I recently had to "find" another church. Through a complicated and compelling pile of circumstances I found myself looking. I also found myself fielding dozens of questions by others looking and asking me directly, "Where should we go now?” Or sometimes simply, “Where are you going?”
What do I look for in a church?
I have been on staff strategically thinking this through and now recently it has hit home personally as I took time to find a place for me and my family. There is a lot I have not covered here. I am assuming we all have additional items that are unique, but I would contend we should all consider the following as a foundational starting point:
Consider the life, reputation and actions of the staff and lay leaders. Ask yourself, if I or my family spend time investing in relationships in this community, will it help me grow in Christlike character? In Matthew 4:18-20 Jesus said, “Come, follow me…” to his disciples. Life with Jesus is relational and He invites us to be transformed by His Spirit and those we surround ourself with in Christian community. Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:1 says, “Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ.” Proverbs 13:20 speaks an encouragement and warning that who you spend time with will change you. Choose wisely.
Does the main preacher along with other staff speak highly of other churches and leaders? This is more subtle and may not seem as important, but it can reveal subtle arrogance or inward pride in ways that may elsewhere be more easily hidden. I look for a graciousness in how the leaders speak of others that maybe easy to be disagreeable with. This behavior exemplifies the discussion of humility in Philippians 2:3-5. It also shows an understanding of the significance of Jesus’ prayer for Christian unity described in John 17:20-23 that goes beyond any one local church.
Is there genuine joy, honest conversations about failure and transparency by leaders? In Galatians 5 we have an extended discussion of what it visibly looks like to walk in the Spirit. This isn’t complicated. Walking in the Spirit takes effort, but over time the discipline to do so results in fruit of the Spirit as listed in Galatians 5:22-23. This list is not easily faked. Look for it, ask about it. Consider James 2:14. Belief without action isn’t actually real faith. There are a lot of churches with great statements of faith and big buildings, but that lack genuine faithfulness. Look for it. Not perfection, but humble pursuit of Christlikeness.
This list is certainly not exhaustive, probably is a bit reactionary to my recent circumstances and even as I write this I continue to think of more to share. However, the point is:
Don’t overcomplicate it!
Read the gospels and see how Jesus lived in community, prayed and treated people. This happens today. There are incredible churches of all different sizes, with differing theological believes, differing music styles and vastly different programs available. Church is not simply a building or a collection of programs to occupy our time. Church is a group of people who love Jesus, are filled with the Holy Spirit and live the gospel in ways that transform their very lives. Remember, there are no perfect people. There is no perfect church. Commit, give, serve, worship, pray and see what God will do in your new spiritual home for your next season.
Q. What are non-negotiables in the next church I join? What are simply preferences?
Q. Who can I talk to that I know to help give guidance?