest and make an appointment - ask to see their Articles of Faith, which should lay out what they officially state are the premises of their belief. This should help you be more informed. If you've got kids, look for an active youth program, obviously.
posted by Pressed Rat at 7:40 AM on April 17, 2006

You may find Wikipedia's entry on Christianity to be useful, especially in the section about differences in beliefs. They also have a separate list of Christian denominations.

You may also find The Spiritual Seekers Guide: The Complete Source for Religions and Spiritual Groups of the World, by Stephen Sadleir, to be of use, although it also indexes non-Christian religions. Still, it's a good way to get a brief summary on a large number of different Christian denominations.
posted by WCityMike at 2:04 PM on April 17, 2006

« Older Movie certificates in the 50's/60's   |   Organizing my music. All automatically. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.