Last month I wrote an article about the concept of “Church Hopping” that was very well received. I thought I would follow that up with some words of advice and encouragement for new people going into a church and looking for a new church. Let’s think about “Church Shopping.”
According to the Barna Research Group, we aren't alone. One in seven people will look for a new church this year. In case you're among that one in seven, here are 6 important things we learned are critical to a search process.
1. Does This Church Preach the Right Message?
So first look for a place where truth is preached from the Bible—where God's Word is seen as living, relevant, changeless, and inerrant, rather than just a "good book" filled with advice on how to be a more loving, moral person. Look for a place you can invite friends to and feel confident they'll hear the gospel truth directly from Scripture, a place where difficult passages as well as straightforward ones are preached with clarity.
2. Is This a Caring Church?
We all want a church home where we feel welcomed, a place to belong. Church should be a place where people in the seats around you introduce themselves before or after the services and it has a way to connect guests with church leaders. Additionally, you need a church that cares enough about you for a staff member or an evangelism to come and visit with you, to inquire as to your spiritual condition, and to help you get acquainted with the ministries of the church. Finally, does this church meet real needs of people through ministries such as Divorce Care, Grief Share, Celebrate Recovery, or other opportunities for people to integrate both churches and unchurched groups into the community?
3. Does This Church Provide Meaningful Worship?
Worship is a matter of taste—and a major divider among contemporary churchgoers: Do you like high church? Old-time hymns? Gospel songs? Worship choruses? With or without percussion, organ, or live orchestra? Personally, I like blended worship music where all varieties of songs are sung with joy and celebration .But for all our style preferences, in the end it's the message in the music that counts. In itself, exciting music doesn't necessarily draw us into God's presence any more than majestic or old time gospel music does. Worship isn't simply about meeting a style preference or eliciting a purely emotional response within the worshiper; its purpose is to focus on and glorify God in a real and meaningful way through songs, prayers, giving, and preaching the message.
4. Is the Church's Location Convenient?
I think a church needs to be located at a distance that's convenient enough for you to feel you have the opportunity to get plugged in, to be an active member rather than just an attendee. Too many people go to a church because it is the “in” place to be, but they never really get plugged in, develop spiritual friendships with their neighbors, or create an environment of accountability in the community. This is important when your children see some of the church children at their school, attending an evening or midweek event doesn't leave you exhausted, and when a church’s small-group meeting is located in your neighborhood or community.
5. Can You Plug into This Church's Serving Opportunities?
God gives you gifts and talents for use in building his church. No one is called to go into a church to sit and soak up all that is offered. You are to be a flowing river of God’s gifts and not a reservoir of the gifts of others. A church where you should go is a place that when reading the bulletin or listen to announcements you observe ministries that fit your spiritual gifts and interests. Additionally, you are welcome to participate in ministry even before you become an “official member” of the church. When you contact a ministry leader or they contact you about your interest to serve and receive a concrete, welcoming invitation to participate. When a ministry leader actually initiates contact with you to invite you to participate in a new or ongoing ministry of the church then you have found a good place to serve and worship.
6. Do I feel God’s leadership to be an active part of this church?
Searching for a new church never is easy. But despite the hurdles you'll leap over in the process, if you pour a great deal of prayer into each step and each visit you make, you can find a place to call home. Regardless of what you decide, do not just “date” the church. Make a commitment to Christ and His church!