When you think about finding a church to attend, what key elements should it have? If you are looking for a church to attend in a new town or for the first time, how do we know if they are preaching and practicing a biblically sound teaching?
Finding a Church can be difficult. It can be even harder when we don’t know how to qualify a community as biblically faithful. A quick search online of “what to look for in a church” can bring up countless articles on the topic of finding a place of worship, but sorting through the differences of Christian denominations and even more non-denominational styles of congregating can be dizzying. It is our hope to offer some insight on four critical, “deal-breaker” must-haves that a Christian community should possess in order to qualify as biblically faithful.
Church is a primary component of our Christian walk. Our believing community of brothers and sisters in the Lord is an essential part of life for every follower of Christ. Being an active participant within a community is just as vital, and should be as important to us as making sure food is on our dinner tables. (For more on this read our Why You Need a Church)
What to Look for in a Church
1. The Centrality of Scripture
Before we can dive into any other feature or component of a church we need to ask one critical question about any church:
What is the message about?
Many modern churches will state that they are “Bible-based” but you can know if that is true by the message you hear from the pastor. Did the pastor open his Bible? Did the pastor or a congregant read from the Bible? Is the message you hear about you, Or God? Does it offer to help you improve your life? Or the lives of others by spreading the Gospel? Does it make you feel good? Or does it make you feel convicted to live in accordance with the Word of God?
Without the Word of God at the center of our Church, we have nothing more than a social club. It is from the Word of God that we learn about Christ and understand how to serve Him. The Bible is the bedrock of every Christian community and guides us on how it should be operating. It isn’t a book. It is a sword. Does the church you are attending treat it as such?
I have never been to a Church where the greeters handed me a visitor’s pamphlet that said, “we have a low view of Scripture but the sermons are still really good.” Nearly every Church will say that they are Bible-centered and have built their congregation on the Word. But truthfully, many churches have been built with “us” at the center, rather than God and His Word. Here is one of the best ways to know if a church is actually centered on the Bible:
What to Look for
- Find a Church that reads Scripture together.
- Make sure the pastor is preaching on what the Bible says and not what he wants it to say.
- Stay away from self-help sermons. Find a Church that cares about what the Word says. Look for “Expository Preaching”
- Stay away from preachers that don’t teach the “difficult” passages of the Word.
2. Multiple Leadership
The Church has only one leader: Jesus Christ. Subject to him are the leadership teams and pastors of the global church. There have been many Churches that have fallen apart because a single pastor has had too much control. There is no instance within the Scriptures where a Church had a single elder (see Acts 14:23, 15:4, 20:17, Titus 1:5). Every time a Church is talked about it is said to have “elders.” The only concept of a “head pastor” in your Bible is that of Jesus.
This is not to say you should discount a Church if a person has “lead pastor” as their job title. But what it does mean is that there should be dual leadership. If a head pastor makes all the decisions and has all the control, this is not a biblical model. A lead pastor should answer to an eldership board or a pastoral team.
Elders and Pastors are humans just like everyone else. They struggle with sin and with doubt. They need support and accountability just like everyone else. If a pastor doesn’t answer to anyone or is not held accountable by other leaders, they are like a large sheep trying to lead other sheep in the open country. Dual leadership gives support and accountability to all leaders. It means that your elders are still submitting to spiritual authority.
What to Look for
- Look for a Church with multiple pastors/elders
- If there is a head pastor, make sure he answers to an eldership team or other pastors in the Church.
- Make sure a lead pastor cannot overrule the rest of the eldership team or that his vote is not more important than others.
This is where the rubber meets the road. Ask yourself: are you looking for a weekend experience that will fill an hour or two, or are you ready to commit to a biblical community?
Finding a Church that practices biblical accountability is extremely important for our spiritual development. Having other believers surrounding us who are willing to confront sinful behavior is a blessing and a gift from the Almighty. It is also becoming harder to find, as modern-day Christianity shys away from addressing sin as sin.
As James tells us, we should always work to draw near to Christ, and sinful behavior works to separate us from the Lord. If we are engaged in sinful behavior, we should be ready and willing to be corrected (Prov. 15:32, James 5:19-20, Heb. 12:11).
What to Look for
- Before you settle on a Church ask the pastors/elders if the Church practices spiritual discipline and what that has looked like.
- Find out how the community connects with each other during the week.
- If the Church is large, find out if there are small groups that meet during the week or if there are smaller prayer groups that meet.
- Find out if the Church has a counselor or if the pastor is willing to talk to people who are struggling.
- If possible try to understand if those in the congregation are willing to submit to the guiding authority and correction of the elders.
4. Keeping Christ Central
Jesus should be the central aspect of our theology, our worship, our motivation, and should lead the Church in everything it does. As believers, we should find a community that is passionate about keeping Christ central:
What to Look for
- Look for teaching that focuses on Christ no matter what book of the Bible it is studying, or the topic being preached on.
- Ask yourself if Christ is at the center of every event and every gathering.
- Look at the people! Do the congregants exhibit the fruit of the Spirit? Love for Christ and an indwelling of the Holy Spirit will always produce fruit. It may not be perfect but it will be there.
This last point is important. One of the best ways to know a community is by the people that sit in the pews every weekend. Are people genuinely attempting to make a connection with others and help them in their walk? Are they there to worship the Lord or for social interaction? Is Christ the center of people’s lives or an accessory?
Finding a biblically-based Church may feel overwhelming, but work to find one because there is no alternative option within the Scriptures. Being part of a biblical community is commanded (Rom. 12:5, Eph. 4:2, Heb. 10:25), the Church is something Christ purchased with His blood (Acts 20:26-29), and is something that is vital for our walk. If you are looking for a new Church be intentional and be diligent in your search.
Finally, remember that there might be a Church that needs you just as much (or more) than you need it. As believers, we are called to shine the love of Christ to others. Don’t simply ask what a Church can do for you, but rather, ask how you can serve the body of believers you might join.
Photo by Felix Mittermeier