Here is the summary of the churches I've been to so far in the Maryland/DC area, listed in the order in which I visited them.
- Covenant Life Church (Gaithersburg, MD) — The preaching is very solid, clear and expositional, and everyone that I've met there has been quite friendly. However, I am a little concerned about the "biosphere" aspect, in that it has its own school, pastors' college, songs, and bookstore that only sells books written by people in the Sovereign Grace Ministries (the denomination that the church is part of). The more important concern is that the small groups are restricted to members only, which is great for building deep friendships but very off-putting for newcomers like me. Also, this may be a holdover from Park Street's very traditional service, but it seems that the people here are almost too enthusiastic in jumping up and down while singing.
- Grace Presbyterian Church (Washington, DC) — The service there is pretty traditional and reminds me very much of Park Street. Also, I really like their strong emphasis on small groups. Unfortunately, there isn't a small group meeting in Maryland; the closest one is in Tenleytown. Which means that it would be a really long commute to go to church, about a 40 minute Metro ride. Also, this may be a mild complaint about PCA churches in general, but they tend to attract a self-selected group of mostly well-to-do young professionals. But I do admire their efforts at planting an intellectually sound church with an emphasis on outreach in the heart of DC.
- Gaithersburg Community Church (Gaithersburg, MD) — The people there were so nice and friendly. The pastor even talked to me for an hour to answer all of my questions about the church. Unfortunately, it is really small, with about 40 people there, which may be expected of a church plant. Another concern is finding people there my own age. Almost everyone there is black and in their 30's with small children. I do think it is important for me to fellowship with people who are very different from me, but I do need support from my peers as well.
- Church of the Redeemer (Gaithersburg, MD) — Wow, when I walked into this church, I thought, now, this is a model of diversity. It was a wonderful reflection of the ethnic and generational diversity of Gaithersburg, with whites and blacks and Hispanics and Asians all worshipping together. The music was pretty good. Everything was wonderful, until I heard the sermon. First of all, they read from the NLT, which is not a "bad" translation, but I'm not convinced it is appropriate for teaching. Maybe I've been spoiled by all of the other churches that I've visited, which all use the ESV. For individual devotions, sure, the NLT is fine. Also, I really did not feel that the sermon was very challenging. I almost felt that it was dumbed down a bit. I also was concerned about the almost TV show atmosphere, with the LCD signs, multiple cameras, and almost theatric quality to the offertory song. Seriously, people should not be feeling the need to clap after an offertory!
- Fourth Presbyterian Church (Bethesda, MD) — I had heard that this church offered the best preaching in the DC area, with the possible exception of Capitol Hill Baptist. I was not disappointed. The church seems very learning oriented, with lots of Sunday School classes, the "Tuesday academy" with more classes, and even seminary classes (from the Reformed Theological Seminary's DC campus) held there. I also pretty much agree with their theology, which focuses on the majors and leaves the minors to individual churches. Unfortunately, it is a little far away, about a 30 minute drive. And, being in a rich suburb, it's not the most diverse in terms of race. I was also a little undecided on their College/Young Career Fellowship Sunday School; it was a little disorganized in that a lot of people came late, and although I love GCF large group, this Sunday School reminded me too much of that (praise and worship followed by lecture, with no small group discussion). I think I would prefer a Sunday school where people interacted more. I wonder if it would be okay to attend a normal Sunday School but attend a YCF small group on Monday nights with other women. Also, there is a supposedly intergenerational small group meeting biweekly in Rockville on Friday nights.
All are good churches, but for different types of people. I think that I've switched my focus from just blindly looking for a diverse church, to looking for one that has a real focus on inner city outreach, student ministries (since Park Street was great on that), and a commitment to intellectual learning and deep friendships.
I've been in contact with the leadership from all of these churches except for one, and I'll hopefully sort things out soon.