My journey choosing a denomination and finding a church after becoming Christian
Updated 2022 February 26th
Denominations were one of the most confusing things to me as a new Christian. I became a believer in 2005. I wanted to find a church, but I didn’t know what kind to go to. Actually, when I was atheist denominations were an obstacle for me. I doubted that Christianity could be the one true religion because they couldn’t agree on the basics of the faith. Making a decision on which kind of church to choose felt like trying to see clearly in a fog. There are so many. I researched how many denominations there were and it made my head spin.
At the time, I had it in my head for some reason that there was an original truth and an original church that had been deviated from. Perhaps, that influence is from my mom’s side of the family being Mormon. I would look at all these charts and see which denominations broke off from this one which broke off from this one etc. I didn’t realize that new churches would form and their goal was to follow the bible. I saw all these denominations as organizations that were broken. Where did they come from? What were they missing? What were they taking out to break away? I saw them like fragmented pieces of whatever was originally created.
Of course, now I see things very differently. Denominations are the product of division. They split again and again because people have disagreements. Denominations are merely the organizations of men. That’s not a bad thing. Organizing and clarifying beliefs allows people to find a church that matches how they believe. It allows churches to organize together, have events, and nurture fellowship with similar believers all over the world. Organizing things like this provides clarity. It offers guidance. These are good things. What I didn’t realize when I was a new Christian is that these denominations are trying to follow “the original truth” I was searching for. The truth never fell away. It’s always been there. It’s been ignored and twisted and denied by people, sure, but it’s never been lost. The teachings of the early church (what I now know is what I was searching for trying to find “original truth”) have always been available to all through the bible. God’s word is the same regardless of how you label yourself or how you see it.
So, at this early point in my Christian faith where I was seeking a church to follow, I searched for the oldest organizations of men. I didn’t think all these newer denominations could be teaching the full truth. From what I could gather, the Roman Catholic church was the first church. I decided I would be Catholic because of the timeline of the church. I also liked the clarity offered in the catechism. I appreciated having all the church’s teachings in writing. That kind of clarity was severely lacking among Protestant churches. I had not yet read the bible.
I picked a Catholic church and went every now and again. I found it quite boring. I don't even remember the first time I went there. It felt empty. We'd go through the motions. Stand, kneel, get up, repeat, do the hokey pokey, try to keep up with the rituals, and don't make any noise. Catholic churches are big, often beautiful, and very quiet. Oftentimes, I could barely hear the priest. There was little to no fellowship. I don't even remember the priest's name. The stained-glass windows were purple. There was a lot of gold and fancy looking things. The building was one to impress the world. I always felt like a visitor. I rarely went. I do remember reading the Catechism of the Catholic Church cover to cover looking for clarity on understanding the bible that was still a confusing, foreign text to me. My faith was stagnant. I wasn't growing. I was trying to be a good Christian, but something was missing. I began to have questions on what was true. I started to question if the Catholic church really was the original church and the only true denomination.
A friend of the family had repeatedly invited me to her church. It's the Southern Baptist church up in town. I had always declined, being so stuck on following a denomination I thought it might be wrong to visit a church not affiliated with my chosen group. Visiting that church had been on my mind and I felt like going there. I remember driving there the first time. It was March of 2009, March 15th if I remember correctly. For years I kept the pamphlet from that Sunday. I got to the end of my road. If you turn left, you go to the Catholic church downtown. If you turn right, you go up to town to the Baptist church. I didn't know which way I was going to turn when I got in the car. I turned right. I went alone. I slipped in near the back pew on the left side. I don't remember what was preached that day, but I do remember my eyes watering because I felt something when I was there. It was the first time I had felt the gentle presence of God in a church service. Everyone was friendly. I filled out a visitor card. They mailed me a card to thank me for coming. I really wanted to go back. I began to research more about denominations and started researching the differences between Catholics and Baptists. I actually went in to talk to the pastor about it. That’s very out of character for me. I’m so introverted you have to drag me to even get me to go out to eat. Being willing to go talk to a pastor I didn’t know was me really searching. I was seeking answers. We ended up talking for 3 hours that day, and I made up my mind not to be Catholic anymore because there was too much that was different than the bible. He pointed out a lot of things I didn’t know. I hadn’t really read the bible yet. I was following religion I thought was true, but I wasn’t checking those beliefs against scripture because I just wasn’t familiar with the word of God yet. I became a regular up at First Baptist in town and decided to be Southern Baptist. That was spring of 2009. I formally joined the church. I got baptized in May. And it was there that I started reading the bible.
The more I studied the bible, the more I questioned. I began to notice that some of my interpretations were different than other people at church. I wanted to know everything. I wanted to go deep. Everything at church felt so surface level. Later on, I would go through about 2 years of seriously considering bible college. As time went on, I noticed I was often more conservative in my interpretations and my convictions. I felt like we kept things so basic and beginner level in Southern Baptist world. I wondered if I took things too seriously. Was I wanting to know too much? At this point in my journey, I still hungered for understanding. I felt like I was missing something. I felt like there was more.
Things took a new road in autumn of 2009 when I began a church visiting project. I had a cousin who was falling away from her Mormon faith and wanted to start visiting churches. I thought that sounded awesome. I wanted to explore the vastness of Christianity and learn more about all the denominations out there. Researching denominations and different church teachings was fascinating to me. And there I went in 2010 sampling the buffet of Christian brands and blogging on MySpace about my reflections. It took me 6 months to complete the schedule because I suddenly started having to work weekends which had previously been very rare. In 16 weekends over a period of 6 months I attended 40 church services at 31 different churches of 20 different denominations and 5 non-denominational churches. People thought I was out of my mind. Many weekends I went to several church services a Sunday. I almost always went alone. I wasn’t lost. I was wandering around on purpose. I felt like I was supposed to do this “project”. I wanted to explore churches. I was the visitor. It was a very unique experience. Christians have their own lingo and their own vocab. It feels like each church or type of church has their own culture. It took a while to learn the ropes. I questioned if nondenominational was really a better label for me, but I felt at home in my Southern Baptist church. Can you be nondenominational and go to a church with an associated denomination? Is that even a thing? The things church folks do and don’t do were still somewhat of a foreign concept to me even 4 years into being Christian. I was never really one of them. I wasn’t raised in church. I integrated into the churchy stereotype, but I never really fit in with all that. I finished the church visiting project and went back to where I had been (First Baptist). In my heart, I knew it wasn’t over. I was called to wander. Not all who wander are lost. Some are learning by exploring. I did not feel lost at all. I actually felt like I was strengthening my faith.
Even after going back to normal, I wanted to do a round 2 with the church visiting project. There were some churches I wanted to go to that I ended up not having time in the project's schedule. There is one church that stands out in my mind. For as long as I can remember, I have felt drawn to that church. There's always been something about it. I wanted to add it to the schedule, but I already had 2 Pentecostal churches on the list. So, I didn't go. (Spoiler alert: That is MY church now!) I felt like there was more. I had tasted things I’d never experienced before and I craved it. I thought I would hate Pentecostal churches because they are loud, but I found myself loving it. I craved what I called getting my Pentecostal fix. If memory serves me correct (it’s 2022 and this was back in 2010) I continued to visit a certain Pentecostal church in Beavercreek, Victory Temple, even after the project was over. I don’t know what kind of Pentecostal it was. I think it was independent/general. I never felt like it should be my church. However, I enjoyed being a visitor. The sermons were more passionate than what I was used to. I liked it. I enjoyed their services and felt closer to God there. Their worship music was good. It was the first place I ever raised my hand in worship. My knees shook a little bit as I did that. I felt the presence of God pass by. I had always thought that was such an odd thing to do (hand raising). I didn’t understand why people raised their hands or moved around in a church service until I’d been in a Pentecostal service. I understand now it’s worship. I remember feeling the presence of God more there than anywhere else I’d been, yet somehow I intuitively knew there was something more to seek. There was something about Pentecostal churches that made me feel alive.
I started slipping a bit. I had some ungodly influence in my life and it started taking an affect. It was rubbing off on me. I was gambling, smoking, mouth like a sailor. I knew I wasn’t living right and I felt bothered by it, but I didn’t know how to live righteously either. I wasn’t sure what was okay and what wasn’t okay and what is a matter of moderation. I wasn’t real clear on the daily living. Churches often don’t talk about living right anymore. I felt like I needed to be more. I needed to go deeper. And I didn’t know how to get there. I started praying God would send me someone to show me the way. I don’t know why that was my prayer, but I was specifically praying for someone to put me on the right path and show me how to live right. In October of 2010, I got a new coworker. This coworker was a godly man and he lived different. He was set apart. He had a different lifestyle than even most Christians. I remember one night (we worked third shift) I felt like I could see God in his eyes. I know now he had the Holy Spirit and it showed. There was something righteous about him. Holiness is what we call it. I had never really been exposed to that way of life, and I liked being around it. I wanted to do better when I was around him. It felt right, and when I was around that way I also felt conviction on the way I was acting. I wanted to be more disciplined.
He invited me to his church, New Life Worship Center. I thought I’d go for a one-time visit. I wanted to see what kind of church produced a godly person like him. It was January 30th of 2011. I still remember the experience well. They were singing “I believe you’re my healer” and these were people who really believed in healing. They had such big faith. The presence of God was strong. I’d never seen worship like this. I fell in love with his church from the very first service. I wanted to come back.
It grieved me to feel led to leave First Baptist and begin attending New Life Worship Center, but after weeks of wrestling with it I moved on. I was not expecting to leave my church. That truly grieved me. I had previously thought I’d spend the rest of my life at that little country church outside of the town I’d known since I was young. The experience of leaving a church certainly was an interesting one. That was the first church I had ever been a member at. I liked it there a lot. I felt God leading me to move on to this other church. I was not expecting arguments, criticism, and cold shoulders. It was quite ridiculous. People told me I was joining a cult and that I would be isolated, but they turned around and quit talking to me. I remember one time I was at the ice cream stand and saw someone from that Baptist church. I went to say hi and she saw me, said "Oh" with a surprised look on her face, and spun around on her heels and walked away. Another time I passed by 3 of the young women about my age in Walmart. The one in the middle smiled awkwardly. I walked over to say hey. The other two women literally turned their backs and stuck their noses up looking at the ceiling. I had never actually seen anyone do that. I was shocked. I ended up unfriending all of them on Facebook (which surely left the stigma on me) and moved on with my life. I had thought at first that I would go back there and visit sometimes, but not after the way I was treated when I started going to another church. I felt like I was being shunned because my beliefs had changed. It was clear people were disappointed in my choices. Leaving a church can definitely be an awkward experience.
New Life Worship Center was the first Apostolic Pentecostal church I had ever been to. It was love from the first day. I had never experienced a church service like that. Their worship was heavenly. It drew me in. I craved it. There was so much I didn’t know… I found myself presented with so much new information and doctrine that matched scripture in this deep way I had never seen. At the same time, there was much I disagreed with the Apostolic church on in regards to ‘standards’ of godly living, holiness, and submission to church authority. I studied these things with an open mind, drew my conclusions, and carried on in my faith. We all grow at our own pace. There were some things I later came to understand. There are other things I still disagree with. I did a bible study with my coworker not too long after my first visit there in January. I received the Holy Ghost in March and got baptized in the name of Jesus on May 29th. It took me a couple months to formally join the church. I had a lot of questions. I had some hesitations, but I couldn’t walk away from that atmosphere. I hungered for it.
My biggest obstacles were how different their beliefs are on the godhead and on salvation. I had previously been taught any church that is not Trinitarian is not really Christian. I was hesitant after finding that out, and approached with caution. You can’t tell me these people aren’t Christian. Look at the way they worship. You can feel God here. I had never heard of Oneness Pentecostals before. I didn’t understand at first. I tried researching on the internet, but kept getting people’s opinions. I wanted scripture. I had never noticed the word trinity is not in the bible. I had never noticed the bible doesn’t say God is 3 in 1 or triune or “God the father, God the son, God the Holy Spirit”. That jolted me a bit. It mostly confused me. I looked at all the different doctrines on the godhead, and set it all aside for a moment while I looked at just bible. The scriptures are clear that God is one. After much study, I came to agree with Oneness. Another thing that was a big thing for me was their beliefs on salvation. I had been taught easy believism that if you believe you are saved and that’s the end of that. I was a little offended when I heard baptism was necessary. I had been told it wasn’t, and I was taught that by pastors I knew and loved. I studied the scriptures on that. Understanding came and I obeyed the command to be baptized in the name of Jesus. This was the first place I’d ever seen anyone pray in tongues. What I previously thought would be crazy or maybe entertaining turned out to be this beautiful thing that had something heavenly to it. I began to want what they had, and I was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues for the first time just a few weeks after starting there. Holiness was new for me. That has been my greatest obstacle. It’d be less of an obstacle if churches still preached it like they used to. How will we converts know if no one teaches us?
I fell in love with church. I was there nearly every service. I almost always went to Sunday school. Sometimes I’d come early and get in the prayer room. I usually sat up front. I went up to pray at the altar just about every service. I’d pray with other people. I came to prayer meetings. I was on fire for God. I pressed even deeper to live in a way that is pleasing to the Lord. I made lifestyle changes and began to be more intentional with modesty and appropriate appearance. I made each decision on my own and grew at my own pace. I began to study the bible a lot more after becoming Apostolic Pentecostal. At this point, I had been Christian for a little over 5 years. (Yes, this was my third church and third time labeling myself with a denomination. People thought poorly of that. I look at it and see that it took a convert a while to find her place. 11 years later and I am still Apostolic Pentecostal.) I had a passion for living for the Lord and sharing my faith. I was always inviting people to church. I tried to share my testimonies whenever I could. My faith was fervent.
I had finally found the revelations I was looking for. Once I became Apostolic Pentecostal, I knew I always would be. It’s more than doctrine. It’s an experience. I felt like this church matched me much better in the way I interpreted the bible. I learned a lot there. Apostolics are not casual believers. They believe deeply. They study deeply. They live it out deeply. They pray deeply. They worship deeply. They are passionate and dedicated. Typically, most Apostolic Pentecostals take their faith as a serious part of their life.
I was there for a few years before I backslid. I quit going to church in 2015. Also, they had become very social media focused and the cameras made me so nervous. I wasn't comfortable being on camera. It gave me anxiety to even think about going. I remember so many Saturday nights I was tormented with insomnia and anxiety attacks because I wanted to go to church. I had bad anxiety at the time and couldn’t make myself go 99% of the time I wanted to. When I started there, they were ALJC (Assemblies of the Lord Jesus Christ). A few years later they switched to UPCI (United Pentecostal Church International). In the time that I was backslid, a lot of people left the church. Many of the church members dispersed to other local Apostolic churches. I still miss some of the people there. That congregation holds many good people and good Christians. I’ve learned that sometimes God replants you somewhere else. Even pastors are led to move states and pastor new churches. You have to be obedient when Jesus leads.
I know this blog is about my journey in choosing a denomination. We’ve already winded the road of how I found my way to being Apostolic. And I know that there are many backslid Apostolics who read these blogs and share with me how they want to come back. I’m going to share this part of the story about me backsliding and replanting at a different Apostolic church because I know there are other people out there who feel like they can’t be Apostolic anymore but they still want to be.
In 2019 I was so backslid that I declared I was leaving church altogether. God had other plans. He pulled me hard to another local Apostolic church and I settled in there. I left the church. I officially and formally decided to be done with church. I hadn’t been “in church” in years. It was October of 2019. October 13th to be exact. That was the day that I closed the chapter. I had been wanting to leave church. I had been saying for quite some time that I didn’t want to follow a denomination, didn’t want to follow a church, I just wanted Jesus. I didn’t want the mess. I felt like I couldn’t be Apostolic Pentecostal anymore. It’s not that I didn’t want to be. It’s that I thought I couldn’t be because I lived differently and wasn’t holy enough and never fit in. I needed closure. So, after months of not going, I decided to attend a final church service. A friend met me there and knew what I was doing. I could barely make myself go. I couldn’t stand being there. For some reason, I felt like I didn’t belong in church and shouldn’t be here. I couldn’t wait to leave. I spent half the service texting a friend. Finally, service was over. I said hi to a few people. And I walked out those doors.
I didn’t think I would ever go to church again. I knew that other types of churches did not satisfy my thirst for Spirit-filled services where you could feel the presence of God. I knew that my core doctrines were 100% Apostolic Pentecostal, and nothing else would provide a sense of belonging. It was lifestyle and standards that were the issue. I wanted to be Apostolic. I had it in my head that I couldn’t be.
Jesus stepped in and battled for me here. I was backslid and losing my grip on my faith more than I ever had in all the years I’d been Christian. I was depressed and consumed with anxiety. I wasn’t thinking straight. The enemy had twisted my perspective. I had lies in my mind about not belonging at church and not being enough. I was convinced I needed to walk away. I walked out those doors fully intent that I would never step foot in a church again. And Jesus said NO. At the moment, I thought he was nagging me. In hindsight, I realize he was fighting for me. The enemy had a tight grasp and I wasn’t even pushing back. I had lost the battle in my mind. Jesus pushed back and pulled me in another direction. I look back on this day and see what great love God has for us. This was a defining day. I had made my decision to leave the church and I went through with my final service. I slipped. I fell. I couldn’t see straight. And he pulled me back up on my feet.
Something in me wouldn’t stop saying I should visit that Lighthouse church. Even before I decided to leave the church, the thought of that Lighthouse church was on my mind for some reason. They have an evening service. I declared that I just officially left church for good. God said no. I hadn’t even made it home and he redirected my steps. He pulled me to go to the Apostolic Lighthouse Church (ALC Dayton) on Harshman Rd. I’d never been there, but I’d always felt drawn to that church even before I was Apostolic. It had been on my mind to go there for months. I’d wanted to visit for several years. This was the church I’d always felt drawn to. For years, I called it “that church on Harshman”. There was just something about it. Every time I ever drove down that road I stared at that church. This was the Pentecostal church I almost added to the schedule for the church visiting project back in 2009. This same time of year 10 years later and here I was being pulled to ALC. Actually, for several years while I was at New Life Worship Center, I asked friends to go with me to the evening service over there since we didn’t have one. No one ever would. I can’t remember if it was Friday night or Saturday night. I know it was that weekend I said I was leaving church. I went out for a fun night and went to the casino. I took a wrong turn on the way home and didn’t know where I was. “Wait a minute. Is this Harshman?” I said as I realized where I was. Coming home from the casino that night, I ended up passing right by the church. I wanted to pull over in the parking lot so bad. I wanted to just sit there for a minute, figure my life out. If I had been alone in the car, I might have. I’d never been there before, but God was pulling me there.
I said no. Did you hear me? I’m done with church! I’m not like these people. I’m not holy like that. I can’t live up to that. Just leave me alone. God pulled me hard. I felt compelled to go there. I argued. I remember sitting in the recliner saying no because I could feel God speaking to me to go there. I finally decided to go. I didn’t know anybody there. I didn’t even know if they still had an evening service. I did Facebook message one person I knew of (didn’t actually know) that went there and he invited me to sit with his family. I remember he said “Listen to the pull.” and that was exactly what I needed to hear. I went to the 6:30pm service. Did I not just officially declare that I was leaving church? I’d been thinking about it for over a year. I’m. Not. Like. Them. And yet there I was. I was angry. I was hurt. I had so much going on in life. My life had fallen apart. I was struggling so bad. My anxiety was through the roof to the point that it was debilitating. I was broken. I just sat there wondering why God insisted I be there. Was it the sermon I needed to hear? Did He have a message for me or something? I mean, really, why did He call me there? I sat there in my purple flannel and purple dreamcatcher earrings with dark purple lipstick mentally listing out all the reasons I couldn’t be Apostolic anymore. But I looked around that sanctuary and thought it was odd that it felt like home. And then the choir started. Wow. This is church. I felt God. This is what church used to feel like. It was a Spirit-filled service and prayer filled the sanctuary. To this day I remember what I heard that night. Not in the sermon or in the songs, but in someone praying in tongues. They were behind me and I heard them crying out in prayer. They prayed in tongues and it was like hearing myself pray but I had lost the ability to pray like that. I know the bible talks about interpreting tongues, but I’ve never seen it. This was different. This person was praying in tongues and it was like my soul was crying out. I heard someone else crying out to God with the depths of their core, the kind of crying out for God you can only know when you’ve known darkness… the kind of crying out for Jesus you do when you need Him to rescue you. I’ve never experienced anything like it, and I’ll never forget how powerful it was to experience that. I knew there was something there for me. I compromised and said I’d come here sometimes maybe once in a blue moon when I feel like going to church. I knew I had to come back. Looking back this was confirmation. The Apostolic church is where I belong.
I came back to the Apostolic Lighthouse Church on November 3rd. Instantly, I was back in church every week. It wasn’t even an active decision to get back in church. I kept going because I really wanted to be there. I could have never imagined how much God would do for me over the coming weeks. I fell in love with church again. My frequent panic attacks were replaced with peace. My constant (and I do mean constant 24/7 never ending all consuming) anxiety improved. I had a calmness that I hadn’t had in a long time. My emptiness didn’t feel so empty anymore. My worry turned to praise. My fears turned to faith. Within a few weeks, I had a joy in the spirit like I had never had before. Jesus was restoring me piece by piece. I didn’t think that was possible. I was just trying to survive. I was so broken. I was hurting so much. Truly, words cannot express all that I was going through. I needed God. Nothing else could fix this brokenness. He saw fit to redirect me somewhere that I could find healing and belonging.
One thing I did do differently is choose not to formally join the church and I chose to be independent of denominations. This church is WPF (Worldwide Pentecostal Fellowship). Most of the teachings are the same between the different denominations of Apostolic Pentecostal churches. I think WPF is more on the conservative side and ALJC is a little more liberal in comparison to the larger UPCI. Of course, there are more and more UPCI members that are becoming… less conservative. I lean more conservative on most things except for standards of outer appearance. That's a blog for another day. In many ways, I feel like the WPF fits me the best. If I had to pick an Apostolic Pentecostal denomination (organization) to follow/belong I would pick WPF. I've settled there at the Apostolic Lighthouse Church, the same one I felt drawn to all those years. I feel strongly that's where God wants me to be.
I used to think you had to have a label. You had to follow a church, a denomination. You had to have a church to teach you what the bible says and clarify what your beliefs should be. I followed churches and pastors. I thought that was the right thing to do. Over the years I've seen ministers go astray and churches change. It seems more and more churches are becoming worldly and watered down. Even conservative churches have watered down their beliefs so not to offend the world. When you follow a man (pastor, minister), you better be careful that he is following Jesus faithfully and the Word of God accurately. I think it's important to have a good pastor and biblically knowledgeable ministers to seek wisdom and guidance from. I wouldn't discourage anyone from joining a church or claiming a denomination as their own. I do identify as Apostolic Pentecostal because I'm a Oneness believer, baptized in Jesus' name, filled with the Holy Spirit, living for God daily, and I do believe holiness should be our lifestyle (though I differ in my views on holiness and "standards"). That being said, I do not follow or label myself with WPF, UPCI, ALJC, etc... There are too many things I disagree with and pressure to conform is common. Being expected to conform to that congregation’s standards even if you don’t actually agree with it is a common area of division and out-casting. I prefer to keep my distance from anything that tastes like control. For me, it's best to remain independent if I'm going to stay in church. I study the bible, interpret it the best that I can and seek God for understanding, try to live righteously, be good to others, and walk my own faith journey. I think that I will always stay with this path of being independent of denomination. That's what's right for me.
I've been Christian over 15 years. It took me a while to find my way. I've been at different churches, labeled myself different denominations, been out of church, backslid, come back, and changed my views on things over those 15 years. And you know what? That's okay. It's growth. It's okay to move forward even if it means leaving where you've been or changing your beliefs and choices. Follow God. Find a church that preaches bible and worships the Lord. You do need a church. I definitely recommend an Apostolic Pentecostal church, but that's just my perspective from my own bible study and church experience. Keep following God and his Word; he will lead you to where you need to be.
I agree that fellowship is really important to me when it comes to finding a church. My husband and I would like to find a church so that our children can grow up with close friends. We will start looking for one that emphasizes fellowship.
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