Given the legion of Christian churches and denominations, there might be some out there asking, what do I do now? Perhaps you’re looking for a Church which proclaims the whole counsel of God. Maybe you’ve come to Christ recently, or maybe you’re at a time in your Christian life when the Holy Spirit is giving you a fuller understanding of the Holy Scriptures than you once had, through diligent study or comparing teaching that you’ve been hearing with Scripture. You want to be fed, to grow, to take advantage of the gifts that Christ has provided, and most of all, you want to be obedient to Him. So you need to find a local church. But how should one go about looking for a church when there are so many different churches?
Look for a Church which proclaims the Holy Scripture and all of it.
In order to evaluate a church, you will need to prove it by the Scriptures. Immerse yourself in them daily. Pray and ask God to help you understand. In this way you will get to know the Savior’s voice, and you will be able to easily distinguish it from the voice of an imposter. Do internet searches to find what churches there are in your area. Sometimes the denominational affiliation will tell you a lot about a particular church, but not always. You can gain a lot of information about what they believe and the general ethos from a church website. Do they seem to take doctrine seriously? Study their creeds, confessions, or statement of faith. Are they committed to God’s word? Are they active in evangelism? Is the website just trying to catch your eye, or does it actually have a lot of helpful information? How about orders of worship and sermons in text or audio? Then, when you visit a new church, be ready to not just get a “feel”, but to actively search out the things they are teaching and the answers they give to your questions from the Scriptures. Don’t assume you have nothing to learn. After all, you’re looking for a church to grow and be fed, right? But don’t let your guard down, either. If you hear or experience something that you don’t understand or find questionable, ask. The leadership’s reaction to your questions will tell you a lot about them. Are they taking God seriously at his word or are they just following customs or trends blindly without logical or Scriptural basis?
Don’t settle for a bare minimum of Scriptural truth. God has given sixty-six books for the good of his people, the Church. Certain books or passages are harder than others, but God has given them for a reason, and they will be a blessing to you in your Christian walk. In good times, just the basics elements of the gospel may seem like enough, but in great times of temptation or trial, you will need the full meal. A watered-down “gospel” message won’t satisfy in the longrun. Determine whether a local church is committed to a full exposition of Scripture in sermons and other occasions like Bible studies. You’re not just looking for a bare, basic, or mere Christianity, but a robust ministry of the word which will help you to grow.
How are they interpreting the Scriptures? Do they emphasize “favorite passages” at the expense of others? Or do they approach God’s word with the reverent and God-honoring perspective that the parts of Scripture are understood in the light of the whole, the whole in light of the parts, and that there are no contradictions anywhere in the Bible? If a church truly considers the Bible to be God’s word, it will not highlight certain parts at the expense of others, but it will seek to understand God’s word as it is given by God as one unit teaching one system of belief in complete harmony and without contradiction.
If you can’t find a soundly Bible-believing church near you, look a little farther away. Move if necessary. It’s that important!
Don’t be afraid for no reason of unfamiliar traditions.
Take time to carefully evaluate them by Scripture. Churches have reasons for doing the things they do. If they have good reasons, they can explain it to you based on sound application of Scriptural principles. Ask questions. (If the leadership can’t explain why they do what they do, that should raise a red flag!) Find a church where you will be fed and not entertained, where worship is God-centered and not Me-centered. Don’t be afraid of churches or denominations with deep historic roots. There is often ancient wisdom to be found in the older Protestant denominations. But beware of those who no longer share the faith of their forefathers, or who have become so tolerant and broad-minded of a multitude of positions that they no longer stand for anything.
Don’t Expect Perfection.
There is no perfect Church on earth. Other Christians in any church will be as messed up as you are. Even the best churches have not yet arrived to the fullness of what God is making them into. If you ever find a perfect church, don’t join it, because you’ll ruin it! Don’t let this discourage you. Most of us, if drowning in the ocean, would get into a lifeboat, even if there were hypocrites in it! In the same way there may be truth and love for Christ, and you will be able to grow in your discipleship to Christ, even in very imperfect churches. But find the best one you can initially, and stick with it.
Be Prepared to Settle Down.
Choose carefully at first, but don’t become a life-long church-hopper. In order to be grounded in the faith, you will need to be in covenant with a local church of believers which cares for you, knows you by name, provides accountability, and has specific overseers watching over you in the Lord. This means you will eventually need to put down roots in a specific church and stay there. Growth takes time, and when you find a church where you can grow, plan to stay long-term. You will have to put roots downward in order to bear fruit upward. Avoid the consumer mentality that you are just there to receive but not to give. When you finally decide on a church, join with your family (if you have one) and be helpful, stable, encouraging, giving of your time and resources, and produce fruit there for others to enjoy.
This is meant to be a brief guide on how to choose a church. More explicit detailed models and guidelines are found in the Scriptures, especially in the book of Acts and in the epistles of the New Testament.