Choosing a church is a serious decision. It is important to approach your search using wise criteria.
God’s word is clear. Christians need to be a committed part of a church. So, what are some things to keep in mind as you make the decision?
A few preliminary thoughts.
The local church is a gift from God to his people. Committing to God’s kind of church is a privilege and joy for believers. Keeping this in mind will help you maintain humility and discernment as you search. Take some time, attend a few corporate gatherings, various groups and studies, and meet with Pastors and faithful members of the church.
Choosing a church should be driven by what the Bible has to say about the essential ingredients which need to be present in a church. Consider biblical criteria more important that personal preference. For example, style of music, impressiveness of the building, design of the kid’s ministry, average age of the congregation, even ease of parking should not be the deciding factors since they are not God’s essentials for the local church.
Here are some things you ought to look for as you choose a church:
1. A church that embraces the sufficiency of Scripture.
“All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work”
(2 Timothy 3:16-17).
This is where we ought to start in choosing a church. Local churches need to affirm the Bible for what it is; God-breathed, and therefore, inerrant, and authoritative and sufficient for all things needed for life and godliness.
Commitment to the sufficiency of Scripture should be highly visible in the life of the church. For example, the Bible will be unpacked, explained, and applied from its context in a thorough and reverent way during church gatherings. In God’s kind of churches, biblical preaching will be more like the main-course of a meal, and less like the parsley garnish. In preaching, and other teaching ministries, the focus will not be on the teacher, his opinions, and his epic style, but God’s word. The preachers and teachers, from the pulpit to nursery, will demonstrate a getting-out-of-the-way in order for God’s word to take center stage, so as to feed and love you.
Furthermore, this kind of a church will pattern things like its leadership structure, philosophy of ministry and practice, budget, worship, youth ministry, discipleship, and other activities based on Scripture.
When a church starts here, in word and deed, other necessary things will fall into place.
2. A church that holds high the glory of God.
“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).
God desires that our churches (and each of us) say and do all things for His glory. The preaching of the word, teaching in smaller groups/classes, and the culture of the congregation should demonstrate a real desire for God to be honored. There ought to be a sense that the church’s life is about pleasing God. Note: this might feel a tad unusual, maybe even uncomfortable. But the discomfort is good: the church seeks to applaud God, not man, in all it does.
This is a church who strives to preach and practice the greatness of God, the glory of God, the love of God, the grace of God, the holiness of God, the mercy of God and the sovereignty of God. At the same time, this kind of a church will emphasize the sinfulness of man, the inability of man, the depravity of man, and horrible eternal fate of unredeemed man. Even more, it’s a church that avoids spotlighting how “they do things” and how many people attended/made decisions/came forward. Church is about God’s honor, not man’s programs and preferences.
3. A church which makes the biblical gospel clear.
“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).
The church must emphasize the loving, finished work of Christ for sinners. You ought to hear much about Christ’s substitutionary atoning death on the cross for us, not due to our merit, but his grace. You ought to hear words like redemption, election, propitiation, atonement, substitution, and justification, faith and repentance explained and applied.
Furthermore, since the gospel includes the call to put faith in Christ (Acts 17:30), you’ll want to hear a frequent, authoritative call to the unsaved to turn from their sinfulness to faith in Christ.
In things like evangelism and outreach, the focus should be on the message of Christ crucified to save, not the church’s clever methods. In church life, you ought to be reminded often of the only way in which a human being can be acceptable and right with God: faith in the Person and finished work of Christ. You ought to see and hear the message of the cross just about everywhere you turn in church.
4. A church which emphasizes biblical doctrine.
“…the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15).
“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires”
(2 Timothy 4:3).
“But as for you, speak the things which are fitting for sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1).
When looking for a church, one of the first things you’ll want to do is look at their doctrinal statement. And it’s a bad sign if such a thing is hard to locate, reluctant to be handed out, or shorter than an In-N-Out menu. (Desert Ridge Baptist Church’s (DRBC) Statement of Faith and Doctrinal Distinctives are easily found on our website – DRBC.us)
Be wary of the church which indicates, “Well, we are not about doctrine.” A church who is not about doctrine can be no more, therefore, about God, than a restaurant who says, “We are not about food,” can be about serving dinner.
Additionally, the doctrinal stance of the church should not be something they boast in, but a humble privilege of stewardship they see themselves as having. It should be the basis of worship. They’re not looking for a doctrinal fight (2 Timothy 2:24-26), but if it comes to defending the faith, they will not back down.
And in healthy churches there’s a humble eagerness for newer and or wrongly taught believers to embrace sound doctrine based on the pure milk of the Word.
5. A church which stresses Christ-like love.
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).
This will not be hard to discern in the kind of church you should choose. You will want to see intentional care for one another.
Biblical love does not necessarily look like getting a huge visitor packet in a fancy bag with the colorful church logo on it. There’s nothing wrong with that, but biblical love is more about a sincere warmth from the people as you interact; a humility demonstrated in a genuine interest in you and bringing you into the life of the church.
Ask: “Is there a desire for the members to know, serve, and care for one another? Is there an unforced doing-of-life together among the members? Are individuals consistently and candidly sharing their lives together? Again, for this reason, it’s a good idea to attend meetings (small groups, men’s and women’s studies) in addition to the Sunday gathering.
6. A church where sin is dealt with according to the Bible.
“If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother” (Matthew 18:15).
Ask: “Will this church love me enough to confront my sin and lead me to confession and repentance? Will this church treat me like an unbeliever (for my good and the health of the church) if I refuse to confess and repent? (Matthew 18:15-17). Avoid a church which will not do those things for the same reason you should avoid a physician who will not deal with our sickness. Avoid a church where it’s easy to stay in sin. Avoid a church that says: “We don’t discipline because everyone sins.” That’s a cop-out.
The Holy Spirit’s work should be evident in the life of the church as it relates to progressively putting off sin. Whether his work through biblical preaching, teaching, or faithful members of the church, this should be a place where Christians are lovingly being encouraged to walk by the Spirit so as to put their own sin to death. The church is a place where the Spirit is at work to expose and eradicate our sin.
7. A church which stresses biblically qualified leadership.
“…appoint elders…namely, if any man is above reproach…” (Titus 1:5-6).
As you visit churches, ask about their process of recognizing qualified leadership. In a good church, it should be difficult, not easy, to become an elder, ministry leader or teacher. It should be difficult simply because they follow God’s high standards for appointing leaders. Potential leaders should be observed for some time before being given ministerial responsibilities. Character is at least as important as knowledge in a leader.
Similarly, ask: “Where did they get their training?” “By whom were they ordained for leadership?” “Are these leaders men whom I could follow?” “Would I want my daughters marrying men like that?” “In what way are they training up additional leaders?”
8. A church where the members are encouraged to serve and use their spiritual gifts.
“As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (1 Peter 4:10).
God’s church is the “body of Christ” and each member is given gift(s) and empowered by God to serve the body for the common good. Ask the church leadership how they help shepherd people into the privilege of serving in the various ministries and needs of the church.
9. A church which emphasizes sanctification.
“…work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13).
God does not give the spiritual new birth to his children so that they remain children. Like biological parents of a newborn, His concern is that we grow. And the local church is to serve as His greenhouse; developing an atmosphere conducive to the sanctification of the Christians.
This should be visible in an emphasis on the discipleship and shepherding of believers in all stages of their sanctification (2 Timothy 2:2, Titus 2:3-5). When considering a new church, we do well to ask what means they provide to encourage the sanctification of members. Is there an expectation that members will actually be accountable to one another and to the membership covenant?
10. A church which stresses evangelism.
“And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age’” (Matthew 28:18-20).
Ideally, when the previous essentials of church life are emphasized, active evangelism will result. In either case, as you look for a church, you’ll want to ask things like, “Is the gospel regularly being proclaimed from the pulpit and are the lost urged to repent? What other ways does evangelism happen in the church? Does the average member know the basic contents of the Gospel?
And let’s be careful of asking about evangelism “programs”. The best evangelism program, is the one where all the members are equipped to live godly lives as salt and light and encouraged and trained to speak about Christ crucified for sinners.
We pray that these thoughts are helpful for you as you make the important decision about church affiliation.