Help me find a church for me and my family.
January 16, 2008 6:18 AM   Subscribe

Churchfilter: How can i find out which church is for me and my family?

I was raised baptist but i havent really been involved in any church for at least the last 15 years. Recently my wife and i have talked about going to church but were having a problem finding which one we should go to. We are christian and want to stay that but there are so many denominations within the christian church (Baptsist, Methodist, Catholic, etc...). We also looked into the Unity Church but we dont know alot about it. Please help bring some clarity to our search.
posted by flipmiester99 to Religion & Philosophy (12 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I don't go to church, but my family mostly goes to the Unity Church. It's a lot more focused on spirituality and motivation than typical "religious" stuff - for example they always say they care about the "original blessing," not original sin. The times I've gone I've liked it. Everyone was always very welcoming and even though I'm so not into church, the sermons were pretty interesting. Though it really depends on the specific church. My mom loved the one we went to in CA, but in AZ, not so much. It's probably worth checking out one Sunday.
posted by brittanyq at 6:25 AM on January 16, 2008

As someone who has visited a lot of churches, I say: visit a lot of churches! You'll be surprised to see how much variation there can be within a single denomination. Church is not just a repository of beliefs (of course, it's that, too) -- it's also a community of people. You'll want to see the community in action before you make a decision.

It may be helpful for you to do an inventory of your personal beliefs, so you can find a denomination that's a religious match. has a magazine-style quiz called the Belief-O-Matic which asks you questions and comes up with a list of possible religious matches. It's a bit goofy, but it might be a starting place for more in-depth research.

It might also be useful for you to think about what you want from a church community. Do you want a church that's kid-friendly? One that has lots of social support for adults? Are you looking for lots of emphasis on scripture, or do you want more of a focus on spirituality? Do you want a church that's doing social justice work? Do you prefer a large group or a small, intimate one? Thinking this through ahead of time can help you recognize the right place when you see it.
posted by ourobouros at 6:35 AM on January 16, 2008

Picking a church based only on denomination is really hard. While denomination tells you something about overarching beliefs, within any denomination there is a huge variety in less essential beliefs and worship styles. In addition, depending on your family, you may be concerned about variety of opportunities available for kids, types of fellowship groups, community service activities, etc.

The best thing to do is visit individual congregations in your area. You can check out their websites (congregations, not denominations) to find out the answers to some issues. But after narrowing it down to a few, you should just go on a Sunday. If you think you like what you see, leave your name and address in whatever visitor list they have--somebody will contact you and you can ask more questions.
posted by hydropsyche at 6:39 AM on January 16, 2008

I second everything ourobouros said. When you join a church, you are joining a community of believers and how you fit into that group is very important. Visit a lot of churches and don't get discouraged if it takes time to find one that fits. It took me 8 months to find a church I enjoyed and during those 8 months, I visited roughly 20 different churches of various denominations. For a little while I gave up and just attended one church that was close but wasn't exactly what I was looking for. I got lucky and I've since ended up at a church on a totally different side of town that is quite a bit away from where I live but it's the perfect place for me. Good luck!
posted by Stynxno at 7:08 AM on January 16, 2008

I agree with everyone in saying that congregations and even the beliefs of congregations can be unique within a denomination. Don't just go to Wikipedia off the bat and type in a denomination name - you'll get a bunch of history and a precise yet confusing nitpicked list of beliefs that most of the time, you'll never actually hear mentioned in a church service.

I second the ideas of visiting church websites and then visiting churches themselves. One thing that you'll see referenced a lot on church websites is whether it's contemporary or traditional. You'll find both types within each denomination. This is probably self explanatory, but it is nice to know what's attached specifically to these terms. Contemporary generally involves modern music, informal services and a lot of praise, hand lifting, hugs and amens. Traditional is more structured and will feature hymns and likely a sermon with a more conservative message. There are some churches that have mixed worship, which involves elements of both. Some churches offer two services, one of each type.

You just can't really get an idea of what a church is like until you visit it, though. I've been visiting quite a few and they never are what I expect. My favorite church I attended had people who were eager to get to know you but did not pressure you into anything. They simply wanted to know you and if you wanted, would help you become part of their community.
posted by bristolcat at 7:10 AM on January 16, 2008

I second Belief-O-Matic. Once you identify a few denominations you might be interested in, register for the Beliefnet forums and post on the forums for those denominations to get a better feel for how they align with your beliefs.

You didn't say what your wife's religious background is. I think I can roughly map out the spectrum to an extent, with churches I am familiar with. I think the best way to describe the spectrum is to say it rates from traditional to contemporary:

Orthodox Churches
Roman Catholicism
Lutheran Church
Anglican/Episcopal Church
Methodist Church
Presbyterian Church (PCUSA)
United Church of Christ/Disciples of Christ
Presbyterian Church (PCA, Cumberland)
Southern Baptist Church
Bible/Non-denominational Churches

The churches at the top would have a more sacred, or holy, feel to their worship services- very formal services, very "top-down" hiearchy where denomination and clergy is very powerful. Access to God is, to a large extent, through the clergy.

At the bottom I would say they tend to be less formal, more approachable, where the relationship with God is more personal and intimate. These churches are more "congregational" in nature where there is a more bottom-up approach to the hierarchy (local control of the congregations over a strong denomination).

Having said that, I would say that my scale is merely my impression. People from the different denominations may take exception to where they are on the scale and my descriptions of the scale. Also, I would say that at either end of my scale is more conservative where people think in terms of absolutes; the middle is more liberal with world understood to have shades of gray.
posted by Doohickie at 7:20 AM on January 16, 2008

Aside from discerning the theology the church follows, and seeing that your family would be a good fit for the community relationally, I'd like to suggest this too: pray about it.
posted by drea at 8:11 AM on January 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

You might try the Disciples of Christ. Many families who come from different Christian denominations join this one because it is open to many beliefs, because the only church doctrine is that you accept Jesus as your savior. Communion is offered every Sunday, and you can take it or not as you wish (it is open communion). Baptism is usually done by immersion, but I've seen sprinkling as well. This denomination focuses on the things all Christian churches have in common, instead of preaching that they are "right" and others are "wrong".

You can find a congregation here.
posted by Houstonian at 8:21 AM on January 16, 2008

Traditionally, it's more difficult to move between the Catholic church and Protestant denominations because there are some more obvious differences. Doesn't mean you should rule it out, though. I grew up Methodist. Saints? Transubstantiation? Incense? Celibate priests and nuns? Crucifixes? Totally neat, but weird. (But I loved going to Mass with my aunt -- I felt like I was visiting a different country.)

The differences between say Lutherans and Methodists and Presbyterians, etc. certainly exist, and you should understand them, but it's more a question of interpretation of doctrine. Churches vary wildly in their emphasis.

So, nthing visit a lot of churches. You might like the doctrine of, say, the Methodists, but not like that the church in your area has a particularly evangelical focus. Or you might find the doctrine of Lutherans a bit off from how you were raised, but love the services and the pastor and ultimately decide to join that church. Shop around.

Full disclosure: This advice has been brought to you by an agnostic.
posted by desuetude at 9:29 AM on January 16, 2008

I'll agree with the agnostic though...

I grew up Catholic, married a Presbyterian and joined the PCUSA eventually. I've gone to Methodist churches on occasion and my impression is that they have come to a point very near to the Presbyterian church by a different route. Lutherans are very close too, but are more reminiscent of the Catholic church I grew up in.... only not as Catholic as the Catholics.

I've noticed that my own PCUSA congegation has a high number of members that came from a Christian background other than Presbyterianism. One of the beliefs of the church is "God Alone is Lord of the Conscience" which means an organization such as the Church cannot, ultimately, tell you what you have to believe. That's between you and God. Some of my personal beliefs do counter the Presbyterian party line, but as long as I don't state them as absolute truths or the only right way, but merely my understanding of the issue, people are pretty tolerant (even to the point of letting me teach Sunday School and electing me as an Elder in the church).
posted by Doohickie at 9:56 AM on January 16, 2008

ourobouros nailed it. Visit, visit, visit. Chat up some congregants. Ask questions of the minister and Sunday School teachers. Etc. The term is "church shopping" and churches are used to it. No problem. September and January are the peak periods, when families have just moved to a new area and are scoping out the options.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 10:20 AM on January 16, 2008

Check out the "Handbook of denominations in the United States" by Frank Spencer Mead to get a feel for differences in beliefs, available inexpensively through, etc. When you visit a church, ask to see their articles of faith for more info.
posted by Pressed Rat at 2:13 PM on January 16, 2008

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