This week I challenged readers to write their own tips on choosing a church- How to Choose a Church (A Challenge). It’s really easy to pull an article from the blogosphere, dismantle it, and move on to the next article. I don’t want to do that. I want to critique, contribute, and get critiqued. So here is my offering for non-church goers on how they should choose a church.
1. Talk to your friends.
This may seem overly simple, but you already have people in your life who you trust that go to church. Ask them about their faith and the church they attend.
Here are some questions that might be helpful to get you started with your friends:
- What is the worship like (not just the music)? What actually happens during the service?
- How are you involved in the church? Are you only involved on Sundays or is there more going on?
- What would you change about the church? What do you want to keep the same?
2. Find a church in your neighborhood.
The “cool” church may only be a half hour away, but there are some great churches in your neighborhood. These churches typically have in their worship around 100 people. Trust me, churches with this size will get to know you fairly quickly. A church with a close proximity to your house means that you will be worshipping with people in your community, and you will get to know your neighbors better. Also, It will increase the likelihood that you will be more involved since you won’t have to commute to just show up.
I have both commuted and lived near churches I have worked in. I prefer being near the church.
3. Research what the church believes.
If the church has a website, check it out thoroughly. But don’t let a website be the only indicator of what you think the church will be like; you should talk to friends first. Besides, anyone with a thousand dollars can get a cool looking website. You might think that the church is “contemporary” or “traditional” based on the website and find the opposite to be true when you show up.
Look on the website for what the church believes, and if they are a part of a network or denomination, research what the larger body believes as well. Usually, statements of belief contain all kinds of insider language that non-Christians don’t really understand. Words like inerrant, infallible, Bible believing, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Non-Denominational, inclusive, or reconciling are supposed to mean something to people searching for churches, but usually they are only talking to other Christians who are looking for these terms. I am assuming that you know a little about Christianity since you are searching for a church, therefore looking at the statement of belief will either make you feel comfortable or raise red flags. If in a church’s website there is something like “God hates fags” or “We believe Jesus was only a man,” then you should not even bother making an appearance in person.
4. Visit a church more than once.
Use a “three strikes and you’re out” approach to finding a church; you have to visit it more than once. Communities have bad days, preachers have bad sermons, and the church will disappoint you; therefore, you have to give it more than one chance. Additionally, it takes a while to learn a church’s worship style. Every church has a liturgy. Whether it’s “traditional” or “contemporary,” a local church worships with the same format almost every Sunday. It may take a while for you to get used to the band or how to navigate the worship hymnal. Either way, you will have to spend time at a church to learn how a church worships.
A church should be hospitable. This means that people should notice you are new or are a visitor and welcome you. This is often seen as the pastor’s job, but it’s not. The people in the community should welcome you warmly, give you some coffee or tea, maybe a donut, and get to know you.
A church should have a liturgy that is not burdensome. It should be easy to follow. It should also mean that people are actively engaged in the worship and it is authentic to the community. A church service in San Franscisco is going to look different than a church service in Arizona.
A church should have preaching that is faithful to the Scripture of the day. It should speak to the local community and their concerns. The sermon should engage the mind and touch the heart. It should also clearly preach the difference between what we are supposed to do and what God has already done for us. These are the marks of a faithful Christian sermon.
If you find a church consistently inhospitable, then that should be a warning flag. If it looks like the worship leaders are bored, then maybe you will be too. If you are finding that the pastor’s sermons always sound like the teacher in Ferris Bueller , then it may not be the church for you. Finding a church takes time, often more than three visits to a church, but this should at least be the bare minimum.
5. Know in advance that there is no such thing as the perfect church.
This goes back to the beginning, but the friends you shouldn’t ask about church are the ones that change churches every couple years. You want to ask people that have been a part of a local church for a long time. There is no such thing as a perfect church. There will always be give and take. Some places will have a wonderful community with great activities, but the worship is lackluster. Other places will have great worship, but you don’t feel very welcomed. In all you have to know what a deal breaker is for you in a church. If you find yourself moving every 2-5 years, you have have too many deal breakers and are expecting heaven on earth and not a church.
After you find a church
After you find a place get involved. Don’t be a consumer but a contributor. A church is where the people of God get together to hear the Word and receive the sacraments, but it is also a place to walk together in your joys, trials, doubt, and daily living. A church is not just a place. It’s a group of people who intentionally walk with each other grounded in faith to serve the world.