When I went to college, I was a very zealous eighteen year old with quite a bit of legalism in me. I began to try out churches in the city where I was. The first church I went to was First Baptist Church.
As a critical guy, I took a notepad and I sat in the service, not as a worshipper, but as a critic, searching for the perfect church. On one side of the notepad, I wrote the good things about the service and on the other side the bad things. There might have been two good things and a whole sheet of bad things I found.
However, all of the things I wrote were not matters worth being critical over. They weren’t issues that really mattered all that much.
Don’t do what I did. However, it is absolutely important that you know important issues about a church before you commit to attending and joining there.
There are likely three groups reading this post. Here is my word to each of you going into it.
The one who doesn’t attend church – Jesus established the church (Matt 16:18) and the Bible commands attendance (Heb 10:24-25). So if you claim to be a Christian, start seeking out a church to join and be a part of.
The one searching for a church – The church you choose is going to greatly affect your spiritual life from here on out. Read this post and consider these things in choosing a church.
The church member – Consider your own church. Hopefully these essentials are all strong there. If they are not, consider how to help your church grow in them. If your church doesn’t have these and are opposed to them, it may not be a church you want to be part of.
It is important to know that just because a church appears thriving and active doesn’t mean they are a good church for you. Just because they have countless children’s activities, breakfast every Sunday, a calendar full of events, a lively praise team, and a charismatic pastor doesn’t mean they are a good church Biblically.
When you are looking for what a good church is, look for these essentials.
You probably have no idea what this term means. Many people have different definitions for what expository preaching is. Some churches spend three years going verse-by-verse through a four chapter book of the Bible. This is not necessarily healthy expository preaching. Expository preaching may look a little different depending on the preacher, but primarily, is the preacher opening the Bible to a passage, reading it, and then spending the bulk of his sermon explaining what this passage means and how it applies to your life?
Many preachers get up and never open their Bibles. Many read a passage and then never talk about it again for the entire sermon. Many preach a sermon on a topic and just pull out verses to support what they are trying to say. This is bad preaching.
Good preaching believes the Bible is what God has spoken and seeks to explain the passage they are preaching to the audience and tell them what God is saying. A good way to tell if the church you are at preaches like this is to ask yourself the question, “Do I have to look down at my Bible every now and then to follow along with the sermon?”
While you are likely never going to agree with any Christian on every little detail of what the Bible says, it is important to have certain theological beliefs that the church agrees on puts their faith in.
Is God described as the glorious, all powerful King of the Universe who has all sovereign authority? Is the Bible completely free from error and authoritative over our life? Is the church’s hope in Christ, crucified to provide salvation for those who believe and then raised bodily from the grave to reign over the universe? Does the church believe in the doctrines of the Baptist Faith and Message 2000? These are crucial.
One of the best ways to figure out what the church’s theological beliefs are is to listen to the worship music they sing. Are the songs proclaiming how great God is and how powerful the cross and resurrection of Jesus are or is it all about how special and awesome I am? If a husband can sing the worship song to his wife and it still carry the same meaning, it’s probably not a strong song theologically and thus, the church may not be very theologically sound.
But if you can’t figure out the theology of the church by being there, you may just have to meet with the pastor and ask what they believe. Do so in wisely and respectfully, but you need to know the theology of the church as it will affect your own theology if you join there.
How does one join the church? For many churches, you simply have to come up and sign a card and you are in. Is membership valued at this church? Does it take more than a simple card signing to join? If the church doesn’t think you have to be born again and baptized to join, they have a false view of church membership.
Some churches are a bit too strict with this, but most are not strict enough. Is there a class someone has to attend to join the church? Does a new member have to affirm a church covenant or doctrinal statement to join? Some churches even go as far as a pastor having to meet with a member to get to know them before they can fully be a member.
Is there evidence that the church values membership far more than it simply being a tradition they have always done.
On the opposite side of membership, is it possible to be removed from membership at this church? Is it possible that depending on some serious, public sins in a member’s life, they can be confronted about that sin and if they will not repent, their membership can be revoked? This is a Biblical practice laid out by Jesus in Matthew 18 and Paul in 1 Corinthians 5.
In short terms, are you going to be confronted and held accountable for your sins in this church? That may make you uncomfortable, but it is absolutely crucial to your Christian walk.
Are there avenues for you to grow in your faith at this church? Are there small group Bible studies for you to meet at during the week? Is the Sunday School department strong and sound theologically? In attending this church, are you challenged to be a stronger follower of Jesus and given practical ways to grow in your faith?
Evangelism and Missions
Is sharing the Gospel a regular practice of the church? Are they involved in doing evangelism to the local neighborhoods, the city, and the nations of the world? Jesus left the church one job: Make disciples of all the nations. (Matt 28:19) A good sign of the health of a church is if they are regularly doing this outside of the church walls.
The Perfect Church Doesn’t Exist
When I was eighteen in First Baptist Church with my notepad, I had a false assumption. I assumed the perfect church existed. It doesn’t. Every church will have flaws. Every church will have some problems. But at the core of a church, they need to have these things mentioned. If they don’t, it is not a church you want to join.
Find a good church that honors and glorifies the majestic Lord and the risen Christ through worship, discipleship, and missions and join it. Become part of it and serve with everything you have for the glory of God.