The church, what a wonderful, terrible organization! While I have always been a strong advocate of local church involvement, I’ve also learned that we need to be discerning in our choices. Below you will find some ideas to help you find a church. These general guidelines are based on what I’ve found to be important; they are not intended to be conclusive or comprehensive instructions.
Please be sure to seek God’s guidance, taking the time to thoroughly investigate your options when looking for a church. God’s wisdom and knowledge far exceed ours, and so we want to ask Him to guide our search. What we desire in our hearts, or see with our natural eyes, might not always be what is best. Surrendering our desires to Him and remaining sensitive to the Holy Spirit is vital to this process.
- I would begin with an online search to familiarize yourself with the churches in your community. The majority will have a website. There you can usually view their statement of faith (list of doctrinal beliefs) and get a sense of what they value (or profess to value).
- An appropriate next step would be to ask questions of Christ-like Christians in your community. If you don’t know of anyone, talk to neighbors, coworkers, or anyone else you might know. Don’t limit your efforts to just one or two opinions. Perspectives are so diverse that it is always best to look for trends. If, for example, four out of five people you respect have a positive impression of Living Waters Fellowship, then it is worth checking out.
- Make a list of churches to visit. Feel free to contact them to confirm service times and to ask about dress codes. If visiting a church makes you nervous, not knowing what to wear will make it that much more difficult. Unlike in the past, many churches now embrace casual dress.
- When visiting a church, plan to arrive fifteen to twenty minutes early so that you can look around and ask questions. Some churches have information desks. Many provide an opportunity for visitors to meet people after the service. Don’t be afraid to take advantage of these opportunities to ask questions. Always ask questions.
- There are some especially important issues to consider when checking out a local church and reviewing their doctrine. Do they hold a high view of the Bible, seeing it as the inspired Word of God and the authority for Christian living? Is the music God-centered, and does it resonate with you? Do you sense that the leaders are humble, as opposed to being self-serving? Does the environment of the service feel free? Pastors will always try to persuade people to action—it is part of their job—but steer clear of any church that uses manipulation or control as a means of behavior modification. Do the people appear to be warm and inviting? Do you sense spiritual vitality within the church, or is the atmosphere dry and lifeless?
I would be more concerned about the life and vitality of a particular gathering of Christians than I would about the exact form of their structure. This is not to say that structure is unimportant, but that your primary reason to find a church is to connect with a fellowship of believers who will encourage each other toward maturity in Christ.
- One of the most vital issues will involve their perspective of law and grace. If a church has a lot of written (or unwritten) rules, any mention of grace will be shallow. On the other hand, how we live does matter, so if grace is interpreted as the freedom to do whatever people want, there is a problem.
It is also important to find out about how they relate to other churches in the community. A healthy church should have healthy relationships with other local churches. Steer clear of a place that comes across as elitist, or that isolates itself from other Christians in the are.
Finally, ask about the primary vision of the church, what programs might be relevant to you (and your family), how you might be able to connect with people, and any potential opportunities for service.
- Even if you really like the first church you attend, it may be worth checking out some others in the community. When you eventually face difficulties in your new church home—and you will—you’ll want to be confident that you are in the right place. Don’t be afraid to visit a church more than once. When you find a church you feel good about, attend for 2-3 months before you consider becoming a member and serving in any significant way. You just want to be sure that it is a good fit for you.
As it should be with finding a spouse, don’t blind yourself to major character deficiencies through the “dating process,” but neither should you expect everything to be exactly as you wish. Remember, the goal is to find a local fellowship where God is calling you to connect with spiritually maturing Christians. In most cases, this will also be a place you feel you can call home. However, because a church consists of imperfect people, you will never find the perfect church. If you do locate one, it will no longer be perfect after you join!
In the end, you’ll want to find a church that is a good place to grow spiritually, where you (and your family) fit fairly well, and that it is the place God is calling you to land.
Once you firmly decide which local body of believers God is leading you to join, by all means, get involved. Don’t feel obligated to do everything, but find your niche and be faithful to what God is calling you to do. If it is a healthy environment, you will be blessed with rich relationships and solid spiritual growth.
Your effort to find a church and get connected might not always go as you hope (we humans are an imperfect lot), but the value far outweighs the difficulties!
The above post is based on Appendix III in Bob’s life-changing Champions in the Wilderness devotional.