I've recently received several emails indicating the hunger of readers for more in their religious experiences, though they prefer to raise their concerns anonymously. I'll offer some suggestions to these readers' questions here. In the future, I'll consider their concerns in the context of a wider national discussion.
Stopped going to church years ago: "I'm not one to publicly comment on blogs but I want you to know that I frequently read yours and you are right on the money in your observations. I am a lifelong Christian but stopped going to church years ago because the church as an organization frustrated and disappointed me. I am one of a very large number of Americans who have left the church but not God. Others I know who made the same decision keep each other built up in the faith through informal gatherings where we share what God has been doing in our lives and saying to us. We are active in online conversations as well. I believe that the church as a body of believers is good but the organizations many choose to wrap themselves in are not what God intended and therefore they fail."
Keep searching and you'll find what you need. The search is a meaningful part of your journey. There are great church options in Anchorage to meet your needs but it will take dedicated effort to find them.
I like well-known author Christian Piatt's four reasons for coming back to church after 10 years:
• I found a community that defied Christian stereotypes
• I found my voice (singing)
• I found deeper meaning
• I found a sense of belonging.
"Pagan Christianity" by George Barna and Frank Viola will offer great wisdom in your search.
Looking for a church in Anchorage: "I recently moved to Anchorage from Texas. You don't have to tell me, 'You're not in the Bible Belt anymore' because I have already that found out. This past Sunday, I tried three contemporary churches but none of them were exactly what I wanted.
"I love contemporary worship and have been led in worship by Chris Tomlin, Matt Redman, Kristian Stanfill and Hillsong, to name a few. I like powerful worship even if there is just an acoustic guitar, but I don't like a show. I like the overall atmosphere to remain worshipful and not just loud music. One of the churches was a little too "showy" for me.
"I need biblical teaching. I don't like watered-down, youth group-type lessons. My favorite pastors in Texas brought the word of God every week in a powerful way that made me want to change the way I lived. Another visited church's message was too juvenile for me.
"I need a community with people my own age. I was involved in a small group back home with other 20-somethings, and we met every week for Bible study."
Texas offers many more meaningful flavors in religious practice than Alaska. Sadly, many Anchorage churches concentrate on show but less on content. Solid research reveals the No. 1 reason people visit new churches is to find out what they believe. Unfortunately guests are often only exposed to other authors' books and thoughts but not the Bible.
These guests hunger for solid spiritual thinking but leave unsatisfied, never to return, because they were not fed. In the future, I'll be sharing specific strategies how to locate meaningful faith communities. There are answers, and you will find them here.
Chris Thompson is a religion scholar who visits local churches and writes about his experiences and matters of faith on his blog, Church Visits, at adn.com/churchvisits.