Finding a new church can be one of the most dreaded and daunting tasks, especially if you are leaving a community you consider to be family. Saying goodbye to people you’ve walked alongside is hard, and finding a “replacement” without expecting it to be your old church is harder!
My husband and I moved across the country immediately after our wedding. Our church in Fort Worth, TX was a vital and integral part of our life. We met there, got married there, and enjoyed every aspect of church life. It was extremely difficult to leave such a healthy, biblical, thriving body. Before our most recent move, I’d been a member at churches of numerous denominations and sizes, but at each one God has been faithful to spur me on in my walk with Christ and to provide exactly the encouragement, accountability, and fellowship I needed for that season.
Years of church searches have revealed some key things to look for in a prospective church.
What to Look for:
What role does the Bible have?
The Bible itself must be the main source of the teaching. How the church views the centrality and authority of scripture will guide everything about the church. Something to note is whether the pastor primarily stays in the chosen Bible passage, drawing illustrations and points from the passage, or if he spends the bulk of the time outside the text, making points from stories and experiences.
Is there an emphasis on fellowship and community outside of Sunday mornings?
Whether small groups, men’s or women’s Bible studies, or additional classes, ask yourself if individual growth is encouraged and if you can build community there.
Is prayer a value of the church?
Is it practiced in the church service? Are individuals expected to practice prayer privately as well? Prayer was integral in Jesus’ life, and he wanted his followers to pray about everything. An active prayer life in the church and in one’s own life is essential to growth, dependence on God, and discerning his will.
Aside from style, does the music proclaim God’s glory?
Do the songs reflect the truth in the Bible and have God as the focus?
Are the practices of the Lord’s Supper and Baptism, especially to whom they are offered, representative of the Bible’s teaching?
The Lord’s Supper, also known as communion, should be offered only to those who have professed faith in Christ alone for salvation. Baptism varies within denominations, however, the Bible portrays baptism as a sign that someone has decided for himself to follow Jesus. Baptism by immersion is especially powerful as it is a demonstration of being buried with Christ (immersed in water) and being raised (out of the water) in forgiveness of sins and with a new identity in him.
Is there accountability for the leadership?
How is the church governed? Are there multiple leaders, such as an elder board? Does the church communicate with members and are there opportunities for members to respond? Is there transparency in the church’s allocation of funds? There is less potential for abuse in power and for false teaching when there is accountability for leadership and member involvement.
Websites are a great way to learn more before visiting, especially about views on the Bible and salvation. Once you visit, utilize a welcome team to ask more questions and expand your sense of church life. Finally, as much as possible, try to avoid approaching the church with the mindset of what you can get from the church. See if you can visualize yourself giving to the church as well — in time, gifts, skills, and with joy.
We finally settled at a church that is very different than the church we left. It has taken some real wrestling for us to decide to stay and invest. Through our struggle, God has reminded us that there is no perfect church. The important things are in place, and God ultimately is bigger than our preferences. If we make the effort to invest in the local church, God will challenge, grow, and bless us there. I trust he will do the same for you!