You’re looking for a new church, but they all seem to vary in their denomination, tastes and demographics. How do you choose which church is for you? In this second article of a three part series on how to find a church, we’re looking at the criteria for a good church and how to identify one.
Somewhere you can learn
The very earliest church is described in Acts 2, from verse 42: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” First of all, learning from Scripture in the light of the gospel was of vital importance. From the Bible we’re reminded what we believe, how to live like Christ and encouraged to keep going; so you want to ensure your church is teaching Biblical truth from sound teachers. Look for a high emphasis on the gospel or good news of Jesus Christ (his death and resurrection for believers) and His centrality to the whole Bible narrative. The gospel was also the apostles’ message and it remains central to all Biblical teaching today. Here are three additional questions to consider:
• Does the church uphold the Bible as the infallible word of God? Or, is it sometimes overridden by modern, traditional or cultural beliefs, or other ‘revelation’. Tip: Keep your Bible open during the preacher’s sermon to cross-check the message with the Bible passage.
• Do they expect God to speak to them through the teaching of the Bible? Or is the music or something else considered a more important part of the church service or event.
• Is the church committed to teaching the whole Bible (and not shy of certain parts)? Or do they hop around the Bible, lose context or cherry-pick verses each week.
A church that truly trusts the Bible, has a good foundation, as it will be based on the unchanging Word of God. However, you may not agree with the church on every topic, nor do you need to. There may be differences in your ideas and beliefs in certain areas. You will need to discern what these differences are and be willing not to fall out with your church on these issues. Instead, focus on your unity in Christ. For more information on Bible doctrines, we recommend listening to the Christianity A-Z podcast.
A family of believers
Church is often thought-of by outsiders as a place Christians go. As believers, we know that church is not a building, but we can still behave like it is. We treat church with a largely consumer attitude; attending meetings when we feel up to it, expecting to get something beneficial out of it and leaving when we want. However, this is far from what it is meant to be. Again in Acts 2 (verses 43-47), the first church did everything together: eating, praying and even selling property for each other. They were sacrificial and committed to each other. They were the truest family. Today, the lifeblood of a church is still its people and this should be reflected in our attitude. So, how can you tell a good people-centred church? Here are a few more things to look for:
• Are there any church meals in the schedule (for example, student, small group or whole-church lunches)? Meals are an important part of getting to know each other, so will be a sign of a family community.
• Are there small or community Bible study groups set up? These form a more intimate setting for people to learn, build friendships and serve in.
• Does the church have serving groups and what do they do? Serving is usually reserved for church members, but will show that the church community is actively helping one another. These could be Sunday service set-up, creche or even meal provision for those who are in need.
A light to the world
The third sign of a good church is how it looks at the outside world. A close-knit community is wonderful to be a part of, but if it is insular, it will cease growth. The Acts 2 church was utterly committed towards each other, but note (verse 47), “the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” The early Christians didn’t go unnoticed by their neighbours. They weren’t hiding. Not only were they generous with material things, but they also openly shared the gospel - the very reason the church existed. As a result, more people were being saved. Look for a church that has the same joy in sharing the gospel to see people saved.
• Are there group activities open to people who aren’t Christians, evangelistic events or courses?
• Are church members encouraged to share the gospel in their individual circumstances and corporately at church events?
• Is prayer for the local area, mission and the outside world a central theme?
Finally, remember that no church is perfect. A church’s denomination, tastes and demographics may not reflect you as an individual, but these things shouldn’t be sticking points. The early church was full of diversity in every sense and so we too should expect to be out of our comfort zones, finding unity in Christ and focusing on serving Him together.
In the final article in this series, we’ll consider what to do once you’ve found a good church.
By Susanne Kinnaird
Susanne is a marketing professional and has two young children with her husband, Stephen. She helps to run the media ministry at Cornerstone Church Kingston, is a Spurs fan at heart and loves to watch ballet, ballroom and all kinds of dance.