Finding a Good Church

Finding a Good Church

So, really, how DO you find a good church?

If you’ve been reading Ephesians, or the rest of the New Testament, you have probably sensed that God upholds the church as his gathering place for believers in Jesus and as the place where God is working out his purposes in individuals and in the world. I talked about that in my last post, and some of you sent notes about your journey of finding and becoming part of a church. Thank you for sharing your stories!

For some, it’s a confusing or frustrating endeavor, looking for a church, or even thinking about it. If you’re just beginning a relationship with Jesus … if you’re living in a new area … if you’re coming back to the church after some time away … if you’re thinking of leaving a church that isn’t  fitting God’s call in your life … if you’ve never been part of a church before, it’s easy to feel at a loss for how to go about selecting a church that’s trustworthy and that will help you grow closer to Jesus and serve him and others as God leads.

We’ve all heard stories about, or even experienced, church going wrong. Churches, like human beings, aren’t perfect, and there are times when people are hurt. That isn’t God intention for the church, and God grieves more than we do when those things happen. It makes wisdom and care in finding a church all the more vital.

Let’s look at some of the basics of church shopping first. With all the Christian denominations and traditions out there, there really are some must-have’s that we can pinpoint, look for, and expect to find across a broad spectrum of church affiliations. Keep in mind that no two churches are the same, even within denominations or traditions. Each church has a culture, a flavor, of its own. Each one has a group of leaders and a congregation that make it, in large part, what it is. Don’t throw out one Baptist church, for example, because of problems you have experienced in another.

The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association offers this summary for finding a good church:

If you are seeking a church, seek one where the Word is proclaimed, where the sacraments and prayer are honored, and where worship is reverent. Seek a church where the fellowship is characterized by joy and generosity, and where the Gospel is boldly proclaimed. It’s that simple.

You can see the whole article (http://billygraham NULL.asp?articleid=533) explaining the above quote. It’s great. But to clarify a few points, when we talk about the Word and the Gospel being proclaimed, we  are saying that the preaching and teaching needs to center on God’s Word, the Bible, in more than a cursory way. The teaching should be founded on Scripture and should help you enter deeply into God’s Word to us through the Bible. Reverent worship refers not to musical style, but to the attitude in which the worship is approached. Joy and praise in worship can certainly be reverent. David in the Old Testament, for instance, never lost his reverence for God even while dancing in celebration of God’s blessing.

I like the way Inter Varsity Christian Fellowship advises students to find a good church (http://http://www NULL.intervarsity NULL.html). Inter Varsity is a Christian organization working on college campuses to grow students in their relationship with Christ. Here is what they say:

Find a church that preaches and practices the Bible. Look for an open and warm congregation. Meet with a pastor. Beware of churches whose membership is predominantly students. Make a commitment. Look for chances to participate.

If you don’t feel welcomed and wanted, you’ll struggle in getting involved. I’ve visited churches where that feeling of welcome was lacking, and these weren’t places I wanted to stay. Meeting with a pastor will help you make great strides in clarifying whether a church is right for you. Bring some questions along. IVCF suggests these: What does the church believe? What are its goals and priorities? How can I participate? A church with mixed ages will give you the benefit of the wisdom and experiences of those who are older and further along, and will allow you to experience the joy and simplicity of faith in younger people. God uses all ages and stages of other believer’s lives to speak into our own faith journeys.

And for one more excellent resource  on How to Recognize a Good Church (http://web001 NULL.rbc NULL.pdf), see this article by Richard De Haan of RBC Ministries. De Haan talks about looking at a church’s Bibliogy (beliefs about the Bible), its Theology (beliefs about God), its Christology (beliefs about Christ), Soteriology (beliefs about salvation), Pneumatology (beliefs about the Spirit), Ecclesiology (beliefs about the church), and its Eschatology (beliefs about the end times). Big words and they sound complex, but they’re really not so difficult when you read his easy and helpful explanations.

The Christian church first began just shortly after Jesus’ ascension to heaven. This week, we celebrate Jesus’ ascension–indeed it’s timely, then, to take a look at the church. The book of Acts in the Bible tells the story of the early church. If you haven’t read Acts, or not in awhile, take a look and read it with special attention to the role of the church in the lives of these early believers in Jesus. Our churches today should be a model of those first churches.

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.  Acts 2:42-47

Next post, I’ll share a little about my own church experiences and how the church has been a presence God has used to shape me in ways that have mattered.

What about you? Do the recommendations above strike a chord with you in any way? Do you have a question about this process? Are you looking for a church? Or can you share about how God has guided you in your times of searching for a good church?

[Thank you to Flickr/two stout monks for the use of your photo!]

See also my last post in this series:Why Go to Church?

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