January 15, 2021

Water, water everywhere…

'Self Portrait at Dawn' photo (c) 2010, Jörg Reuter - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/By Chaplain Mike

So, while I’ve been thinking about churches, I thought I would try to get a handle on what congregations meet and minister in my community.

First, let me tell you about where I live. It’s a small town in central Indiana, a nice old-fashioned, Midwestern community. The town was founded in 1823. It is the county seat, and we have a historic courthouse that dominates the center of town. The county fairgrounds are here as well, and we hold an annual 4-H fair. Thus, we maintain the rural flavor of the Midwest along with what happens in town.

We have a downtown area, though we are struggling to keep it vital for retail businesses. It consists mainly of offices to serve the courthouse, banks, restaurants and bars, antique shops, and some other retail and service businesses. We have a historic theatre that has been preserved and which plays classic movies and holds special events. Our main retail corridor is on the main highway that runs north and south through town. There you’ll find WalMart, Kohls, two supermarkets, a few car dealerships, other businesses and stores, chain restaurants such as Applebees, Chilis, Bob Evans, and the usual fast food franchises.

We have a county library branch, and may be building a new library building soon. Kids play Little League baseball and softball, get involved at the Boys and Girls Club and at a couple of churches with sports programs, participate with their families at the community center that has an outdoor pool, a gym and workout center, have picnics in some nice parks, and make use of the fine walking and bike trail. We have a private country club as well as a premier golf course that is home to the Indiana PGA, and a few other smaller local courses. Our town has a cinema.

We have Masonic and Methodist retirement communities. We have a community hospital. We have several small nursing homes and four funeral homes in town. We built an impressive new high school a few years ago. We are a college town, with a fine Division III liberal arts institution that was founded in 1834. Our town is near Camp Atterbury, a designated mobilization site for units of the National Guard and U.S. Army Reserve. We’ll soon have a new armory. We also have the county jail and juvenile detention center.

There are nice subdivisions with brick custom homes near the golf courses, tree-lined streets with historic Victorian houses, several apartment complexes and starter neighborhoods, a few run-down areas we avoid walking through, and many homes strung along country roads and in rural settings outside of town proper.

Our town has a lot of people who commute to Indianapolis, less than 15 miles away. We have some light industrial plants, most of which are tied to the auto industry, some warehouses along the interstate, and a lot of small businesses.

Here’s some demographic information about my town:

  • Population 22,672 (2005 census; current figures are about 500 less)
  • 4779 students in our school corporation
  • The average household size is 2.4, family size is 2.6
  • 13,799 people are 25 years or older, the median age is 33.1
  • Franklin is 74.1% white, 14.7% Hispanic or Latino, 12.4% black, 4.3% Asian, and the rest is other races or mixed races
  • 84% of those 25 or older graduated high school, 27% of those 25 or older have bachelors degree or higher
  • 1.5% were foreign born
  • The mean commute time is 22.6 minutes
  • Median household income is $49,920, median family income is $54,564
  • 6.9% of families are below poverty level, and 7.7% of individuals

And, by my count, we have 56 churches.

Breaking these down a bit more, we have: one Catholic church, one Anglican Catholic church, one Episcopal church, twelve Baptist churches of various varieties, seven Christian or Church of Christ churches, two Presbyterian churches, a number of Pentecostal churches of different persuasions, as well as about ten “community” type non-denominational churches. You’ll find Methodist, Assembly of God, Nazarene, Wesleyan, Pilgrim Holiness, Apostolic, Congregational, LCMS Lutheran, Vineyard, and Church of God congregations.

There are not many large churches. A couple of congregations may reach 800 people in attendance. There are bigger congregations in surrounding communities which people travel to attend, however, and I would guess most megachurches around here would be in the 1000-2000 range.

Frankly, I don’t know what to think about this. 56 churches seems like a lot of congregations for a small town of 22,000 people. But most are small, many fill a niche, some are separatist, some are old established denominational churches that are losing ground, only a few seem to be growing. Some of the new church plants are attracting folks from other congregations. It seems like we’ve had quite a few signs around town advertising start-ups over the past couple of years. A couple seem to be getting some traction, while others stay small and on the fringes.

When I left pastoral ministry here in town, we faced the difficult task of finding a church home for the first time since I went to seminary. We visited a few congregations here in town, and one or two in surrounding suburbs. Eventually we settled on an ELCA Lutheran church about 8 miles away. I don’t like that it’s not in town here, but there is nothing like it in our immediate vicinity. That is not a long way to drive; that’s not the issue. I just wish I could be more involved in my own community in a neighborhood congregation.

You’d think out of 56 churches, we might find a “fit.” We didn’t.

I still preach occasionally at the church where I served before, and we enjoy seeing everyone. They would welcome us back if we wanted to participate there in the congregation, but that’s a bit awkward, and we’ve moved on in our ecclesiology since then. I’d probably end up being a troublemaker and causing my friends heartache. And no, church #57 is not the answer, and I’m no church planter. Besides, I have ethical problems with leading a church in the same community where I’ve pastored before.

This is our wilderness. We’re seemingly surrounded by water, but there’s nothing to satisfy our particular thirst. Actually, that sounds a little melodramatic and self-absorbed. Life isn’t perfect. And we’re really ok.

When I read the list of 56 churches I compiled, it also prompts a tremendous desire that all the people who are part of these congregations would learn to see themselves in NT terms, as members of “the church in Franklin.” I long that there might be a spirit of what John Armstrong calls “missional ecumenism” that would infiltrate this community; that God’s people would accept each other as members of the same family and not as competing entities, and that there could be partnerships developed that would display the love and grace of Christ to our town.

Who knows? Maybe there’s a missional reason we’re here.

Surely, out of 56 wells, we could help some thirsty people find at least one cup of cold water.


  1. Mike,

    One thing I find rather incredible is that among all those 56 congregations, not a single one is a schism from the Church Christ founded. In the first four centuries, there would have been schisms from the Church, and “unauthorized assemblies” (St. Irenaeus).

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

    • … assuming the “Church Christ founded” can rightly maintain that title. This argument is what makes a protestant a protestant.

      • Brendan,

        I didn’t say anything about the present-day Catholic Church being the Church Christ founded. I’m just noting that it is odd, that we (in the 21st century) no longer have the problem of *schism from* the Church Christ founded. Out of 56, wouldn’t there be at least one? Don’t you find that odd?

        In the peace of Christ,

        – Bryan

    • Are you referring to the Eastern Orthodox Church or the Roman Catholic Church?

    • David Cornwell says

      Oh yeah, I heard a Church of Christ pastor say that title belongs to them. Also read a tract by some brand of Baptist in Kentucky and they claimed to be IT. Plus a sign on a church that said “The Only True Church of God in Christ” (or some such thing). I’m sure I’ve missed a few.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Ever noticed it’s usually a “Pastor Billy-Bob” completely-independent, completely-autonomous New Church Plant that styles themselves as “Founded by Jesus Christ in 33 AD”?

  2. “You’d think out of 56 churches, we might find a “fit.” We didn’t.”

    Is the Church designed to meet your needs (what can the Church do for you) or are you designed to meet the Church’s needs (what can you do for the Church)? If the former, I can see your dilemma, if the latter I don’t see why there is a dilemma. Perhaps if you ever get out of your personal wilderness you can transition from the former to the latter. While we all get tired, our labor is not in vain.

    • This is a false dichotomy. It’s completely appropriate to expect the Church to meet our spiritual needs. This does not make Chaplain Mike selfish as your post implies.

      • Give and it shall be given to you.

        • Hey Tony, I’ve got a question for you……..Have you ever experienced a personal wilderness?

          • Man….it’s going to be a long time before I figure out what I am!! 😛 I had dinner with a friend last night Rebekah and we hashed out and butted some heads slighly over the problem of evil. I miss the old days with nothing but absolute certainity.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            Probably not. I’ve seen his type before.

            He Has His Theology Perfectly Parsed (unlike all of us Lukewarm Apostates).

        • …seriously? There’s this place you really ought to visit. It’s called reality.

          Don’t lie to yourself… if you’re happy in a church home, it’s because you’re comfortable with it as well. Maybe your interests line up with what’s popular and easy to find, or perhaps your area is full of like-minded people. But imagine yourself in a place full of churches completely the opposite of yours… Think Armenian Apostolic or Korean Presbyterian… You really going to be as at home there as a family church? I don’t think so. I bet you’d travel 10, 20 miles easy.

    • OK, I’ll stir the pot a little; maybe this is not an eithor/or situation you’ve painted, maybe it’s a both/and. Maybe the Church is, in fact designed to meet my (legitimate) needs, AND I’m designed to meet theirs (ours). Is it possible that some of our legitimate needs have fallen out of favor with the way that church is done in some places ?

      And yes, I’m keen to the fact that our primary need is to worship HIM and enjoy HIM forever.


    • Tony, I did not mean to sound like a crass consumer when saying we could not find a “fit,” though I have the same consumeristic tendencies as anyone. But after all, I have been a pastor for most of my adult life (35 years), and have developed some theological and ecclesiological convictions. We were in a rather strange position as a pastoral family without a church in a town where I had ministered. Take my story for what it’s worth.

      • Churches today seem to lack “spirituality” (for want of a better word). I don’t know if it’s a way to distance themselves from any perceived New Age-ism or what. But it seems to veer from Super Jesus Super Church who try so hard to entertain you it borders on sad to the rigidity of orthodox churches who have doctrinal purity front, center, and most important, along with the need to vote a certain way politically. I don’t want any of that. What do I want? A balm in Gilead. A church that believes that God is Love. A place where I can find our common humanity celebrated and cared for. I don’t see much of that. Not much at all…

        • Suzanne that’s becuase churches are a business. They operate and practice like a business with more of a focus on the bottom finacnial line and treating evangelism with marketing. That means the focus is also on the RR/ROI (marketing lingo for ya…)

          The only thing evangelcials haven’t done is found a way to be trading on the Stock Market. And after the Standard & Poorer decision…that’s perhaps good for them!! 😛

          • In many (most?) cases, Eagle, you’re absolutely right about this. It’s one reason that I think one of the best things that could happen to the American church is the removal of 501(c)3 non-profit status for religious organizations. Gone would be most of the buildings, a large number of paid positions and almost all of the justification to “run the church as a business” (which is, I suspect, not what Jesus intended). To use Frederick Buechner’s phrase, all we’d have left is God and each other.


    • Richard Hershberger says

      You sometimes find yourself in the situation of looking for a new church. I have been in this position many times due to moving to new towns [one step ahead of my creditors…]. Chaplain Mike’s situation had a different origin, but a similar effect. So what is one to do? There has to be some criterion for choosing.

      In a parish system this is purely geographical, but only within the denomination. If the denomination of your church is a given and it has a parish system, then the problem is solved. But if not, or if the denomination does not have a parish system, then we are back to square one.

      Picking a church which fails to fulfill your needs while chanting “I am designed to meet the Church’s needs” seems perverse: a recipe for an unhappy relationship all around. (What does it mean to meet the Church’s needs? Does it mean picking a church at random and telling them how they could do things better? I hope not, but I don’t have a better interpretation.) Surely it makes more sense to take the time to look around and find a good fit.

      I wonder if part of this discussion isn’t conflating “church shopping” in this sense, of being in a situation requiring a new church, with “church shopping” in the “grass is always greener” sense of constantly shifting around looking for that nonexistent perfect situation. The two situations are really not all that similar.

      • Touche times ten for the last paragraph…..though my experience is that pastors treat them both like identical twins, both evil.

    • sarahmorgan says

      Tony says “Give and it shall be given to you.” re: church. I apologize if the following is a bit of rant, but this hits a sore spot for me.

      After a 3-year sojourn in a foreign country, I returned back to the States, to an isolated town twice the size of Chaplain Mike’s town. I was grieving badly from the (involuntary) move, having left many friends and a vibrant church community far behind (I had been the leader of the music ministry at my old church). I found a local non-denom ev. church much like the one I left, and I was hoping that, in addition to having a place to worship on Sundays, I’d be able to find new Christian friends/musicians in my new location through attending and participating in the local church. I was invited to play in their praise band, something I was grateful for. Now, because of their secrecy, it took several months to discover the depths of that church’s dysfunction, but not before I learned the painful way how thoroughly unChristian people can be when something happens to upset their status quo and threaten their egos….for instance, other ministry members who decided among themselves that they didn’t like me or want me at “their” church spread a raft of lies about me to the church leadership, which were unquestioningly believed because they were long-term members and I was the “outsider” whose mere presence caused strife and conflict….my remaining experience there was so spiritually toxic that I struggled with nightmares about it 2 years after I left that church. Further experiences with two other local churches plus two parachurch ministries taught me that the immaturity, insecurity, self-centeredness, and unfriendliness towards outsiders in this place runs very deep, and I’ve been in the wilderness ever since.

      So, what’s church supposed to be? A place to meet my needs (community, friends, comfort/solace, hope for the future, a reminder of the Gospel in a time of personal turmoil, a place to worship God in spirit and truth)? A place for me to meet the church’s needs (what if they make it clear that they don’t want/need you? what if they exploit/abuse you? what if their biggest need is to have their egos constantly stroked by you?)? You can argue that the place I attended wasn’t a real “church” by any standards of “Love God, love your neighbor”, but really, what can any person expect from an organization calling themselves a Christian church? Is it wrong to have any expectation of church?

      In any case, I understand completely how Chaplain Mike cannot find a good church “fit”.
      Again, apologies for the rant.

      • @Tony and others: the big problem with your isolated verse is that it has a built in assumption, if church-goer was doing THEIR part, then GOD would do HIS and all would be well. I’ll leave aside the questionable exegesis of the verse itself (some people, even paid clergy, just grab what you gave them and play Jabba the HUT with it), and say that maybe the problem has little to do with us, but there just isn’t enough Jesus and Jesus-likeness in the system we’re talking about. Maybe staying and giving would solve very little or nothing.

        Spencer said in Mere Churchianity that sometimes believers face the difficult decision that to NOT leave is to sacrifice your spiritual health and integrity. Staying and giving is not helpful if Jesus has moved on (for us, at least) and beckons us onwards.

      • Sounds like the “seed faith” teaching so popular on TBN.

        God help us all if the church needs what I have.

  3. You highlight one of the interesting differences between the U.S.A. and Canada.

    My community of about 27,000 has eight churches.

    1 Catholic
    1 Anglican
    2 United Church of Canada
    1 Presbyterian
    1 Baptist (More identified with mainline churches)
    1 Pentecostal ( < 50 people)
    1 Church of God (Anderson, Indiana version) < 50 people.

    Almost all evangelicals in our community attend churches outside of our community, because there is not much in our community for them.

    So I hear your difficulty in finding a church!

    • H.U.G. mentioned house churches in a comment below. There are house churches in my community, and some “home churches” or a mega about an hour away. I found out that one of the home churches is right around the corner from me. I never would have known it had I not gone to the mega’s website. Only a couple of the churches with buildings seem to have any impact in the community. The others, as far as the community goes, they are pretty invisible.

  4. 56 churches seems like a lot, but maybe it’s not? 22000 people into 56 churches is just shy of 400 people per congregation. But maybe half the people are involved in church (is that a fair assumption for the midwest? I have no idea), so its closer to 200 per congregation. That seems a healthy size to me. To have considerably fewer would necessitate some of those going “mega.” So having many churches, which gives the impression – perhaps the reality – that christians are fractured, or few churches that are larger that perhaps lack the depth of a tight community.

    But numbers are numbers and aren’t very meaningful. Big or small, a good church is a good church and a bad one is a bad one. It’s truly unfortunate that of the 56 none were acceptable.

    • Theo, I wouldn’t say they were all unacceptable for everybody. We have been in a rather unique situation as a pastoral family. Like I said in the post, I’m not sure what significance, if any, my observations have. It just struck me that 56 is a sizable number, most are small, all seem disconnected from one another, and few seem to be growing.

      I was wondering what other people saw when they looked around their communities.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        I’ve seen similar when I visit my writing partner in a rural part of PA. You’re never out of sight of a church steeple; most of them are tiny, barely more than family or local chapels, and none of them seem to be on speaking terms with one another.

        I’m in a large city on the West Coast, and there seem to be three tiers of churches out here. The first is the mainstream churches and denominations with established physical plants (church buildings). The second (which might fold into the first) are the Big Megachurches like Fullerton EV Free (Swindoll’s old megachurch), Saddleback, and Crystal Cathedral with extensive physical plants but much shorter histories. The third tier is an ever-changing myriad of small “splinter churches” (some of which are doubtless new church plants) in rented storefronts or non-church halls (like the Spanish-language Evangelical (?) one that rents the local Knights of Columbus Hall on Sundays). Once you get to that tier, it’s all chaos — independent splinter churches, most of which probably don’t talk to each other. Don’t know about even smaller “house churches” (those would be by definition off the radar), but they probably blend imperceptibly into the third “splinter church” tier.

        A lot of the “splinter churches” are what get me. Usually brand-new church plants, completely independent of any other, many of them with a “One True Church Founded By Jesus Christ in 33AD” internal fixation.

        • Richard Hershberger says

          “The second (which might fold into the first)…”

          That is the $64 dollar question, now isn’t it? After all, those small mainline churches with big buildings built large for a reason: they were filling the pews. But the wheel of time keeps moving. Fashion will change away from megachurches sooner or later. I suspect sooner, but I could be wrong. Either way, things will get interesting. The mainline churches with overly large sanctuaries often can carry on indefinitely. This is a testament to the fiscal probity of our ancestors. Putting on the new roof every thirty years is a challenge, but at least there isn’t a mortgage on the building. How will the megas do, when they are no longer packing them in? Less well, I suspect. But the ones which muddle through will end up looking very much like the big mainlines today, but with theater seating.

          There is another discussion to be had as to whether or not this is a good thing, for the mainlines or the megas.

        • HUG your model is close to what I have seen in D.C. The only difference is that you may have more old line denominations here. And of course the Southern Baptists are also in your backyard. becuase your more in the south.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            I suspect a lot of that might just be the generic big-city scene.

          • Oops…typo. Sorry HUG!! I meant to say that in my part of the country I probably have more mainline denomonations with Southern Baptist give my proxmity to the south.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      And that 56 doesn’t count unofficial House Churches or start-ups.

  5. Come on now HUG……Ubers need luv 2.

  6. CM–I’m yearning for a community of believers that resembles the NT church. I can no longer reconcile the beautiful buildings, programs, passive audiences, coulds/shoulds/oughts/do betters. After a true crisis in my life in which I questioned even God’s existence and love for me (and got His very real answers)–while at the same time sharing with friends from small group and a pastor (who never once followed up to see how I was doing)–I began scouring the red-letter words of Jesus. Then I began to change. And then I began to question what I’d been doing all those years before. I still go to church and I take unlikely neighbors there each week; God has also given me a passion and love for the marginalized, and somehow He used me as a vessel to start a free English class this past Spring which now has up to 70 students each week and 8 volunteer teachers. I’m nobody…just a rescued sinner saved by grace. And I long for people to shed religion and churchianity to follow Jesus into the corners where people are forgotten. I long for people to know the real Jesus of the Bible–not the rules, shoulds/coulds/oughts/try better for Jesus, but the real Jesus who loves and saves and transforms.
    Anyway, I’m in a town that has many more churches than people willing to fill them. And though the church I attend is growing and doing many good things…it’s still not anything like the NT church I read about in my bible and too much of what we do is for those within the walls of the church. Rambling, just thoughts. Peace.

    • Some very good thoughts too!

    • Kris-

      As an agnostic I am absolutely miserable at times. I’ve tried a couple of places occasionally but am disappointed to know that it’s not a place for the questioning or confused. So many churches you have to be 110% certain and gung ho on what you believe. Its ackward to know the Bible well after being a fundgelical for almost 8/9 years. I have had a couple of oppotunities to get together with a couple of people and just lay it on the table and talk about issues such as this.

      What is faith?
      What does it mean to forgive?
      Do Christians get the OT/NT confused when it comes to rules?
      Can I go to a church if I believe in evolution, and am not a Republican?
      What does Grace mean?
      Is the probelm of evil more cultural?
      What happens to those who never heard of Christ due to when and where they live?

      Since everything crashed for me personally a couple of years back. I’ve been amazed to have met a few awesome individuals to share and discuss things with. For that I am grateful.

      • And we’re grateful for you, Eagle! (Didn’t know if I’ve said that before; if I haven’t, I have now.)

        • Ditto to what Ray A. said, Eagle. Hey, a lot of us wound up in this wilderness because we had endured situations very similar to what you’ve talked about in past comments. For me, I can really relate to your comments, because of shared histories. The way I see it, we live in the same woods, with a different view of the sky. Residing in the same wilderness makes you my neighbor, and the Bible says I’m supposed to love my neighbors…even the ones who ask questions that cut me occasionally.

          Good times, good times…

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Eagle: Yet another Veteran of the Psychic Wars.

  7. Josh in FW says

    This post made me curious. I used google maps to search near my home and found ~30 churches within 1 mile of my home, over 500 churches and 2 seminaries (Brite Divinity and SWBTS) within 2 miles. Oh my!

    • That is how I confirmed my eight. My how Canada can be different.

    • Sounds like you are smack dab on the buckle of the Bible Belt!

      • Josh in FW says

        My High School home town of Nashville, TN claims to be the belt buckle of the Bible belt, but I think there are a few MSAs (metropolitan statistical area) competing for that title.

    • I had to try the same experiment. Within 2 miles of me I find:

      2 Reformed
      2 Orthodox Antiochean & Greek
      1 Church of Christ
      8 Catholic
      1 Luthern Missouri
      4 Luthern ELCA
      4 Methodist
      3 Episcopal
      1 Church of God
      6 spanish
      5 UCC
      7 MB Baptist
      1 SMB Baptist
      7 Ind Baptist
      1 ABC Baptist
      4 Presbyterian
      1 Pentacostal
      2 Unitarian
      1 ethnic Chinese
      1 ethnic Telugu
      1 ethnic Ukranian Baptist
      19 generic Bible
      2 Buddhist
      2 Synagogue
      3 7th Day Adventist
      1 Unity Movement
      2 pentacostal
      1 JW

      Go out to 3 miles and you can add on the following religiously oriented colleges:
      Resurrection University (Catholic), Dominican University (Catholic), Concordia (Lutheran)

      This is is an area that probably has 75K population in the 2mile region (it’s hard to measure because this area spans 4 suburbs and part of the west side of Chicago).

      And of course, the religious institutions would not include any groups too small for google to find. Interestingly, a search for iglesia and a search for church tend to come up with similar lists.

      • Josh in FW says

        Wow, I feel lazy for not categorizing my list.

        • Meh, I wouldn’t feel guilty. I was curious. Besideswhich I probably mis-categorized some of the generic Bible churches who should have been Pentecostal. And probably all the Spanish language churches should have been Pentecostal. And I learned something–2 Buddhist facilities? I never knew.

    • This is good stuff…I looked at the zip code for the very rural area where I live…population 6513…and here’s what I found…

      1 United Methodist Church
      1 Non-Denominational
      9 Baptist churches

      Three of the Baptist Churches usually top 100 in attendance every week. The others generally run anywhere from 30-100. So, averaging out the “real” and not “reported” attendance of these local churches (I’ve visited all of them over the years except two…It’s funny when a church tells you they average 200 in attendance, and there are typically around 20-25 cars in the parking lot…Makes me want to ask if the church is attended by clowns…), it looks like we have about 855 folks who are “connected” in our community, or 13% of the population.

      Somebody better get out their Chick tracts. Somebody is not doing their job.

  8. I’ve gotta ask… Just how bad is the LCMS in your area? I mean, aside from their complimentarian tendencies, is it really that much different from a moderate ELCA in terms of worship and spirituality?

    • Like the ELCA, it varies from church to church. One reason we did not check it out further was that at one point I was trying to find a church in which I might consider serving one day. I wouldn’t fit in LCMS, for various reasons.

      • Good points. All theology is local; I’m sure there is at least one church in nearly every denomination I would fit in with. But some groups, like LCMS in your case or UMC in mine, the chances of finding one are too small… if even that.

  9. On second thought, though we are moving across the country, if I had to find a church in our immediate area, I’d be hard pressed as well. The Episcopal church here is flat out apostate, the Presbyterians either hard left or hard right, the Baptists either dead or trendy, and I’m just not comfortable with anything remotely Pentecostal right now.

    Some churches I would automatically skip because of significant theological differences. It seems to me, though, that rather than choosing by theology, it may be more practical to choose based on leadership emphasis and relationships within the congregation.

    Honestly, I’ve really struggled with this one, though, as church staff, it isn’t relative to me in the same way: As a lay-person, by what criteria ought one to choose a congregational home? The teachiing? Theology on paper? Ministries? Mission? Friendliness? Diversity? There are so many criteria to be considered, I don’t know that I could say decisively which ones are most important.

    • The Guy from Knoxville says

      Miguel, I understand where you’re coming from on looking for a church. I live in a mid-size southeast city and the number of churches easliy surpasses 250 and we float in baptist of several varieties as the majority protestant here followed by united methodist, presbyterian, COC, assembly of God (several varieties), a few Lutheran, Episcopal, couple of Anglican churches and several catholic. So there is variety but few, if any, that I have any interest in and right now in my wilderness I haven’t the desire/will or strength to even look for a new one at this time. As most here know I come from a southern baptist background and I’ve been so worked over by a couple of their esteemed churches in my city (one my home church no less!) that I could care less if I ever go to one again. If I have to consider one or two that I could look at it would probably be Lutheran or Anglican – even a right of center Episcopal if one like that can even be found these days. I’m just not up to the fight right now.

      • This is a completely “un-spiritual” suggestion, but what if you just find some protestant high-church with killer music and historic liturgy and just show up and spectate for a while? You may find it soothing to the soul, even if nothing more ever comes of it. You wouldn’t have to worry about preaching or theology or friendliness etc… if you’re attending deliberately to just observe and soak in. I feel ya with SBC issues though. Worked there 5 years and just got delivered. For a while I was visiting the Episcopalians just for the music. Totally selfish, and totally worth it.

        • The Guy from Knoxville says

          Miguel, not such a bad idea – sometimes one needs to be able to just sit back for a moment and take a breather from “rat race” that church can sometimes be and especially so if you served on staff in any capacity. I spent 20+ years as organist and assistant organist in two SBC churches. That’s not nearly the stress other positions are but it came with its share of issues and the worst, for an organist, is dealing with the churches that are determined to do away with the organ which is what happened in both those cases – contemporary seems to rule the day in SBC churches these days.

          At any rate I believe, at some point, I’ll looks again but for now a breather is needed. I will definitely look for a church that is more traditional with and a good music program would be nice but can’t be the singular or sole determining factor. Ah the wilderness – I suppose there is a need for it on occasion.

        • One more Mike says

          I’m currently visiting an ELCA congregation for the corporate participation, music (or lack of), creeds and sacraments. It’s a breath of fresh, cool air after years in the SBC/ICC and all that chaos and foolishness. Will I ever become a “member” of this denomination? Who knows, but probably not. I’ve been clobbered too many times by my “loving friends” to ever take both eyes off of the door that leads to the wilderness.

      • Richard Hershberger says

        “…even a right of center Episcopal if one like that can even be found these days.”

        Depending on where you are, right-of-center Episcopal churches are not uncommon. For all the ECUSA’s reputation, traditionally their parishes have varied wildly. The difference is that in recent years a noticeable number of conservative Episcopalians are splintering off.

        Superficially the hot button issue is (openly) gay clergy, but the underlying issue is female clergy. To really understand what is going on you have to know something of Anglican ecclesiology. In theory it is very similar to Roman Catholic, though without a pope. Ordained clergy are distinct from the laity. A priest is ordained by a bishop. A bishop is created by a collection of other bishops. The line of succession of bishops is claimed to run all the way back to the original apostles. So the legitimacy of the church lies with the bishops.

        The ECUSA began ordaining women about forty years ago. This was a problem for the conservatives, but not insurmountable. Unlike the Catholics, the individual Episcopal parish has a great deal of say in choosing its priest(s). This goes back to colonial times, when the Church of England largely ignored America. This forced American parishes to fend for themselves, both financially and in finding clergy. This carried over after the revolution even once the American church got its own bishops. So a parish searching for a new priest has to choose from the approved roster for the diocese, but it need not take any particular person. So a conservative parish, denying the legitimacy of female clergy, could simply not hire a woman.

        This changed when some dioceses began creating female bishops. This is far more problematic for the conservative wing. If a supposed priest is not really a priest, you simply don’t go to that person for priestly functions. But if a supposed bishop is not really a bishop, then it follows that any priests she ordained are not really priests, nor are any bishops she helped create really bishops. You can no longer identify a false priest via a chromosome check.

        So while Gene Robinson, the gay bishop, gets the headlines, Katherinie Jefferts Schori, the female presiding bishop, is the real issue.

        The other half of this is that, while individual parishes choose their priests, they do not hold title to their real property. This creates a dilemma for those wanting to leave. From the Episcopal perspective, it is meaningless to talk about a parish leaving the diocese. The parish is (in theory) a creation of the diocese. It is like talking about your right hand seceding from your body and striking out on its own. So from the Episcopal perspective there may be an unfortunate situation where a large percentage of the members of a parish choose to leave the Episcopal church, but the parish still exists, albeit in a reduce state. And this certainly has nothing to do with the ownership of the church building. The civil courts consistently support this as well, so should the individuals involved refuse to give up possession of the building this can and does result in the involvement of sheriffs deputies and locksmiths.

        So a group of unhappy Episcopalians have to make a decision. Are they more unwilling to live with female priests and bishops or to leave their nice church with its lovely organ and go rent space somewhere else? I disagree with those who leave (since in my opinion the objections to female clergy are based on scriptural misinterpretation) but I have to respect their willingness to sacrifice for their convictions.

        This isn’t to say that every right-of-center parish has worked their way through this logic and found the strength of their convictions wanting. Most have never gotten that far. But the institutional barriers to leaving serve also as a barrier to thinking too hard about it. It is much easier to fall back on grumbling about the hierarchy.

        The upshot is that if a right-of-center Episcopal parish is what you want, it is not unlikely that you can find one. But there probably won’t be any indication on the sign out front. (There are exceptions: I recently drove past a church which used “Episcopal” in its main sign but had the code word “Anglican” in another. I looked them up afterward. They are part of the ECUSA, but also a member of the “Anglican Communion Network,” which they describe as “a group that strives through doctrinal orthodoxy to maintain communion between Episcopalians in the US and Anglican churches in other parts of the world.” It is safe to assume their they don’t have a female priest, or an openly gay male priest.)

        The local Episcopalians will know, of course. If you are willing to have a socially awkward conversation, you could call up the rector of the nearest parish and simply ask.

  10. I can ‘one up’ that my very small indiana town (2600 pop) last count I was at 37 churches and I know more of them have started up since then. almost all of them are ‘ christian churches ‘ of the restoration movement variety.

  11. Here’s my community where I call home!! 😀

    I live in the Washington, D.C. area.

    Founded in 1790 today the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area has 5.59 million people. D.C. is on the Potomac River which flows out into the Chesapeake Bay. Currently 176 embassies call this city home and represent their respective government. The city is overflowing with monuments and museums, the newest being the Neuseum, which is dedciated to the First Amendment. if you live here you will never see them all. The city is full of many diverse neighborhoods and communtiies. From Georgetown to DuPont Circle, to China Town onward to Adams Morgan there is a little of everything here. The cost of living is rape (though not as bad as New York City or Boston as I am told). In the Virginia/Maryland suburbs its not uncommon to find a 800 to 1,000 sqaure foot place starting at rent for 1,500. In the district itself rent is much higher. The city is home to many prominant universities such as Georgetown, George Washington and American University. And the University of Maryland- College Park is to the north, and George Mason University is in Fairfax to the south in the state of Virginia.

    There are great opportunities for sports. Whether it be baseball in the Nationals, or ice hockey such as the Capitals (or Caps as the locals call them…) Also if I remember correctly due ot the proximity of work here I think I was told that about 50 to 60% of all people who hold advanced educational degrees can be found in the Washington, D.C. area. The traffic is horriffic and is the second or third worst in the national (depending upon what you read…) behind either Los Angeles or New York. Poverty is bad in NE and SE D.C. Crime, drugs, prostitution and gangs are problems as well in SE and NE D.C. Rumor has it that the U.S. military prepared for deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan by living in SE D.C. for a couple of monthes to become “combat ready”.
    😯 They are trying to keep the gangs out of Northern Virginia as well, which has been problamatic as well.

    Spirituality this is an ackward town. It’s ground zero for the culture wars and politics as you can imagine. It’s not uncommon to bump into people who marry faith and politics in their respective settings. This is home to a number of fundegelicals who hope to influence social policy. You can run into people from Jerry Falwell’s school and Pat Robertson’s school which is (sadly) in your backyard of Virginia. (How I missed having Wheaton, Moody, or Trinity in my backyard…you know a school that is not as political) So some people come here with the intent of “saving” the family, perserving creationism, or defend marriage. Be forewarned that you will find yourself in interesting conversations with poeple in small groups and Bible studies, especially if the work on Capital Hill and are political.

    For those of you living around the US and Canada (our 51st State!! 😛 ) and world here are some images that you can see of my backyard.


    • We like to think of you as our eleventh province. 😀

      • Hey, Michael, you may not be able to get the entire USA as your 11th province, but as a citizen of the great State of Maine, I would like to join up with Canada! We love Canada.

    • One more Mike says

      I also live in DC Metro and your “Spirituality” paragraph is right on target. If you want to separate your spirituality from politics, culture and marketing, then “the church” in this area is not going to be a friendly place for you, and agnosticism begins to make perfect sense!! My wife is so fed up with “the church” in this area she won’t even visit the ELCA church I visit sometimes, and her “rants” very often sound just like yours. We’ve been so beat up by the YEC’ers, complimentarians, culture warriors, church growth zombies, et.al., that we quit trying to find a “church home.”

      • Richard Hershberger says

        If your objection is to YEC’ers, complementarians, culture warriors, and church growth zombies, I should think that an ELCA church would be just the thing. Though the church growth crowd does sometimes get its fingers inside ELCA doors. A good rule of thumb is if there is no projection screen in the sanctuary and if the sound system is primitive, then you are probably safe.

      • I tried a number of evangelical churches. McLean Bible was the last fundigelical one I attended. That was an interesting experience. Very commercial, with a lot of politics in the small groups, ministries etc.. but not from the main stage. But there was focus on non-essential issues there as well which frosted me. The senior pastor there gave a sermon on emerging/emergent Christianity..it was a several week series. In it he said that you are not an orthodox Christian unless you believe in the pre-tribution rapture. At the very start of the series he said that if you did not hold these beliefs he wanted you to get out.

        As time passed and I had one bad experience after another plus living with the baggage and harm from Campus Crusade (oops..I meant Cru) and a work place Bible study I decided I couldn’t take it anymore.

        But on top of that what bothers me is the people I met from Liberty or Regent. They are very culture war centered, they come here with the intent of influencing public policy, etc.. Their approach to Christianity is very different than people I have met and known from Wheaton, Moody, Bethel, etc.. I respect and have had discussions with people from Moody and Bethel. Some of my close friends have attended there. But it’s hard to have those same conversations with people who went to Liberty or Regent. There is too much baggage from Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson.

        Now the beautiful thing is that while wondering and lost I had met a couple of Christians who I’ve been meeting regularly and having deep discussions. They all have shown love, compassion, and outrage over what happened. For me its been moving and I’m grateful to talk with them.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        I was in DC five weeks ago, on my annual East Coast trip, checking out the various Mall museums. (My main reason to go to DC is the Smithsonian, the Library of Congress, and their annexes.) The place was a steambath. How can Eagle (or anyone else) stand to live there?

        • One more Mike says

          Why do you think the debt debate was so contentious? It wasn’t politics, everyone was crazy from the heat.

  12. my town of 1100 has eight churches. I would be hard pressed to go to maybe one of them other than the one I pastor at.

    • 1100 and 8 churches? That ain’t bad. My first job outta school was at a church that was one of 5 in a town of 1700.

  13. Does anyone else get the strange feeling that looking for a true church home is like being in some warped version of Watership Down? At least the rabbits found a peaceful home in the end, I’m having doubts it will happen for me.

  14. Richard McNeeley says

    Your town sounds very much like mine, except I live in North Central AZ. Our town is about twice the size of yours and our population is a little older(median age 48) and the median income(36,000) is a little less, but the demographics and town layout are similar. Our unofficial motto is “Everybodies Hometown.” I count 60 churches in my town with many more in the adjacent communities. We have been in the same church for the last 25 years and yet I have the feeling of being thirsty in a barren and dry land. It isn’t the pastor or the community, I think I would feel that way in any church. I honestly believe that this institution that we call the church is lacking something. We preach the gospel of going to church instead of the Gospel of the Kingdom and that is where my frustration lies.

  15. 56 churches for a town of 22K seems high to me, but maybe not for central Indiana. Here in Stockton, CA (population c. 300,000) there are 225-250 congregations (the number seems to change monthly), with a heavy lean toward Pentecostalism and independent Word-of-Faith. Only two megachurches, one NABC Baptist (not sure how many each week), the other the largest cong. in the United Pentecostal Church International (about 4K every Sunday). I have friends at a few dozen of them. I’ve visited at least 30 for one service or another.

    And I haven’t found one I can call home — one that reminds me of the New Testament church, one where the worship is worshipful and the fellowship has time to fellowship, one where the theology draws more from the Bible than from human tradition or human greed, one where I would have an opportunity to contribute as much as I receive. Not giving up hope, but boy am I tired of having that hope dashed …

  16. I have three church homes, of a sort. The church where I am a member, the church where I work, and the church where I prefer to worship.

  17. There is something to be said for going to a church closest to where you live and making the best of it. Church shopping is a form spiritual promiscuity or adultery. One should leave only under gross apostasy or moral failure.

    • First of all, who has NOT committed “gross…moral failure” ?? Anyone I know ? Well, exactly ONE PERSON. Secondly, local church attendance/membership is not like marriage.

      I made my “vows” to Jesus, and I love HIS Body, HIS Bride, but that doesn’t mean staying in the Titanic while it heads to the iceburg (an extreme picture, I admit). There are no perfect churches, just as there are no perfect boyfriends/girlfriends, but you can reorient things when they get sketchy.

      Your statement is just what I’ve heard from at least one national ego maniac who used your exact words to keep the sheep in his fold, or at least tried to.


    • The Guy from Knoxville says

      Bob, with all respect……. certainly not – will not do it period! I know the ones around me and wouldn’t attend a one at this point. Do not agree with your statement at all that looking around (shopping??) for a good church is equal to spiritual adultry or promiscuity – ridiculous position imho.

    • So I should attend a church that says:

      If you’re not XXX you’re likely not a Christian.

      Infant baptism
      Believers baptism
      Speaking in tounges
      Only mem can teach biblical topics
      Only men can teach other men anything
      Music in the church other than piano or organ
      and so on

  18. Eagle, Iong-time reader here who doesn’t comment much anymore. (I had some “spirited” discussions with much-missed M. Spencer back in the day. And I still love this site.)
    I live in Fairfax County, inside the Beltway, in an older suburban neighborhood. My initial response to you was going to be: what prevents you from going to a Catholic Church (again?)) Truth is, though, around here you’re as likely to hear the Republican- talking- points- of- the- day in our priest’s homilies as you are at McLean BC. My husband and I are …tired…of that. There are other parishes around here, though, where the gospel is the homiletic focus. While we are ‘stay in the geographical parish’ types, the temptation to church-shop can be strong for us Catholics as well. The priests cycle out from a given parish about every 5 years or so, but still…

  19. I live in Raleigh, NC. Wake county has north of 900K people. You’d think when we left our last church it would not be hard to find a new one.

    But after we applied the basics, there wasn’t much left.

    Calvinism as THE WAY
    False congregational led. (Really cult of pastor/elders/whatever)
    AofG (sorry, not for me)
    Worship something like American Idol with a good message at the end
    Over 1000 in typical attendance. I’m tired of seeing people I don’t know.
    Talk of how to do a satellite church with video feeds.
    We’re right and everyone else is wrong.
    They are so hip they almost can’t stand it.
    They are so dour they know they are a part of the elect.

    And there was one that several of my friends who left with us joined. While at the new member class they said they were a NT church and not under the law but grace. Then about 10 minutes later said everyone should contribute 10% to the church as it says in the OT. Say what? Not the only issue but one that stuck in my mind.

    And another one we almost joined until the pastor said we’d have to go back and reconcile our leaving with the pastor at our old church but without listening to why we left. Turns out he was a lunch buddy of the pastor of our prior church. 🙁

    So it looks like we might wind up at a church 25 miles away. Very open to differences in minor issues. Full congregational disclosure and voting on anything of substance. And full of “energy”. I fully understand Chaplin Mike’s position.

    • You nailed it–
      They are so hip they almost can’t stand it.
      They are so dour they know they are a part of the elect.

      The extremes on both sides, like politics these days. The unchurched don’t seem to want much to do with either side, and I can’t really blame them.

  20. To Chaplain Mike: What, Indiana and no Quakers? (grin) I’d expect to find both Quaker churches and Quaker meetings in that area.

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