Finding a church is hard work. For many, it involves week after week of making visit after visit, scouring websites, and listening to multiple messages. Despite the difficulty, it’s good for us to take care when trying to find a church though. That’s because finding and committing yourself to a local congregation is incredibly important.
The word “church” is the Greek word ekkllesia which comes from the verb meaning “to call out.” Therefore, “church” is the New Testament designation for those who have been called out. Out of darkness into light. Out of sin into freedom. Out of death into life. The word only refers to a local institution secondarily; primarily, it’s a term that doesn’t specify a membership card or a locality, but rather a world-wide group that all people enter into when they start walking with Jesus. That means if you’re a Christian, you’re part of the church whether you like it or not.
The church is, by its nature, a people; it is the collective term for who we are as a group of Christians. The church is our identity as well as a group we participate in. This helps answer the question of whether or not the church is optional for the Christian – the answer, of course, is no, because to abandon the church is to abandon ourselves. Active participation in the local expression of the church is assumed for the writers of the New Testament because leaving that local expression was, I believe, equivalent to leaving the faith.
So how can you find a good church? Here are three questions to ask:
1. Can I be protected here?
The New Testament is full of warnings about false teaching, for even in those early days of the church there were offshoots of Christianity that were growing. In fact, much of the New Testament writing was aimed at keeping the doctrine of the church pure. Here, for example, is what Peter wrote:
Therefore, dear friends, since you have been forewarned, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from your secure position (2 Peter 3:17).
The presence of false teaching and distorted doctrine means that when looking for a church, we should be very careful to ask not only what this church claims to believe, but what the focus of the teaching is on a weekly basis. Is it the Bible, or is it something else? Having the answer to that question means knowing whether a church is safe or not for us to be a part of.
2. Can I grow here?
One of the reasons why we should commit ourselves to a local church is so that the faith community can help us grow in our faith. Here’s what Paul said about the church in Rome:
I myself am convinced, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with knowledge and competent to instruct one another (Rom. 15:14).
This is what happens in the church – we help each other grow. We remind each other of what’s true, correct each other when we stray, and uphold each other when the going gets difficult. And in all these things, we are helping each other grow toward God’s will for us all, which is to be like Jesus.
When we are looking for a church, then, it’s a good and right thing for us to ask if this particular place is a church where we can actually grow in Christ.
3. Can I serve here?
Even though we should ask whether this particular church can help us grow, we must be careful not to take a consumerist mentality to the church. We must remember that we aren’t only meant to receive from the church; we are meant to give. This is why we have each been given spiritual gifts – it’s in order to help build up other people inside of Christ’s body. We are meant to contribute – to help each other – so that we can all, together, reach maturity in Jesus.
There is a reason why our weekly meetings are called “worship services” – it’s because we are meant to serve. Indeed, without us, the church really is incomplete. Each of us has been reborn to play a vital and varying role in the church, and if we aren’t in attendance, then that contribution is also absent.
So when we are looking for a church, we must also consider if this is a place where we can really make a contribution and serve.
Yes, finding a church is hard work, and it’s supposed to be. That’s because joining a church is one of the most important decisions we can make. So let’s be sure we are asking the right questions when it comes to a decision of this magnitude.