By way of full disclosure, I wish I could change the current 21st century cultural expectation of what people look for in a church. I suppose this article is an attempt to do just that. My goal in the following explanation is to help Christians seek and value Biblical things from a local church.
In my over 20 years of ministry experience, when someone is asked what they are looking for in a church, they usually talk about age-specific social groups, or entertaining music, or they will say they want a pastor who inspires and motivates them. They want him to be funny or at least entertaining. Others make subjective comments like, “I’ll know it when I see it,” thus not giving you any kind of Bible-based objective specifics.
A lot of the things people say they are looking for in a church can actually be found in a local Moose Lodge, an Elks Club, or various social groups.
One reason why some people join a church and only stay for a year or two then move on to a different church family just a few miles away, is because when they joined originally, they failed to evaluate the church with big-picture biblical reasons in mind.
Allow me to suggest the following specific things that should be sought and valued in a local church.
Remember, the title of this is “What to Look for in a Church” not, “What to Look for in a Pastor or a Music Leader,” but, “What to Look for in a CHURCH.” This is not, “What to Look for Doctrinally,” but the focus here is “What to Look for in the PEOPLE of God in a Local Faith Family.” The pastor, the music leader, and the doctrine are all important parts of the church, but those are separate discussions.
What should you look for in the church as a whole? Here are 5 practical things in no particular order:
1) Look for Older Who are Teaching the Younger (Titus 2:1-8)
The average person seeking a church today wants to see lots of young people and quietly views the grey-haired people as a negative sign.
As a matter of fact, I don’t recall any time in my ministry experience ever hearing anyone say that they’re looking for Godly, wise yet humble older people to mentor and disciple their family; however, it’s extremely biblical.
Contrastingly, I have heard plenty of people say, “I’m looking for a large youth group for my children.” Don’t get me wrong; I’m not against youth groups but personally, most of the evil and carnal things that I learned as a young person was from other young people. Many adults today can probably relate to that as they look back on their childhood. The youth group has its place, and it can be an asset to a church for sure, but as you evaluate a church, ask yourself, “Are there people within this church who are ‘older’ in a spiritually mature sense?” “Are they sober minded and Christ-like, and therefore full of godly wisdom? Are there people at this church who can invest spiritually in me and my teenager?”
When Paul told Titus to “set in order the things which are wanting” or lacking in Crete, he quickly instructed the older men and older women to invest in the younger men and the younger women. Titus did not see the older Christians as a nuisance or a turn off for potential church growth. Actually he saw those grey-haired people (the hoary-headed people) as extremely beneficial to the body of Christ, and especially beneficial to the younger members of that body.
Look for a church where the spiritually older, more mature believers, are teaching and discipling the younger ones. And the other side of that coin is to look for a church where the majority of the young people are humble enough to be mentored by those seasoned saints. This type of relational dynamic fosters a healthy spirit among the people of God.
2) Look for Spiritual Accountability Through Loving Church Discipline.
So many people want anonymity instead of accountability. They want independence instead of interdependence, yet the church, by definition, is an interdependent gathering. (See Romans 12:4-10)
At an increasing rate it seems people like the anonymity of sliding into the back of a large church, singing a little, hearing some preaching and then quickly leaving. They walk away feeling good about “doing the church thing.” They check off their religious box for the week while maintaining their independence from the accountability of that congregation, or that church’s spiritual leaders.
They profess to be a Christian, but they are detached from a local church and they like it that way. What they are looking for in a church is a church that won’t expect them to commit to the congregation but at the same time allow them to benefit from the elements they are interested in.
One individual explained it this way: “A Christian who won’t plug into a church is like a foot cut from a leg; useless on it’s own, having no function but to insist it’s a foot.”
While anonymity may feel comfortable to our flesh, spiritual health requires godly accountability from a church family.
Christians with a desire to grow spiritually understand the eternal value in a church that will hold them spiritually accountable through loving church discipline. (Matthew 18:15-17; 1 Corinthians 5:1-13, Titus 3:9-15)
They also understand the spiritual vitality which only comes from being inter-dependent upon other gifted members of the body of Christ. (1 Corinthians 12:12-27, Romans 12:4-10)
3) Look for a Church That is ENGAGED in Worshipping, Fellowshipping, Witnessing, and Praying.
Is the church ENGAGED in worshipping by enthusiastically singing “songs, hymns, and spiritual songs” with doctrinal depth, rich with the gospel and its implications?
Is the church ENGAGED in worshiping as they receive Bible-based preaching? Are they taking notes; saying “amen;” or showing the signs of people who desire to learn and be further “conformed to the image of Christ”? Or are they sleeping, snoring, and seem disinterested? Does this church family gleefully “endure (or enjoy) sound doctrine” through preaching, or do they have “itching ears” desiring to be entertained primarily and if they are not entertained, they are mentally checked out, even though it is clearly Bible preaching.
Is the church ENGAGED in fellowshipping? Are there gatherings during which people get to hear each other’s Christian testimony and be strengthened by one another’s spiritual gifts?
What about witnessing? Is this church actively involved in furthering the gospel? Not just the paid staff members, but is the church family involved in the “ministry of reconciliation” endeavoring to do the work of the Evangelist?
Is this church a praying church? Do they seem to believe in the power of prayer? Is there a prayer meeting, or a prayer sheet? If you join, do you believe these church members will be praying for you and your family?
Look for a church that is ENGAGED in worshiping, fellowshipping, witnessing, and praying.
4) Look for a Church that Regularly Reminds You That the Christian Life is About Him!
A good church will recognize people’s sinful propensity to be self-absorbed, self-focused and self-important. We need to be regularly reminded that the Christian life is to “deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Christ.”
People that are a Diotrephes-type of person think the church is primarily about them, and they desire the preeminence. They will quickly leave a church when they don’t get their way, or don’t get the attention or public praise that a carnal heart desires. Look for a church that regularly reminds you, through their singing, preaching and fellowship, that the Christian life is not primarily about us, but is about Christ and His preeminence.
5) Look for a Church that Loves their Pastor and has a Healthy Relationship with the Church Leaders.
Do they let their pastor shepherd them and their deacons serve them in God-honoring ways? You can tell after just a few visits if the church family has a biblically healthy relationship with their pastor or not. (1 Thess. 5:12-13; Hebrews 13:7,17; 1 Peter 5:1-4; Acts 20:28) If there is tension between the church leadership and the church family, it could mean headaches and heartaches for your family which are avoidable when you find a church family with a healthy relationship to their church leaders.
Once you identify these 5 Biblical things in a local church, and the proximity of that church is close enough where you can be faithful, join that church! And, if a church like that is a little bit of a distance away, it is worth the drive!
Serve there and use your spiritual gifts to strengthen that church family. Let that church family strengthen you.
Team up with those dear people to further the gospel throughout that community, and through their missions program further the gospel around the world.
So, what should you look for in a church? Look for a church where the older are teaching the younger. Look for spiritual accountability through loving church discipline. Look for a church that is engaged in worshiping, fellowshipping, witnessing, and praying. Look for a church that regularly reminds you that the Christian life is not primarily about you, but about Him. Look for a church that loves their pastor and church leaders.
Whether the church is numerically large or small, when you find these five things, you will find a church that is near to the heart of God. And, you will find that church to be an eternal blessing to you and your family.