It is not good for man to be alone. So God gave Christians a family: the local church. I love my church family. We have our flaws and my flaws effect my church family probably more than any other member's. But many Christians are not committed to a church family. They're looking for one. Maybe you that's you. Every Christian wants to be part of a church family where they can encounter Jesus, deepen meaningful relationships, and partner with to make disciples of Jesus Christ. You want a church family. And yet, if we're honest, visiting churches and checking out church websites is not only time-consuming, but often frustrating and heart-breaking. I know what it's like to visit a church and be discouraged. I've also tasted God's goodness and grace through the church. Here are 5 things you should look for in a church so that you stop beating your head against a wall:
1. Expository Preaching
"Expository" means that the content and intent of the bible passage shapes the content and intent of the message preached (Mike Bullmore). "Preaching" means that the teaching is pressed and applied directly to the hearer so the truth is felt as real. There are many churches that say they preach the bible but the content and intent of the passage doesn't shape the message. That's most important because if you don't have that you can't be confident you're hearing what God is actually saying. You gather with the church to hear directly from God through the Bible preached. This also means that they preach the gospel of Jesus Christ because that's the main message of the Bible. Do they believe and teach that a man is accepted before God by faith alone in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ alone? It also means that they believe and teach biblical doctrine.
2. Clear Responsibility for One Another's Discipleship
This is the essence of the church and it's often missed by churches and church-seekers alike. The local church is a group of those in Christ who are fully responsible for one another's discipleship, both collectively and individually. The church is not a crowd gathered on a Sunday. The church is a group of those committed to Christ through repentance and faith who are also committed to each other. And this commitment is mutually understood by all the committed. Today, this is what we call church membership. Is the church you're considering clear on the responsibilities that the members will have for you (and you for them)? Do they expect you to be your brother's keeper? God does. They should too. So, they should be clear on what those responsibilities are. If you really want to know if it's clear don't ask the pastors. Ask the members.
3. A Backbone
Churches should have a backbone. They should have the courage and strength to excommunicate (exclude) you from their membership if you refuse to repent from sin. I know that sounds harsh and unloving in our day. So I won't argue for it but quote the Bible. That's what Jesus taught, right? "If your brother sins against you, go and rebuke him in private. If he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he won’t listen, take one or two more with you, so that by the testimony of two or three witnesses every fact may be established. If he pays no attention to them, tell the church. But if he doesn’t pay attention even to the church, let him be like an unbeliever and a tax collector to you. I assure you: Whatever you bind on earth is already bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth is already loosed in heaven" (Matthew 18.15-18). Also read 1 Corinthians 5. You want to join a loving church which means you need to find a church that will love you enough that they'll seek to restore you to Jesus Christ and his people at any cost, even if they must kick you out to win you back. That's Christlike love.
4. A Sense of Mission
Jesus gave the church a clear mission: Make disciples of all ethnic people groups (Matthew 28.18-20). You were created and saved for great things. Your life has an important and eternal purpose. Join a church where they remind and equip you for the mission Jesus sent you on. You are responsible to make disciples. The church is responsible to make disciples. So you partner together as a member of the church. The church should be gospelizing Christians and non-Christians and should sweep you up into that life mission.
5. A Place with People Not Like You
So many Christians are looking for a church with their preferences: their style of music, their style of preaching (not what I described in #1 above), their type of demographic (age, stage of life, ethnicity, culture), a thriving youth group, a good first impression of friendliness, or church size (large or small). None of these are decisive. None of these should be a top priority. None. When these become your main priorities you have lost the essence for the extras. It's like choosing a car because of the tires or steering wheel. If you get a car you intend to drive because it has the rims and radio you want even though you know the engine and transmission don't work then you're confused. If you choose a church because of music style or church size even though they don't have a sense of responsibility for one another or disciple-making then you chose wrong. The church is a group taking responsibility for each other's Christian discipleship; a group of different ages, ethnicities, musical preferences, and interests. But they all love Jesus and the gospel. He makes them a family. Sure, that causes clashes at times. But that's a good thing because our selfishness is challenged and when we sacrifice our preferences for the sake of others we are getting closer to King Jesus. And isn't that why we're joining the church in the first place?
Now that you read those 5 things to look for you should ask a pastor or mature Christian to recommend churches in your area. If you're in Los Angeles, check out this list. And visit a church this Sunday looking for these 5 things. Be intentional and ask questions. You don't want to wander around for another month or two when you could be building up a church family and glorifying our Lord Jesus. Find a good church so that you encounter Jesus and help others encounter him constantly. When you finish your life, which is a vapor, you'll be glad you did.
What are some things you think others should look for in a church? What do you love about your church that should be a biblical priority for church-seekers? I know you have a thought. Leave a reply!
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