Searching for a New Church?
Most Christians face, at some point or at many points in their life, the challenge of finding a new church. Perhaps it’s because they move to a new city and have to start fresh in a new church, or maybe they are looking to change churches because their current one went off the rails theologically. Whatever the reason (good or bad), the church search is a fact of the Christian life. How can it be conducted with wisdom and discernment? What are the essential things to focus on?
The following are seven key items to look for and prioritize when you embark on your next church search:
A good barometer of a church’s overall theological health is how explicitly or tacitly Trinitarian it is. Is God the Father, Son, and Spirit the focus of everything the church does? Does the church cherish the doctrines of adoption, atonement and sanctification? Is Jesus Christ—his life, death, resurrection, and lordship—central to the church’s teaching and worship? Is the Father passionately worshiped and pursued in prayer? Is there a culture of listening to the Spirit and practicing the spiritual gifts? Are the Lord’s Supper and baptism fixtures in the church’s weekly worship? Affirmative answers to these questions should be a must for any church search.
Whatever the reason (good or bad), the church search is a fact of the Christian life.
2. Biblically Centered
Does the church ground its preaching, theology and activities in the Bible (and not just some parts of the Bible but the whole thing)? Is the preaching more interested in exploring what God wants to say to us in Scripture than how Scripture can support what we want to say? Do the church’s small groups actually dig into the Bible or are they more like therapeutic support groups? Are the church’s worship songs and liturgies soundly biblical? If the Bible is not front-and-center in these and other respects, stay away.
3. Marked by Mission and Transformation
Healthy churches are communities where the kingdom of God is being advanced and lives are being transformed; where discipleship and disciple making are central; where conversions and baptisms are frequent; where the priorities of personal holiness and church planting are not mutually exclusive. Healthy churches are not status quo, insular country clubs but growing, outward-minded organisms, always looking for ways to bless the surrounding community and pursue the Great Commission (Matt. 28:16–20).
4. Godly Leaders
Does the church have strong, trustworthy pastors or elders who meet the qualifications set out in 1 Timothy 3:1–7 and Titus 1:5–9? Are they “above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money” (1 Tim. 3:1–2)? Does each “hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9)? These are crucial questions in a church search.
5. Opportunities to Serve
Sometimes a church can be attractive (great preaching, music, friendly, etc.) but turns out to not have many opportunities for members to serve. This is not ideal. A healthy church is one where all parts of the body are functioning in their gifts and serving the whole; where everyone is encouraged and expected to volunteer in some capacity, whether as a greeter, usher, musician, Sunday School teacher, camera operator, etc. This dynamic encourages the sort of mutuality and interdependence that the body of Christ (as with any healthy family) should manifest.
In our isolated, fragmenting world, where the trajectory of technology is away from incarnational presence, the need for physical, real-life community is great. Churches are countercultural because they encourage us toward the increasingly rare phenomenon of being with people in physical presence, regularly. Embrace this. Look for a church with a strong sense of community, where congregants don’t just come and go quickly on a Sunday but actually enjoy being together. And look for a community with diversity: generational, ethnic, cultural, socioeconomic. It’s a sign of gospel-centeredness (rather than culture-centeredness) if a church can draw and unite a diverse array of people.
7. Geographic Proximity
This is related to the above point. Strong church community is hard to cultivate if you live far away from the actual church. So in your search, start with churches near you. Are there good churches that meet the above checklist criteria, within a few miles of where you live? Do you really want to go to a church that is thirty miles away, where you’ll likely only see your church family on Sundays? This may be necessary in rare cases, but start by looking local.
A healthy church member is deeply committed to and practices particular disciplines within a local church.
If you're chronically frustrated at church, the primary solution is not to try to fix things but to recenter your focus on God.
Mention the church to a group of Christians and you are likely to get a mixed response.