So, you’re in a new city or a new town and you need to find a church, but how do you do that? If you grew up in church, picking one was pretty easy; you just went wherever your parents went. Even if you left your parents’ church for a new one, you probably chose the church the majority of your Christian friends went to.
But perhaps you’re a new believer and you’ve never had to find a church before at all. No matter our background, we’ve all got certain traditions we’ve grown up with and particular styles we’ve grown accustomed to. For many of us, those styles have served us well, so we hold on to them for dear life. For others, those situations really rubbed us the wrong way, so we oppose them with everything we’ve got.
Which is right? Which is wrong? What about doctrine? Certainly,what a church teaches is critical, but a lot of churches don’t exactly agree with each other on what the Bible teaches. Differ as they may,a great many of those churches still abide by what could be rightly considered their own faithful interpretation of Scripture.
How to Find a Church: Seven Things to Look for in a Good Church (Acts 2:42–47)
Where better to look for guidance on how to find a church than the Bible? Specifically, we’ll look at one of the earliest accounts of a New Testament community of faith. As you begin your search to find a church, be on the lookout for how churches handle the following seven points. If one or more are missing, get ready to exercise some discernment in evaluating whether that is a faithful community in which you would like to be a member.
And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved. — Acts 2:42–47
What to Look for in a Church #1: Believers as Members
Now all who believed were together. — Acts 2:44
The local church should be a safe place for the believer and nonbeliever alike to come and hear the good news, to taste and see that the Lord is good. The local church should be a place that loves and serves the community regardless of whether they profess Christianity or not.
That said, when we talk about a believing membership in the local church, we’re not talking about the people who attend that specific church or are served by its ministries. The people we’re talking about are the covenant members of that church. These are the people who have sacrificially, emotionally, financially, and spiritually “bought in” to that church and what it’s doing for the kingdom. If you encounter a church that welcomes unbelievers as covenant members, a red flag should be raised. The membership body of a church is one of the visible fruits of the culture in that community. If the church does not value faith in Christ or the authority of Scripture in teaching, then they are straying outside the bounds of what would be considered a church by biblical and traditional standards.
What to Look for in a Church #2: Qualified Leadership
And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship. — Acts 2:42
The health of a church is largely dependent on the health of its leadership team. When we talk about evaluating someone as a church leader, we’re not talking about something as straightforward as grading term paper. We’re talking about evaluating a human being with all of his or her strengths, weaknesses, quirks, and shortcomings. It is a highly subjective task and, to be honest, none of us are qualified to do so; only God knows the heart.
What we can do, however, is get to know the overall leadership in the church and find out a little bit about who they are, how they got there, and what they do.
What to Look for in a Church #3: Preaching and Teaching
And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship. — Acts 2:42
It is an undeniable fact that preaching was one of the primary ways in which Jesus did ministry. He was an itinerant preacher, traveling the countryside and expounding the Scripture to all who would listen. Jesus not only set the example but commanded His disciples to carry on His teaching ministry (Matthew 28:19, 20). In so doing, Jesus established the church and appointed the teaching and preaching of the Word as the primary means for nurturing and leading believers into spiritual maturity. This is vitally important to us today because the preaching and teaching of a church dictate the life and culture of that church.
If you find yourself listening to a pastor who beats his people down with the Bible and preaches a form of legalism, you’ll experience a graceless and defeated church culture where spiritual flourishing may be a near-impossibility.
On the other hand, a church that preaches faithfully from the Scriptures may not be perfect, but it will set the stage for healthy and vibrant spirituality in its people. Naturally, this leads to the question of what the pastor should preach. Rather than launch out of the scope of this book and into a lengthy discussion of theologies, preaching styles, philosophy, and the like, I trust you will search the Scriptures and make your own value judgments as to what a faithful biblical message may contain. In all teaching environments, I pray you would be as the wise Bereans, who “received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11 ESV).
What to Look for in a Church #4: Worship
They ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. — Acts 2:46, 47
If worship styles in the church were like flavors of ice cream, Baskin-Robbins would be out of business. If you grew up in the Catholic church as I did, you might really love a liturgical type of service, whereas someone used to a more free-flowing format might find that to be a little stiff and/or mechanical. A regular attendee of a charismatic or contemporary styled mega-church might feel like a caged bird in a traditional Southern Baptist setting.
Regardless of what we may find to be the most biblically warranted and appropriate way to worship, the object of our worship is what matters most. When we worship God rightly, we do so in order to praise Him and give Him glory with all of our being (in spirit). He also wants us to do it on His terms and in the light of His revelation (in truth), which means we should never stop seeking to know Him as He is revealed in Scripture. Find a church that prioritizes worship on His standards alone and you’ll have found a church that will be faithful in its worship.
What to Look for in a Church #5: Church Unity and Fellowship
Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. — Acts 2:44, 45
Ask yourself whether or not you feel welcome in this new community of believers. If you’ve tried to plug in and get connected to community but have not been received with the open arms of fellowship, then it may not be the place for you. If you are readily welcomed, however, and still don’t feel like you’re at home, it’s time to ask some deep personal questions
- Am I pursuing every available opportunity to get involved?
- Are these people struggling to accept me, or is it the other way around?
- Have I brought some misguided expectations to the table regarding what this new church community should be like?
- Am I judging this new group of people on my past experiences or present circumstances?
- Are they speaking difficult truth to me, and is that ruffling my feathers?
In prayer, do some business with God and earnestly ask Him to reveal to you why this church seems to be shutting you down.Be ready to listen and act based on His leading. The result of your obedience will surely be His glory and your greatest good.
What to Look for in a Church #6: Holiness
And awe came upon every soul. — Acts 2:43 ESV
“You shall be holy, for [God is] holy” (1 Peter 1:16 ESV). To believe in God and to pursue His will for our lives means to stop seeing the world as culture defines it and to start seeing it as God defines it.
That’s what Paul meant when he told believers to stop conforming to the patterns of this world and to be transformed by the renewal of their minds (Romans 12:2). A good church will exercise strong discernment in this area. They will wisely distinguish between the areas of culture and the world with which we should engage and those we should reject outright. A good church will fight to maintain the sanctity of its people and to challenge them to live up to the moral standards set forth in Scripture, knowing all the while this quest for moral purity and holiness is a messy process done not in search of but in response to a grace freely and fully given. Does this mean the members in the church are better than those outside its walls? No. Does the idea that we are holy, or set apart by God, give us a reason to boast and look down our noses at unbelievers? Absolutely not. If a church holds that view of holiness, then you should probably run the other way.
What to Look for in a Church #7: Mission
And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved. — Acts 2:47
God created the church in order to accomplish His mission in the world. In Ephesians, Paul tells us that in the gospel of Christ, God has made known to us His eternal plan to unite all things to Himself (1:10). He invites us to be agents in that plan by telling us we were saved by grace so we might go out and do the “good works, which God prepared in advance for us” (Ephesians 2:10 NIV) and to extend this grace to every person on this Earth. A faithful church will take these words seriously and recognize they exist for far more than Sunday morning worship services.
How to Find a Church Checklist
- When considering a specific church, ask yourself the following questions:
- Is the covenant membership of the church made up of believers?
- Is the overall leadership qualified as described in 1 Timothy 3?
- Does the church offer preaching that’s faithful to the Scriptures?
- Is worship of God alone a priority of the church?
- Do I feel welcome and connected?
- Does the church encourage and practice holiness?
- Are the members doers of the Word, motivated by love for God and the mission to make disciples?
Talk About It
We were not created for isolation. We can’t do this alone. For the good of your eternal, spiritual life, you’ve got to find a church to call home. I want to encourage you to use these seven principles as tools for how to find a good and faithful church in your area. Pay attention to what you feel God is telling you through Scripture and don’t just make a choice based on the particular brand of church you happened to grow up in. My prayer is you would find a place to call home and a community to jump into where you would be free to pursue God wholeheartedly and to enjoy fellowship with other believers who live to do the same.
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Have you applied these 7 principles in your search to find a church? Do you have any other advice for our readers in how to find a church? Leave a comment below!