What to look for in a church
As more and more disciples of Christ are looking for meaningful expressions of 'church' and as many churches (both traditional and new) stray off into false teaching, it is increasingly important to find fellowships which are biblically-based (both in teaching and practice).
originally published 13/06/09
The following list is non-exhaustive, incomplete and (no-doubt) flawed, but it is offered as a 'rough guide' of important points when looking to find supportive and challenging fellowship and discipleship in the body of Christ within a local church grouping.
There is no such thing as the 'perfect church', but if there are deficiencies, look to see if there is a heart to correct whatever is amiss.
Look for a church as a place where -
the Word of God and the person of Jesus Chris are central: where all the church teaches and does (actions speak more of real belief than words) is supported by the Bible and Christ centred. 'Be a Berean' in making that assessment (Acts 17:11). Beware of any tradition or teaching that does not have a biblical support.
there is a sense of the Holy Spirit (manifesting the glory of God and the presence of the Son)
the leadership is spiritually mature, male and plural (be wary if the selection of leaders seems to depend on social standing, academic prowess, wealth, business success, appearance, personality – man looks at outward appearance, God looks at the heart)
direction and leadership is local (by and under the headship of Christ via the Holy Spirit) and not controlled and manipulated by some detached authoritarian/bureaucratic denominational mechanism
the whole Gospel is preached (including sin, repentance - i.e. the need for salvation - and the acknowledgment and functioning of the gifts of the Spirit)
prayer (corporate and private) is central and not peripheral
growth in numbers is through souls being saved (and not principally through transfers from other churches)
there is evidence of growth in spiritual maturity (i.e. discipleship of spiritually young - and older - believers is well-resourced; and see next two points also)
as much (spiritual stuff) goes on during the week as it does on Sunday (e.g. house-groups, prayer cells, personal evangelism) Following Jesus is a 24/7 activity and not confined to one holy hour on one holy day in one holy building
all believers (old and young, male and female) are encouraged to discover their giftings, and given scope and encouragement to exercise meaningful ministries within the whole body: many churches that preach the priesthood of all believers, fail to practice whole-body ministry.
more energy and resources is put into discipling and outreaching and less into ‘big programmes’ and erecting or extending buildings (in other words look at where resources – time/energy/finance – are spent to see where the focus and emphases lie)
the growth model is by planting new fellowships rather than amassing an ever-larger congregation (Kingdom-building rather than empire-building); increase should be organic by multiplication and not mechanistic by addition - the Gospel message should 'cascade' rather than merely be broadcast from a fixed point
sacrificial assistance is regularly offered to other (smaller and weaker) churches – locally and beyond (and not necessarily of the same denomination)
there are meaningful relationships and flow with God's people in other (neighbouring) Bible-believing churches (Does the church support the activities of other fellowships or encourage an isolationist approach?)
the teaching role is not confined to one person (all elders should be able to teach; it is vulnerable fellowship indeed where the voice of the Lord is channelled through a single conduit)
petty traditions do not rule the roost (i.e. the church avoids majoring on minors and worshipping the things of yesteryear)
Two kingdom builders
The two following anecdotes differentiate between empire-building and Kingdom-building mindsets; the difference between saving souls into a relationship with God rather than merely getting more bodies in through a set of doors.
1. AC is a man who lives in London and moves among the wealthy and powerful in politics and business. He shares his faith with his peers whenever he can. However he also walks the streets of London speaking to the down-and-outs, the homeless and the disadvantaged. In this latter ministry he has two cardinal rules -
(a) he talks about Jesus, but never invites the person to church. He waits until the person enquires. And even then -
2. PR is a pastor in America. His church is continually growing by people coming to faith in Christ. But whenever his congregation reaches around 50 believers (+ their families) he divides the church, and encourages his best people to go out and plant a new fellowship (and not just as a satellite, but as an separate fellowship).
(b) he never automatically takes the person to his own church; rather he assesses which church (local fellowship) would be best suited to the particular person's situation
The common factor in these two stories is the soul-winning properties of these two men. They are intent on bringing the lost to Christ rather than merely bringing people to church. They are more interested in building the Kingdom of God than in merely increasing the numbers in their buildings on a Sunday morning.
Jesus said: 'I will build my church'. Indeed He is.
See also: The Primacy of the Local Church: an oft- subverted truth
An extra question: "How (well) would your church function without all the audio/visual/PA equipment which is brought in (or brought into play) each Sunday morning?"
All the equipment consumes money (to purchase, set up and maintain); and it all needs a substantial building and reliable electricity supplies to function correctly. These things we can easily take for granted but there may come a time in the not-too-distant future that they are not so readily available.
A challenge: Re-read the first few chapters of the book of the Acts and compare and contrast with the church scene today.