Many people sense that there is something greater at work in the universe; that humans on Earth are not the sum game of life. Religion often provides helpful answers and guidance to these larger than life questions.
Several American black women, myself included, identify with some form of Christianity and find engagement with other Christians useful. I also think God wants us to be connected to fellow believers, especially when it comes to things like service and charity; churches can have far better economies of scale than individuals. However, many of us have had bad experiences in church. So how does one navigate finding spiritually like-minded people to connect with?
- Who are you?
As with any major life decision, you should filter prospects through your values. With respect to church, I strongly believe God values diversity and your unique set of experiences and personality have caused you to hold certain truths dear. For example, as I’ve shared before, my core values are spirituality, wisdom and integrity. Yours may be charity, gratitude and optimism. We all have a different priority of values but that’s okay; we are intentionally created not to be cookie cutter images of one another. More on values in a second.
- What are your priorities?
Do you have a significant other and want organized support for couples? Is ensuring your children have access to spiritually driven activities or schooling important? Do you need an environment that can support an interfaith marriage? Lifestyle fit is another important consideration when finding a faith community.
- Do potential churches align with your values and priorities?
I live in the Midwest and many people attend church. It isn’t uncommon for people to invite you to visit their church for worship service or activities (i.e. concerts, plays, etc). I also regularly receive religious stuff in the mail (ah, the joys of bulk zip code mailing). When I consider visiting a church, the first thing I do is go to their website and look for a section titled “essential beliefs.” If certain things are included, it’s a no-go for me. One example is eternal conscious torment. That is not a theological position I cannot intellectually support so churches that advocate it do not align with my value of wisdom. For me, it often just doesn’t seem like a well thought out position based on an understanding of a plethora of things Christians should be knowledgeable of.
Spirituality is also very important to me, which I loosely define as being entwined in the essence pf God and connected to His presence. When I attend a church, it is important for me to feel like Jesus is there. The popular book You Lost Me is a great read on why many millennials like me don’t sense God in the very churches built supposedly for Him! I feel the presence of God through authenticity (vs self serving pretentiousness), humility, reverence and finally, support for building a relationship with Him outside of a roof, four walls and a steeple.
If one of your core values is charity, look for a church that prioritizes service. There should be functioning ministries that actively serve people outside of the church. Look for an alignment between what’s preached from the pulpit and actually in motion; is the community around the church better?
Finally, pray and ask God to confirm the direction you are leaning in once you feel you’ve found a new group of parishioners, just in case there’s something you’re missing or something better elsewhere. You have access to the most sentient, omniscient being in the Universe, use it! We are equipped with intuition for a reason; don’t ignore a nagging feeling if you’re not quite comfortable with a community you are considering.
These are the things that have been very helpful for me. While I’ve focused on Christianity, I think these concepts are applicable to any religious community. Some of the worst examples of religious abuse that I’ve seen firsthand have been in the New Age/esoteric realm. So simply avoiding Christianity while still failing to exercise discernment and critical thinking will lead to equally disastrous results.
Here are some other resources for finding a church:
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