Choosing a Church

General Information

Well, this is an impossible task! (That's our disclaimer!) The incredible multitude of Christian Churches is amazing. In the United States, there are about 330,000 Churches.

A very few, specifically Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches, are like McDonald's hamburgers; you will find the exact same environment in ANY of their Churches, with the exact same procedures, lessons and beliefs. To a substantial degree, that uniformity is true of a few Protestant Denominations, specifically Lutheran, Episcopalian, and Methodist. Beyond those, even many Denominations include a lot of diversity within their OWN various Churches. When you start to consider the hundreds of "independent" Churches, some of which are considered "cults" by main-line Christianity, the choice becomes extremely complicated. Then, there are others yet, which describe themselves as "non-Denominational" (including ours!). Generally, non-Denominational Churches try to focus on the basics of Christian belief, and they tend to have less of the "dogma" that seems to burden down some Churches. Dogma is good in one way, of defining and publicizing and Teaching very general behaviors and reactions and thoughts which are considered Christian, so there is often a clear dividing line between "good and bad", or at least, "acceptable and unacceptable." When there is less dogma, there is often less "invasiveness" into the lives of the Congregation members, but there is sometimes a less clear and obvious distinction regarding what is considered right and wrong. That's why there are and will probably forever be both Denominational and non-Denominational Churches.

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Many people really want a very structured environment, and Churches that have extensive dogma are great for them. Other people find that sort of structure to seem repetitive and uninteresting and unmotivating, and such people tend to like Churches that focus in central Christian Teachings and which have little dogma. Sadly, some people wind up in the wrong of these two categories, and separate from whatever that Church Teaches, they tend to get very little out of it toward advancing their Christianity. That is another aspect of that difference itself. Extremely dogma-centered Churches tend to have Services that are essentially always exactly the same, where their concept is not so much "advancing" the Faith of the Members but constantly reinforcing it. The less dogmatic Churches tend to be what might be termed more "vibrant", or at least lively! Their Services tend to each be somewhat unique, where Ministers compose Sermons each week (in contrast to using "week 37" in their Church's pre-established Catechism).

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The following charts attempt to group related "families" of Churches. The first Chart tries to give a general idea of common features of various Denominations, while the second Chart tries to suggest relationships among different Denominations. This might help you narrow down the ones you want to consider. For example, a whole section of the second Chart are in a branch in the chart called "Arminian". If you go to the Arminian presentation in BELIEVE, and find that is not for you, then you will have eliminated a whole bunch of possibilities. If, instead, you DO have interest in Arminian theology, you have again narrowed it down.

We hope to add "descriptions and commentary" to many of the entries in these charts. However, given the approach of BELIEVE, of NOT introducing bias, we are having trouble seeing how we will do this. For example, a commentary on one of the Churches below includes "very legalistic. SEPARATISTS!" in the text. We don't know whether those statements might be true or not about that Church, but they just sound rather biased to us!


Major Christian Denominations

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Denomi-
nation
Origins Organiz-
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Authority Special RitesPractice EthicsDoctrineOther


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These two charts are VERY general and minimal. There are literally tens of thousands of additional lines that could be included, for various unique Churches, like say, the Amana Colonies. MANY of those Churches seem to be hybrids where some local group has seen some value in each of two or more existing Denominations. So, there might be an "Evangelical Lutheran Episcopal Congregational Methodist Pentecostal Church", and it would be tough to even GUESS what they believed! You'd have to contact such a Church and request a Statement of Faith from them.

Our hope with these charts is that, if you are looking for a new or different Church to attend, that you might be able to narrow it down to three or four. Then, ACTUALLY ATTEND a Service (as a visitor) at each one before making a final decision. Even if the first one seems great, check the others out before making a final commitment. The Lord has been around 2,000 years waiting for you; He will certainly be Patient for another four weeks for you to determine where your Spiritual growth might best occur!

Many of the lines in the chart below include two numbers in parentheses. The first is the year that the Church began. The second is the publicized number of regular members (generally in the USA).

Christianity



This subject presentation was first placed on the Internet in December 1997.

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