Settling into a new place can be exhausting. And the search for a new church home just adds to the list of things to do. If you have been looking for a church for some time, there may be temptations to impatiently settle somewhere so you can move on with your life.
Listed below are some questions to consider when going about your church search. They are intended to reveal hazards that might not be quickly or easily discerned by a casual attender.
Is the “main thing” the “main thing”?
In other words, what is the primary teaching? If the teaching derives from anything other than the Bible and/or is not centered on the message of our need for Jesus alone as Savior, then the church is not doing their duty. Does the church focus too much on any of the following: social issues, only one of God’s attributes, only one member of the Trinity, any unique doctrine that may not have much support in Scripture, etc.?
Is the church focused around a person other than Jesus?
In other words, is the church based on some personality, like a pastor, worship leader, or other leader? Is there a sense of celebrity status, unapproachability, and a feeling that without that person as part of the church, the church may cease to exist? Does their opinion from a pulpit or in written material matter more than God’s word?
Is the goal to know Jesus or to use Him to get things?
This can also be labeled “name it, claim it” theology or the prosperity gospel. In other words, it is a form of attempting to manipulate God so that He will give you good things (health, wealth, and otherwise) if you only have enough faith and good works or pray earnestly enough. This is a dangerous and unbiblical teaching. Christianity is about loving God and desiring to know Him, regardless of the suffering He may bring into our lives. He has promised tribulation in the world, yet He’s promised to help us through it and to make us more like Himself.
Is the church too “inclusive?”
Everyone should be welcome to attend. However, permitting someone to partake in the Lord’s Supper, Baptism, or membership without a proper demonstration of exclusive faith in Christ is unacceptable. While every person should be valued, the church’s application of the Bible shouldn’t bend based on individual’s lifestyle choices. Rather, everyone should be encouraged to trust Christ for salvation and to follow His teachings, growing in holiness by the power of his spirit.
Is the church too “exclusive?”
Although there can be differences between congregations, there is no place for a church advocating some enlightened or hidden aspect of Christianity that can only be experienced within their church and system of beliefs. In general, a healthy church should be supportive of other biblical churches in their area and should encourage partnership between them for the sake of exalting Jesus in their communities.
Does the leadership encourage accountability and member participation?
Jesus, not any pastor, is the head of the church. For this reason, there should be a general attitude of submission and humility on the part of the church staff. Leaders should welcome member feedback and involvement and should value keeping everyone informed about the happenings of the church.
Is the general vibe that church life is restricted to Sunday mornings only?
Participation in small groups, Bible studies, men’s and women’s groups throughout the week should be strongly encouraged. Members should also be encouraged to confess sin, serve others, pray, engage in discipleship, study the Bible, and share God’s Word.
Does the distance of the church inhibit fellowship, especially during the week?
Although belonging to a church far from your home isn’t the worst thing that you might compromise, God’s desire is for his people to be involved in each other’s lives not only on Sunday mornings but throughout the week. Will your distance from the church impede that level of involvement and fellowship with fellow church members?
Is the Holy Spirit putting a check in your spirit that something is off?
If you have professed faith in Jesus Christ, He has given you His Spirit to guide and teach you, among other things. He wants His followers to exercise spiritual discernment and to submit to His promptings. If after prayer and truly seeking Him in the matter, is there still hesitancy in your spirit? Perhaps that is God’s way of nudging you elsewhere.
There will be no perfect church this side of heaven. While there may be some compromise required, it should not involve the points above. If you have questions about a potential church, ask other Christians in your community. Try to schedule a time to meet with a leader of the church to ask questions and get a better idea of what the church stands for. Ultimately, if there seems to be something odd or shady going on, it’s probably best to continue your search.