We want to address helping Christians find a church. For some this is a no-brainer, just find the nearest church of their denomination or movement. For a more thoughtful approach, here is some advice from a pamphlet one church provides its departing members and also new visitors.
One of the most important decisions you will make as a Christian is your choice of a home church to attend. This will determine what you learn about God and will determine the people with whom you will spend most of your time worshiping, serving, learning and growing. So it is important for you to make a smart, Spirit-led, biblical decision.
There are six good reasons to become part of a church family:
1. God wants you to be an active part of a local body of believers.
2. You will gain a spiritual family to support and encourage you.
3. You will come under the protection and guidance of godly leaders.
4. You will find accountability as you grow in your spiritual life.
5. You will have a sense of belonging.
6. You will be encouraged to learn about and use your spiritual gifts. (adapted from Rick Warren)
OK, you understand the need to find a new church home. But how do you know which to choose? There’s a smorgasbord of church types, belief systems, and worship styles out there. Do you look for something that suits your tastes, like shopping for a new car? Do you go where your friends go? Here are some spiritual and mental crowbars to help you evaluate potential churches.
Is the church you are considering committed to the four pillars of the early church?
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles (Acts 2:42-43 NIV, emphasis added).
Based on the model of the first church, you should first look for the four key elements of a God-honoring church:
1. Is the teaching biblical?
Paul underscored the importance of biblical teaching: “. . . devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching” (1 Tim. 4:13).
He also warned, “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear” (2 Tim. 4:3).
Therefore, check out the church’s doctrinal statement and read it carefully. Determine what makes their teaching the same as or different from other churches. Ask lots of questions of the leadership.
2. Is there genuine fellowship?
Fellowship is as important as doctrine. John, whom Jesus loved, passionately wrote: “We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3).
Fellowship is more than just having meals together. Do the people enjoy being together and talking about spiritual things even when the meetings are over? Do they minister to one another during times of need or hardship?
3. Is the church committed to the “breaking of bread”?
Jesus Himself made this clear: “He said to them, ‘With fervent desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer’” (Luke 22:15 NKJV).
The apostles took this quite seriously, as we see in Paul who conveyed the command of the Lord, “. . . do this in remembrance of Me” (1 Cor. 11:24).
Is there the same level of “devotedness” to the breaking of bread (i.e. the Lord’s Supper) as to the other three foundational elements of the church (teaching, fellowship and prayer)? How often and when is it done? This may indicate the level of emphasis given to it. Does the Lord’s Supper seem to be just a ritual without life, or does it reflect a vibrant sense of remembrance and worship of the living Christ?
4. Do they pray seriously?
“… he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John who was also called Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying” (Acts 12:12).
Is there sincere prayer taking place by individual members, small groups, or the whole church? Is there evidence that the church really is dependent upon God, or is prayer more of a dull duty?
5. Are they committed to reaching out?
“Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation” (Mark 16:14).
Does this go beyond the talking and into the doing? What is actually being done to reach the lost? Are people coming to Christ? What kind of outreaches have taken place in the last 12 months? Does the church support and encourage missionary involvement?
Is the church committed to discipling and equipping believers?
Jesus said, “. . . go and make disciples” (Matt. 28:19). You can’t get any more direct than that!
Paul adds, “It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up” (Eph. 4:11-12).
What kind of discipling is taking place? Is it intentional?
Some other things you might want to consider:
- What is the church’s vision statement?
- Does this church believe in qualified, biblical leadership that is shared or does leadership ultimately rest with one individual (single pastor or other influential person)? Are there biblical elders who oversee the ministry?
- Are you needed here? Is there room for your spiritual gift?
- Where does this church stand on gender and ministry issues?
- Who is the church trying to reach? What is their emphasis: youth, seniors, immigrants, minorities, etc.?
- Is this the best place for your family’s spiritual growth? Will the spiritual needs of your children be adequately met here?
- Will you feel comfortable bringing non-Christians?
- Is there an atmosphere of love? A vibrant community of friendships?
Deciding on the location of your physical home and your church are related. The distance you live from your church directly affects your ability to attend the activities of the church. A thirty-minute drive one way means a one-hour commute time for each activity you attend. This can make it difficult for attending weekly small groups, Sunday evening events, and children’s or youth meetings. Where possible, it makes sense to choose your church first, then determine the neighborhood you will live in.
What style of music do they use? This is important, but it should not be the determining factor. Other things are far more important. However, many churches are bitterly divided over this issue, so this needs to be considered carefully. The style of music and the attitudes toward differing kinds of music does reflect underlying perspectives on what are or are not acceptable forms of worship and praise.
What socio-economic strata of life is represented by the people attending? This should be a fairly minor issue, but, every church has its own “culture”—and this culture is affected by the people who make up each local body.
Does God want you at this church?
The above list may seem overwhelming. One thing is for sure, you will not find the perfect church that meets all your requirements. Therefore, you will have to determine before God which factors are most important to you. The bottom line is, where does the Lord want you? As we have seen above, He has outlined in His Word the kind of church He desires. Our prayer is that you will follow His lead and experience the fellowship and spiritual growth that He wants for all His followers.