Question: "What factors should one consider when trying to find a good local church?"
Answer: When trying to find a good local church, it’s good to remember that, just like the people in them, no church is perfect. However, there are many important issues that should be considered when choosing a church. Some people live close to only a few churches, and their choices will be limited, but for others there are many more options. Be sure to pray about the churches you’re considering, to be sure you’re following the Lord’s leading as you search. Begin your search online, or in a local phone book, to see all of your options. Be especially sure to read a church’s doctrinal statement or statement of belief to find out about their stance on important issues. If from this initial research a church seems to be good and solid, visit the church (including small groups or Sunday schools classes) several weeks while prayerfully considering whether to join as a member. Listed below are some important things you should consider in your search to find a church.
1. What is being preached and taught? The Bible is clear that we should only listen to those who preach the true gospel of Jesus Christ (Galatians 1:6-9). If any other message is being given in its place, then it is not a Christ-following church and you should move on to another one (Ephesians 1:22; 4:15, Colossians 1:18). The church should be speaking God’s truth as given to us through His inspired Word, the Bible (2 Timothy 3:15-17). The truth of the gospel is that we are sinners (Romans 3:23), that we need a savior, and that Jesus is the only way of salvation (Romans 6:23, Ephesians 2:8-9). The gospel, as well as all the other teachings of the Bible, should be taught accurately and consistently. Besides the message of salvation, churches vary when it comes to their views on the Trinity, the authority of the Bible, eternal security, free will, God’s sovereignty, election of the saints, eschatology (beliefs about the end times), and other theological issues. These are all important issues that we should seek to understand, and, as much as we are able, we should choose a church based on the beliefs we have about these and other church doctrines.
If you don’t know where you stand on these issues, you should try to find a church that emphasizes and teaches that the Bible is God’s inspired word and that believes in God’s sovereignty. God’s sovereignty is seen in the fact that God is lovingly and powerfully in control of all of history, and working in all our lives to ensure His plan is carried out in every detail and in His perfect ways (though often not understood by us). Avoid a church where you’re told that God only wants happiness, good health, success, and wealth for you; the Bible says that, as Christians, we should expect persecution and suffering for the cause of Christ (Matthew 5). God uses our pain to encourage others and to grow us. While God desires us to be happy, He is more concerned with our holiness than our temporal happiness.
2. Is the church a place of fellowship and community? The early church of Acts 2:42-47 “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. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread [Holy Communion] together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved." Fellowship should indeed include the observance of God’s ordinances for the church—communion (the Lord’s Supper) and believers’ baptism (Acts 2:38).
Also, the church you choose should be welcoming to all. We should welcome sinners yet speak the truth to them about their sin. The people of the church should be committed to encouraging one another to grow in Christ (1 Thessalonians 5:11). Sometimes it’s hard to find a church where people don’t just show up on Sunday, but instead truly invest in each others’ lives. Part of this investment is seen in how active and important Sunday school classes, community groups, small groups, youth groups, and other support groups are within the church. If you are a parent, it is especially important that your children find an enjoyable and meaningful group to join during the formative years of their lives. Many kids don’t have Christian friends at their schools and desperately need this peer influence in their lives (Ephesians 6:4). While married couples are usually abundant in churches, it can be more difficult for people in other life stages to connect in some churches. If you are single, divorced, widowed, or have been abused, look for churches that include others who are in the same stage or experience as you.
3. Is the church focused on reaching out to others, outside the church, with the message of the gospel and practical service? Christ commanded us to carry the gospel to the ends of the earth, to all unreached peoples (Matthew 28:19-20). The church should be leading its members in this, preparing them to share the gospel with their neighbors and supporting or even leading local or international missions trips. We should be caring for the poor, the widowed, and everyone whom we can help (James 1:22-27, 1 Peter 4:10). Some churches don’t have the resources to reach out to the community with formal groups, but the individuals in the church should be volunteering in the community and serving their neighbors, on their own or with friends. Be sure to also look for a place to serve within your church.
4. Does the style of music fit with your taste or preferences? The older hymns are often rich with truth and important doctrines that can bolster our faith, and there are also many newer songs and choruses that are uplifting and encouraging. The purpose of music in a church should be to lead the people closer to the Lord in worship and adoration. Many of us are used to one style of music as opposed to another, just out of habit or childhood experiences. While music style should be taken into consideration, it should not be the deciding factor in finding a good church.