Finding a Church, Part 2: Denomination

11 08 2009

There are hundreds of beautiful, historic churches in downtown Atlanta.  Whenever we go driving around, I look out the window and say things like “That is such a pretty church! … Look at that pretty church! … What a pretty church! … There are so many pretty churches around here … ” ad nauseum.  I think Jordan is altogether tired of having to hear about Atlanta’s “pretty churches.”

These pretty churches all tend to have names like: Peachtree Presbyterian Church.  Peachtree Christian Church.  Peachtree United Methodist Church.  Peachtree Episcopalian Church.  Peachtree Baptist Church.   (Like I’ve said, there are at least 10 streets called Peachtree).

So far, however, we have not attended a “pretty church.”  And neither of the two churches we have visited have their denominational affiliation in their name.

You see, we’re not altogether sure what denomination will fit us best.  On the one hand, this uncertainty is a great thing, because it means we are not limited in our church search.  We think we could potentially fit in at any of the Peachtree church types.  On the other hand, this uncertainty adds another layer into our discernment process: our visits must evaluate both the denomination and the individual church.

Denominations certainly are convenient.  When you attend Peachtree Presbyterian Church, you know exactly what you’re getting yourself into.  And when we investigate churches, a denominational affiliation gives us a clue into the church’s psyche and what they believe.  This holds true even for unconventional denominations, like Vineyard Churches.  We can pore over the denominational website and make a lot of inferences about the local church in question.

However, we both agree that while we may feel comfortable attending, for example, an Episcopalian church, it would be a huge step to actually transfer our denominational membership.  I know that is several steps away, but it leads me to wonder… is that the goal?  Are we supposed to find a church where we feel comfortable worshipping and fellowshipping (I know, that’s not a word)  for now?  Or are we supposed to be looking for a church to join indefinitely?  (This is particularly problematic in the case of Baptist churches, whose autonomous church structure means that each church can make its own rules and define its own beliefs.  But while I may feel at home within a Baptist church, I would not feel comfortable being a member of, for instance, the Southern Baptist Conference)

And another thing: I know there’s a trend afoot to leave off the denomination from the church’s name.  This apparently is an effective tactic, as it has certainly influenced our decisions about where to attend church.  Somehow, the “non-denominational feel” seems more neutral, less threatening, less polarizing.

However.  If you are,  in fact, affiliated with a larger ecclesiastical organization, I feel like  it is deceitful to not be upfront about that affiliation.  It really does matter to people like us.  And if you are “ashamed” of your denomination or feel that listing that would somehow drive people away…perhaps you should listen to that instinct and figure out why.

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