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There are several reasons you may be looking for a local church home. Maybe you’ve moved to a new location. Maybe you’ve just come to know Jesus (Welcome to the family) and need to get plugged into the family of God. Maybe your current local church has given you a reason to leave (a valid reason). How do you go about choosing a local church to be a part of? The task is daunting because there are so many options and most, sadly, will not benefit you in your walk with Christ. All you know is that in response to Christ great grace and mercy you will not neglect the assembling together of believers for the purpose of encouragement and of stimulating one another to love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:24-25). You don’t want to church-hop because it’s too difficult to become a meaningful part of any community when you do.
We might begin by thinking about the reason that most current church attendees choose to attend the churches that they do. The most important factor for current church attendees, according to a March 2017 Gallup poll, is the presentations of sermons or talks that teach more about scripture and help connect religion to life (75-76% of surveyors saw this as a major factor while 16% saw it as a minor factor). The second most important factor is the offering of Spiritual programs geared toward children and teenagers (64% of surveyors saw this as a major factor while 15% saw it as a minor factor). The third most important factor for surveyors was the existence of community outreach and volunteer opportunities (59% saw this as a major factor while 27% saw it as a minor factor). These things were followed in order by the presence of dynamic religious leaders, social activities, then, at the bottom of the list, a good choir, praise band, cantors, or other spiritual music.
The way that people are looking for a church in our time is by gauging the accuracy and beneficence of the teaching and seeing if there is a way that the church is teaching their children the Scriptures in a meaningful way. This is not what we might initially expect because things have not always been this way. When Christianity was cultural, people looked first for entertaining music and dynamic religious leaders and social events. Those trends no longer dominantly exist because cultural Christianity is dying (yes, even in the Bible belt). This paradigm shift for the church has become noticeable in my lifetime, though the sands have been shifting this way since the 1950s and ’60s (Cultural Christianity’s peak) in America.
Things are visibly different, and I personally think that is a good thing. The true church can shine even brighter.
Where to start
No matter what the trends are, a genuine pursuit of Christ considers only one thing- His desire. There is a danger in church leaders trying to meet their own specific preferences or the preferences of people because they ultimately get addicted to something less than what God has for His people. There is also a danger in our looking for a church that meets our specific preferences because we are in danger of worshipping self instead of Christ. His desire and His design are what matters. Those who truly know Jesus care about the truth of that statement. The only thing we accomplish by striving to meet our own specific desires or those of others is the building of a community that isn’t really following Jesus even if it looks ‘religious.’
What is Christ’s design for the church? We get a basic answer in Hebrews 10:24-25. In response to the grace of God, we meet together to encourage one another and to stimulate one another to love and good deeds in Christ. The statement is simple and you need to look at the church more deeply (we all do, and we will probably never fully grasp the depths of what God is doing in and through the local church). To explore this statement more deeply, watch the video(s) below. It is our series on the church from December 2018.
We start by looking for a church that accomplishes this purpose in response to God’s amazing grace. This means we look for a church that preaches the Scriptures correctly and applies them rightly and in which the members are admonishing one another. Everything else will follow. That is the necessary component. There are other beneficial components, but without this one, the organization will be either works-based, a social club, or something else. It will not be a genuine church.
Where to look
Local churches are pictures of the universal church. The universal church exists by God’s hand for God’s glory. Local churches are necessary because they serve the universal glory of God through the universal people of God in different locations on this earth. Local churches exist in local communities. Though our definition of local has changed along with innovations like the automobile and audio-video and social media, the concept remains. We should look for local churches that exist for the Biblical purpose in our own locale.
It is so easy to investigate churches. Though the task of finding a Bible-teaching, Christ-centered, profitable church to be an active part of can be intimidating, we can do most of the looking from home (or from any place with a decent internet connection). First, use google (or some other search engine), and search for churches in your area. There are a few denominations that you want to avoid because the teaching isn’t biblical and won’t actually benefit you. My purpose, here, is not to review denominations. Remember also that not every local church is reflective of the denomination that it is a part of. Start with the first church on the list in your location and work down. Here are some things to look for:
- Does the local church have a website?
- Churches that do not have websites show that they are not really interested in meeting people where they are at in order to share with them the Gospel. If people are online, we need to be there sharing the Gospel.
- There is a caveat, here. Smaller churches in small or rural communities may not have a website because farmers and ranchers often don’t have the time or technical knowledge to build or maintain a website. They also may have no staff or only a pastor on staff. The pastor’s job is to do the ministry of the word and he may not be gifted or himself have the time to build or maintain a website. You may have to actually visit smaller churches in small or rural communities.
- If the church does not have a website, search Facebook. Churches will often substitute a Facebook page in place of a website in an effort to reach their communities.
- Don’t rely only on reviews. People do ridiculous things when they get upset. Take most reviews with a grain of salt, remembering that there may be some value in what is typed about some of the experiences.
- Look for a belief statement.
- Churches that do not make their belief statements publicly available often have something to hide or simply have not thought about sharing their beliefs with their communities.
- Many churches will simply copy and paste a belief statement from a denominational statement. In this case, proceed with caution because these belief statements may not accurately reflect the actual beliefs of the church.
- Any church that has taken the time to produce its own belief statement or adopt one of the historic confessions has put some serious time into thinking about what it believes and why.
- When you find the belief statement, ask yourself if it is truly biblical or whether it was developed to glorify people rather than God.
- Look for the constitution and by-laws.
- These documents are required for all non-profit organizations in the U.S. and are practical as we live in this wretched world.
- Look at when the constitution and by-laws were last updated, revised, or re-affirmed. If it’s been more than 15 years, there is likely a resentment toward any change (even godly change in response to the Scriptures).
- Since federal and state laws are always changing and since we are still being sanctified and since we will always be growing in our understanding, these documents ought to be revised, updated, or reaffirmed every 2-3 years if not annually.
- Read the content. Is there red tape or do the processes of the church enable ministry to flourish?
- Is the language God-glorifying or does it strive to elevate one group of people? Often, when people are fearful of losing control, they revise or create these documents to ensure that they get to maintain control. The reality is that Christ is Lord of His church and every church document ought to reflect that truth.
- I served at a church in Sallisaw, OK, and the first line of the constitution read something to the effect of, “Eas….. Baptist Church is a sovereign Baptist Church.” The procedures incapacitated every pastor they had for forty years because the people who founded the church produced the constitution and by-laws in response to something the pastor at a previous church did before they split and planted their own church. The constitution and by-laws reveal much about the heart of a people and the hope that they have in Christ- don’t ignore these.
- Check the general website content.
- Is the website up to date?
- Are there current sermons and/or announcements being posted?
- If there are sermons, take a listen. Is it biblical? It is Christ-centered? Is application made properly?
- Was the website designed to attract people or to glorify God?
- Avoid churches that appeal to entertainment or comfort.
- Gravitate toward churches that seek to glorify God in all things and honestly exhort, admonish, and encourage the people of God in Christ Jesus.
- Don’t let the aesthetic nature (positive or negative) sway you.
- Is the website up to date?
- Visit the prospects.
- Don’t be turned off by the personalities, awkwardness, or misplaced words of the people. We are all being sanctified and we are all growing in our understanding. The church is a place for sinners.
- Listen to the sermons, and get to know the pastor(s). Their heart for Christ will reveal much about their ministry. Do they fill the biblical role of a pastor or are they politicians, yes-men, CEOs, entertainers, story-tellers, or something else?
- Are the facilities well-kept. The way we steward God’s things reveals much about our hearts, our belief in our Creator, and our obedience to the God we claim to follow.
- Well kept does not mean that all of the decorations or paint will look good- some people simply have bad taste, but they try. This should not be a turn-off. We don’t go to church for the building or decorum.
- Is there a process for membership or does the church accept anyone who joins.
- If a church simply accepts anyone who wants to join, there is probably a lack of godly conviction and the church is more interested in gaining numbers than glorifying God.
- If there is a process, is it biblical?
- Does the local church have a website?
What if I can’t find a genuine church?
Not all churches can be measured in such a cookie-cutter way. Take this advice remembering that people are not perfect and we live in a sinful world. There may be a genuine church that simply doesn’t make a good first impression. Proceed with humility and showing much grace.
Sadly, in many locations this is a possibility. Yes, even in locations where there is a ‘church on every corner.’ Cultural Christianity still exists to some degree. If there is no Christ-centered church that you can find, there are two options. Plug in and reform or plant a church. Not being involved in a genuine godly community simply isn’t an option for the Christ-follower. We desire to see the work of God in and through His true church!
Pray seriously. Feel free to direct any questions you have to me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or via the contact form on this blog. If you feel that God’s desire is for you to plant a Christ-centered church, find one first that will sponsor you. Churches plant churches. Contact me using any outlet. I am working to see Biblical churches planted in a Biblical way.
I hope this article helps as you search for a local church home.