Chris Thompson: Finding the right church can be hard but extremely rewarding

churchvisits@gmail.comFebruary 21, 2014 

Many have written or talked with me about their difficulties with finding the right church community. Uniformly, they express frustration in finding a group with which they can worship, learn from and fellowship. Several approaches can be used to locate your ideal church.

1. Understand your religious biases. An important first step is to understand what you're seeking in a religion. If you come from a conservative Protestant background, you'll probably not be satisfied with a charismatic Catholic congregation. The belief structures of both are diametrically opposed. So, what are you looking for? If you don't know, there are several excellent and remarkably accurate tools on the Internet to discover what you're seeking in a religion. I suggest trying either Christian Denomination Selector or Beliefnet's Belief-O-Matic. You will be asked questions about what you hold as a belief, and various religions meeting those selections will be suggested for you.

2. Religious literacy counts. There are many voices shaping the face of Christianity today. Huge shifts away from religion by millennials and others are happening. LGBT wars, Christian sway over education and support of militarization by many religions typify this time. Sooner or later seekers will need to confront these and other issues. Ultimately, these concerns may influence your selection of a faith community.

This week an insightful article on religious literacy was posted on Huffington Post by Andrew Schwartz.

Titled "5 Reasons to be Religiously Literate," Schwartz acknowledging the decline of religion in America, says "...this trend shouldn't be enough to let us assume that we can simply watch religion fade into the twilight." He suggests five reasons to consider as you wrestle with these issues.

3. "Problems caused by religion won't go away if we stop looking." Just ignoring religion is not going to make it disappear. Schwartz posits, "The religious and religion will continue to be actors on the world stage no matter how much we ignore them or operate as though they are things of the past."

4. "It's important to distinguish between Martin Luther King Jr. and Mark Driscoll." Both MLK and Driscoll were or are Christians, but Schwartz concludes "MLK used his faith in Jesus to fight for equality and pushed history forward, Driscoll uses Jesus to spread hatred and stifle equality. Religion can prove to be heroic or tragic, and it's necessary to make the distinction so that we don't lose the good while combating the bad." We need to be familiar with ways how to detect the good and bad in religious figures, and there are many of them.

5. There's a lot of good in religion. According to Schwartz, "...religion can offer individuals and communities wisdom that transcends time and context. There is a reason holy books have lasted thousands of years and provided insight to generation after generation." In last week's article, I noted a few of the many benefits of religious observance including lower blood pressure, stronger immune systems and longer, happier lives.

6. A religious argument is rarely won by using non-religious arguments. People who are religious or nonreligious really speak a different language. Schwartz reminds us, "Religion possesses its own jargon, theology and rationality that typically must be spoken to on those terms. If you want to have a productive conversation with someone who is religious and really engage the issues, then you have to know where they are coming from."

7. Religion isn't going away. Summarizing, Schwartz reminds us, "Although there has been a prodigious rise of "nones" and the religiously unaffiliated in the last 15 years, nearly five-sixth of the planet maintains some sort of religious affiliation. ... There still remains a deep yearning within people for answers that only religion and spirituality seem able to provide." Religion is here to stay.

Next week I'll tackle the importance of getting out in "churchland" to discover for yourself the various flavors of worship and evaluate them with respect to your personal biases and religious literacy.

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. Email churchvisits@gmail.com.

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