Your choice of a church is important and can be challenging. A careless or prayerless choice may result in something less than best. But a thoughtful and prayerful choice, leading to the best fit, can greatly advance the Lord’s cause.
We’re privileged if we have a choice. Extensive numbers of our brothers and sisters around the world do not have multiple churches from which to choose. Yet this privilege also brings a responsibility with a degree of difficulty.
The New Testament epistles offer church-search criteria in their repeated coupling of two virtues: faith and love (Ephesians 1:15; Colossians 1:4; 1 Thessalonians 1:3; 2 Thessalonians 1:3; 1 Timothy 1:5; Philemon 1:5). In your search, seek a church in which both faith and love play a significant part.
In your search, seek a church in which both faith and love play a significant part.
In terms of faith, think TRUTH. Find a doctrinally sound church. Doctrine is foundational. Without a firm foundation here, everything else is subject to problems. With a firm foundation here, everything else is subject to solutions.
The doctrinal statement of a church represents a position on which previous and current members of the church have agreed. It tends to be the result of a process, including input from a multitude of counselors. It is unlikely to be quickly or easily changed. Therefore, a scripturally solid statement provides a degree of reliability. A doctrinally deficient statement poses an ongoing roadblock.
The New Testament strongly issues repeated warnings against false teaching and false teachers (Ephesians 4:14; 1 Timothy 4:1–2; Titus 3:9–11; 2 Peter 2; the Epistles of John; and Jude). This is clearly not an area for compromise.
In addition to a clear and correct doctrinal statement, seek a church that is fervent in faith (active in it, not simply agreeing to it) and free from fads (valuing truth over trend or tradition).
In terms of love, think TEAM. Christ prizes team spirit in His church (John 13:34–35; 17:20–23). Christians have practiced teamwork from the beginning (Acts 2:41–47; 4:32). Scripture promotes interaction among believers, as we love, serve, greet, consider, prefer, comfort, encourage, and pray for one another.
Nothing in Common but Christ
Once you’ve narrowed your search to churches that are like you in doctrine, seek a church that is unlike you in every other way. Look, not for your match, but for your counterpart.
Prioritize discomfort. If you enjoy every style, song, and personality in your church, you may be feeding your flesh and starving your spirit. If you insist on conformity where God doesn’t, you may be missing an experience you were meant to have.
If you insist on conformity where God doesn’t, you may be missing an experience you were meant to have.
If you find certain styles, songs, and personalities of your church to be challenging, you are giving yourself opportunity to expand your own experience, to show grace to others, and to come closer to the ideal Christ has set for His church.
If the church is set up to please you, it will likely attract only other people much like yourself, which will defeat the purpose of the church as a body.
For in fact the body is not one member but many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling? But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased. And if they were all one member, where would the body be? But now indeed there are many members, yet one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you” (1 Corinthians 12:14-21).
Demographically, we often seek to be surrounded by ourselves: other people who share our age group, ethnic background, career field, and hobby choices. For the cause of the Kingdom, we do better to think more widely.
Rather than being the church where everyone loves Jesus and also shares all the same interests, what if you were the church with nothing in common but Christ?
Rather than being the church where everyone loves Jesus and also shares all the same interests, what if you were the church with nothing in common but Christ? It’s incredibly eye-opening and instructive to observe the pairing that Christ did among His apostles. He purposely placed opposites together! Peter and John, who ministered closely together in the Gospels and Acts, featured opposing temperaments: Peter, the active and quick, and John, the thoughtful and deliberate. Simon the Zealot and Matthew the publican couldn’t have been much more different politically. One was from a political party that wanted to overthrow the government; the other had crossed over to the government’s side and worked for them! Simon the Zealot is also noted as a Canaanite (Matthew 10:4; Mark 3:18), representing a radically different ethnic background from the other apostles.
If no one else is your age in a church, it may actually be a reason to consider it strongly, rather than to dismiss it quickly. Many churches with a gap in age groups have plenty of people that come once or for a while, but then leave. You could be the one to stay, the one who breaks the cycle, stands strong, and attracts others.
Consider asking yourself these questions when choosing a church: Can I benefit this church? Am I one of the ingredients they’re currently missing? Can I add something? Can I fill a hole?
From an outsider’s perspective, a church may look as though it essentially runs itself. The opposite is true. Churches are comprised of many moving parts—which need to be kept going; many volunteer roles—which may need frequent replacement; and many ongoing needs—which need to be met. A slight modification of President Kennedy’s (speechwriter’s!) famous line applies well here: “Ask not what your church can do for you; ask what you can do for your church.”
Of lesser importance, but worthy of consideration, give attention to your proximity to the people and property of the church. Think of the real estate maxim: “Location. Location, Location!” A church in or near your own local community benefits you and the cause of Christ in several ways: the ability to attend with regularity, the opportunity to invite your own friends and neighbors, and the blessing of investing in your own community. “Better is a neighbor nearby than a brother far away” (Proverbs 27:10).
Also, while the body of Christ has a universal element to it, Scripture focuses extensive attention on the local church (Revelation 2—3). Committing to the ministry of one church, in membership, attendance, finances, and effort, fits the scriptural pattern and advances the cause well.
In your church search, here are some ideas worth abandoning:
We sometimes seek “the perfect church.” It can only lead to disappointment. There is no perfect church, and if you think you’ve found one, don’t join it. As an imperfect person, you’ll ruin it!
We may have our eyes focused on “the church for me.” This has its place, but it isn’t first place.
In your church search, here are some ideas worth adopting:
Don’t center your search on finding the best church, the one that you deem superior to all others in your area. Instead, seek to find the best fit, the one that you need and that needs you.
Think beyond what a church is to what it can be. Contribute your time, money, and effort to strongly support its ministry. Have a heart for it, and pour yourself into it. Cherish it as our Lord does. He calls it His body; what could be more personal? He will claim it as His bride; what could be more precious?
Your choice of a church greatly impacts you, your church, and His cause. A great fit in a church is a strong reason to stay in an area, as it may not be easily replaced. As a pastor, it has been among my greatest joys when people in my church have asked for recommendations for churches in places they were considering moving before they even moved, as part of the decision whether or not to move! May the Lord bless you as you seek His wisdom when making this type of decision.