Q: #276. How do I find a good church?
By: Steve Shirley
A: Choosing a home church can be a bit overwhelming today. God has poured out His blessings on this country, and because of that, we have the freedom to worship Him in literally hundreds of thousands of places. You can find at least a few churches in nearly every city, and dozens in some cities. So how do you choose? Here are some things you should look for.
1. The doctrine that is being taught in a church is crucial. There are several key doctrines that are central to the Christian faith and ALL Christians/Christian churches must hold these beliefs. You can find these here. If a church does not believe and teach these things, they must be avoided (i.e. Church Of Jesus Christ Of Latter Day Saints [Mormonism}, Jehovah Witnesses). If you are not sure what the church you are considering believes, you can often find a "doctrinal statement" on their website. Or, just call the church and ask or set aside some time to speak with the pastor.
2. One of the "essential" doctrines is, "The Bible is the infallible, inerrant Word of God." As such, all teaching in the church should be Bible centered. Does the pastor read from the Bible as he gives a sermon? Does he teach the Bible correctly and help you to understand it better? Does he give you a hunger for God's Word? Does he teach the "hard" messages on repentance, sin, hell, and God's justice, or does he ONLY preach "positive/uplifting" messages? There MUST be a balance! All of these are very important. (Eph 4:12-13 also gives us a good picture.)
3. In general, the largest part of any church service is going to consist of the sermon and the worship music. The music played is very important. Of course, the point of "worship" music is to "worship God." Is the music reverent and does it honor God? Are you able to enter into worship and freely express your worship to God? You should also keep in mind that there are generally two types of music being played today to "worship" God: hymns and contemporary music. Both types are acceptable and have strong points. Hymns are more traditional and tend to have lyrics that contain many good Biblical truths. This type of music is usually led by one person playing an organ or piano. Contemporary music is generally played with a worship leader leading a band. This style of music is being played in most newer churches today, and is much more popular with youth in particular today. Contemporary music shows that "worship" can be fresh, modern, outgoing, and vibrant, yet still reverent. (You may see some people raising their hands in churches where contemporary music is played. While this is something you may not have seen before, it is simply a way of expressing worship [I explain more here]). It is up to you to decide which type of "worship" music is better suited for you to worship God.
4. Does the church regularly practice the ordinances of The Lord's Supper/Communion and Baptism? The Bible commands these to be done, and they should be done.
5. Does the church have strong missions and outreach programs? Does the church support missionaries who are serving in other places? Does it send out missionaries to serve? Does it reach out to help others in the local community (i.e. a food pantry, helping the homeless, prison ministry, visiting shut-ins)? I love this question a local pastor asked a while back: "If your church disappeared, would the community miss it?"
6. Is the Gospel being presented clearly? Are the lost being saved? Following The
Great Commission (Mt 28:16-20) is crucial for all Christians and the last command
Jesus gave before leaving Earth after His resurrection. A church in which no one
is ever saved is a dead church!
(I like to see altar calls every week, offering the lost a chance come forward and make a decision for Christ, but many good churches do not practice this.) (See Gal 1:6-9 for verses on avoiding churches that preach a false Gospel.)
7. Can you use your "spiritual gifts" to serve in the church? ALL believers have been given a spiritual gift (usually several) from God (See: 1 Cor 12, Rom 12:4-8). He has given us these gifts to bless and help others. Is the church set up so you can effectively use your gifts? You should also note that some churches believe certain gifts are no longer for today i.e. tongues and prophecy. If you believe these these are for today, and you practice them in these churches, you are likely to encounter problems. (For more on Spiritual Gifts, or how to find yours, go here.)
8. If you have small children, is there child care during the service? If you have older children or youth, is there strong programs and groups set up for them to grow in their walk with the Lord? Can they find Christian friends that will strengthen and encourage them? This is especially crucial in today's world with all of the temptations and pressures being put on our children that try to pull them away from their faith.
9. What is going on outside of the Sunday Service? Does it have groups where you can fellowship and connect with others in the church? This can be things like: Sunday school classes, small groups, Bible studies, support groups.
There will also be some smaller things to consider like: big church vs smaller church, formal vs casual dress, etc...
As you are searching, keep in mind there is no perfect church. The old saying is: "Church is a hospital for sinners." It is not a place for "perfect" people. There are going to be people in ANY church that do things which bother you. But, there are far more people trying to follow the Lord's commands, and live out a life of being Christ-like and obeying what God says in the Bible. Join with them! Those in the church need YOU (especially those who bother you). And, you need the church! (See my previous question for why you need to go to church.)
*** Note: I should add that there are SOME churches and denominations today (i.e. SOME Presbyterian, Methodist, Episcopal, Lutheran) that are ordaining gay ministers and promoting gay marriage. This is TOTALLY UNBIBLICAL and unacceptable. Any individual church that teaches these things is to be avoided!