It can be hard to find a good church. We’ll look at nine important things to look for in your search.
Christ has no perfect churches on earth yet there are churches that wholeheartedly strive to exalt the perfect Christ through a perfected bride.
Introduction. If you are reading this it is likely because you are leaving a church. Remember that leaving a church is not a light thing. If you are a member, you have formally covenanted with the local body and bride of Christ, that is not a light thing! We must take church membership and searching for a church seriously.
I hate to see you leave your church but as you go, I want to help you to know what to look for in your next church. “What makes for a good church?”
1. A good church will exalt Jesus
Does the preacher shy away from talking about the wrath of God poured out on Jesus to pay for sin? Is the atoning sacrifice of Jesus celebrated? Even if the sermon comes from the Old Testament is it clear that the sermon is not by a Jewish Rabbi? Does the church make much of the work and wonder of Jesus Christ?
What does this look like practically? Ask yourself, “Could that sermon have been preached by a Jewish Rabbi?” “Did the preacher seem to shy away from the truth about Jesus, whether His deity, exclusivity, or atoning death?” Of course, when asking these questions there should be grace for the minister and understanding.
2. Keep God’s Word central
God has spoken and He has spoken through Scripture. So, the Word of God should be foundational to what the church does.
The preaching should be about what God has said in His Word and not about something that the preacher thinks is nifty. If the preacher doesn’t read from the Bible or even reference the Bible it is a pretty good indication that there is no reason to go back to that church.
Jesus said sanctify them in truth, Your Word is truth (Jn. 17:17). If we want to be made holy, which we do, we need to hear God’s truth, not the thoughts of men. The disciples said that Jesus had the words of life. We need those words, “the words of life,” not just any words. We need spiritual bread; not self-help tidbits. It is all Scripture that is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (1 Tim. 3:16-17). Thus, the first thing to look for is a church that has a conviction that the Word of God must be central in both the preaching and the life of the church in general.
What does this look like practically? Look at the church’s website and literature, does it talk about or reference Scripture? Check to see if the church has a statement of faith that reveals their view of Scripture. Is the Word of God read in the worship gathering? Is the Word of God taught?
3. A good church will rely on God
This can be a subjective question but an important one. We obviously cannot know the intentions of the heart. Yet, we need to realize that we do not want to be part of a church that is not relying on God’s power.
God says the gates of hell will not overcome His church because of His power. We know that God shows His amazing, wondrous power, through worthless vessels that trust in Him.
What does this look like practically? An important thing to look for here is whether or not the leaders pray and how they pray. Do the prayers show neediness, a reliance on God to meet the people’s true needs, or is it just a habitual mantra, something spouted off because, after all, it is what we are supposed to do?
4. A good church will have an atmosphere of love
Of course, this one is subjective too. However, that does not lessen its importance. We know from Scripture that people will know that we are Christians by our love so that is a good thing to look for in a church. Realizing love is not tangible or measurable.
What does this look like practically? I think a good way to look for this is simply by seeing if people were welcoming and seemed to genuinely care that you exist. Another thing to look for is what people did after the service. Did everyone run to their perspective sports games and their favorite restaurants to get the best seat? Or did they stay for a little bit to talk with others? These are not full-proof things to look for but they should help in finding a caring and loving church.
5. A good church will practice church discipline
This is important for various reasons. First, if the church practices biblical church discipline you can be sure that they are striving to be faithful to the Scriptures, Second, you want to attend a church that practices church discipline just in case you need it yourself.
What does this look like practically? Obviously, most churches won’t have banners flying proclaiming that they practice church discipline (and in fact if they do you may want to avoid them!). However, if they do practice biblical church discipline the leadership should be able to tell you why and how they typically practice church discipline.
If the church does not practice church discipline that is not necessarily a deal-breaker. There could be various reasons they don’t yet. Perhaps the pastor has not been able to teach on it and lead the church in that direction yet.
6. Have a statement of faith you agree with
This seems like a pretty obvious one but it is very important. You do not want to join a church or even attend one for an extended period of time if you do not agree with their fundamental doctrines. A church’s view on critical doctrines should be available on their website. If the church does not have a formal statement of faith or confession you would be wise to be leery.
What does this look like practically? Check the church’s website to see if they have a statement of faith and it would be good to check out the church’s membership commitment too. Remember if it is a young church they may not have these things in place yet. Talk to a leader about what they believe on critical issues. This should certainly include doctrinal issues as well as other things that are convictions for you. An example would be the church’s stance on alcohol.
7. A good church will practice discipleship and evangelism
We know from the Great Commission that we are to make disciples. This includes evangelism and teaching new apprentices of Jesus to observe “all things.” So any church that you consider attending should understand this important task. It is also good to make sure that you agree with the way that they are seeking to go about this task.
What does this look like practically? When possible it would be helpful if you could see how discipleship and evangelism are carried out first hand. This ensures that you agree with both the message and the methods.
8. A good church will have qualified pastor/elders
Here again, is another abstract question. This is a difficult one because if you are visiting a church you probably barely, if at all, know the pastor(s). Yet, it is clear from Scripture that the biblical qualification of a pastor is important.
What does this look like practically? How practically can you find out if a pastor is qualified? Well, I am not sure that you really can. But it would be possible to observe if he is not. For instance, if he is not apt to teach then he is not apt to be a pastor. If people legitimately speak ill of him then this may be an indication that he is not qualified. These things however will more than likely not be clear so I encourage you to simply ask a leader why they consider the pastor/pastors to be qualified. This will at least allow you to see if the leadership has thought through this important question. If it is not something that they have ever considered then it might be an issue.
9. Be one you can commit and submit to
Any church will have things that you do not like or even wholly agree with so you have to make a conscious choice whether or not that it will be great enough of a problem to prevent you from covenanting with the church or not.
What does this look like practically? It may be helpful to make a list of what are crucial issues for you, such as doctrinal matters like the deity of Christ, and what might be less important, like how often the Lord’s Supper is celebrated.
There is a whole host of other questions that could be asked but this, I trust, will be a good spur to get you thinking about the seriousness of “church hunting.”
The church is the body and bride of Christ and our connection to it is vital yet we should not foolishly connect ourselves to an unfaithful church