And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.

Acts 2:47

Looking for a church can be an exhausting and frustrating ordeal. In some communities there may be very little to choose from, while in larger metropolitan areas there are probably quite a few life-giving fellowships. Finding them and discerning the right one for you and your family is the challenge...

  

The truth be told, most people make decisions, even important ones, on the basis of their emotions. Church hunting is no different. A few first impressions, and you’ve decided for or against a particular place before the service is half over—not on the basis of factual information, but because you felt good or bad about a few people, the decor, or the length of the song service. Church growth experts tell pastors to put their best people in highly visible, first-impression positions like ushers and nursery workers—I’d rather see people make their choice on the basis of the facts. That’s what this article is about.

God Wants You to be in a Church

First of all, remember that God wants you to find a church. Jesus is the builder of the church, and He wants every believer to be a committed member of a local body…

"…on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. (Matt 16:18)

Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching. (Heb 10:25)

The Lord takes the church very seriously. In a discussion about the Lord’s Supper, the Apostle Paul mentions that some believers have become sick, and even died, because of their lack of appreciation for each other, their failure to discern and respect the Lord’s body, the church. (see 1 Cor 11:27-34)

You can rest assured that God wants you to find a good church, and that He will render every assistance possible to you in your search.

It’s Not Baskin Robbins

If God is working for you, then first of all, before you do anything else, ask Him to guide you. As you open the telephone book, or begin to pray, ask Him to direct you to the church of His choice. He may just bring some place to your remembrance, or make a certain listing in the phone book fairly leap off the page, and your search could be over almost as soon as it started.

If you go around "sampling the flavors" as though the local church scene was Baskin Robbins with thirty-three varieties of ice cream to choose from, you’re likely to get confused and burned out. You could get jaded on the whole idea of a church and just decide to stay home and watch D. James Kennedy instead. If you walk into a church, having already decided to pass judgment on its negative and positive aspects… well, you’ll find a little of each. There are no perfect churches, and God doesn’t necessarily want you in the perfect church anyway. Maybe He wants you fill a gap in a church that needs what you have to offer. So, again, pray and ask God to lead you to the church of His choice—you may be surprised at how clearly He can speak sometimes, especially if you’re listening.

Doctrine is Important

Perhaps the most important factor in your choice of a church home is the doctrinal statement. Does this church give credence to the time-tested doctrines of the Trinity, the deity of Christ, the virgin birth, the person of the Holy Spirit, and the other doctrines laid out hundreds of years ago in the Apostles’ Creed?

Is it a Bible-believing church? That is, does it emphasize the necessity of turning from sin and being born again? Are the sermons meaty and straight from the pages of the Scripture? Are the members of the congregation converted, that is, can they point to the day they gave their heart to Jesus, or are they in this church simply because they grew up there?

There are different kinds of Bible-believing churches, too. Evangelicals stress the need for a personal relationship with the Lord, but aren’t very comfortable with things like praying for the sick or speaking in tongues. Charismatics, on the other hand, believe in the supernatural gifts of the Spirit. They also tend to worship more freely, by lifting their hands, singing out loud, and perhaps even dancing (all these forms of worship are in the Bible, by the way). Some evangelical churches, especially large seeker-sensitive congregations, now welcome charismatics—but not their gifts. Don’t be fooled by the rhetoric—did you actually see a spiritual gift in operation?

These things are important, because you want to be in a church where God is allowed to move by His Spirit, instead of kept in a tight box by men who are fearful of excess or of offending a carnal member.

Ask Not What Your Church Can Do For You...

Sometimes we’re so busy looking for the church with the best programs, the nicest auditorium, convenient parking facilities, air conditioning… why, we act as though we’re trying to decide to go to Rainbow or Cub for groceries this week! Church isn’t a consumer product, even if that’s how it’s being marketed by some today—and even if that marketing seems to work.

Church is a place where you both receive and give ministry. That means serving. I’ve never been overly comfortable in a very large church, because it could take forever to find my ministry niche there—and it may never happen at all, as most large churches fill ministry vacancies with imported professionals rather than someone who came up through the ranks.

Many choose a church on the basis of youth programs—the final decision is actually made by the kids in some families. Certainly you want your children to be happy in your new church, but an intelligent decision by the parents is more reliable than a child’s impressions. Furthermore, if the parents are ministered to, the whole family will be more healthy spiritually. And don’t forget, you are the most important spiritual influence on your child’s life. You can neither blame a youth program for straying children or find your family’s salvation in one. I wish I could count all the families who have left our church because they thought a more exciting teen group could bring their kids to the Lord—but it just doesn’t work that way.

My teenage daughter gets more out of church by helping out in the Sunday School than she would eating pizzas, attending concerts, and trying to dress just right for a large youth group. My small children are in Sunday School to learn basic Bible stories, and any reasonably competent teacher can accomplish that. Churches emphasize youth ministries because they know that’s what people are looking for, but the bottom line is that your kids are the direct result of what you put into them, and where they are the rest of the week, not what little a teacher or youth minister can put into them for the hour or two they’re under the care of the church.

One Visit is Not Enough

Avoid quick decisions. Visit a church more than once to really get a feel for what’s going on. Maybe you heard a guest preacher the first time you stopped by, or only half the worship team was on hand because of summer vacations. Just as you can’t really get to know an individual after just one meeting, neither can you truly understand something as complex as a church, a congregation of many individuals with various gifts and ministries to offer—and perhaps with needs that you can help meet. Check it out a little further. You may be surprised at what you learn.

Have You Resolved Any Conflicts at Your Past Church?

Let’s face it, one of the main reasons people go church-shopping is because they became dissatisfied at the last church they attended. It would take more room than we have here to state the various reasons—both real and imagined—that folks get offended at churches, but there are a few things that must be said. Make sure your heart is as right as it can be with those you’ve left behind. Forgive—really, from the heart—anybody who has hurt you; and on your part, make all the necessary apologies. Examine yourself : how much of the blame must you take for any broken friendships? does this sort of thing seem to follow you around? Maybe you aren’t dealing with things properly. Our troubles have a way of catching up with us if we don’t take an honest look at what really went wrong: be it a job, a church, a marriage or whatever.

Conclusion

It is a truism that you if you want to know what you’ll be like a few years from now, just look at the company you keep, and the media you absorb. Your home church plays a main part in both of those areas. You’ll slowly start to think and act like the people you fellowship with, so choose your associates carefully. And unless you have very deeply held convictions, you’ll eventually come around to the convictions of the preacher who has your ear each week.

Your choice of churches is more important than most people today realize. We modern Americans tend to take relationships more lightly than we should, moving from one to another with a minimum of regrets, but each time we do that we kill a little bit more inside of us. As believers who are to be known by their love, perhaps it’s time we made responsible decisions, entered into long-term commitments with each other, worked out our differences, and found the joy that Christ intended for us when He said, "I will build my church."

 

Copyright © 2002 Kim Harrington, Masterbuilder Ministries. All rights reserved.

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