Finding a good church is hard. Or so I’ve been told.
I don’t really know, because as a pastor for over 40 years (and as a pastor’s kid before that) I’ve never had to look for a church to attend.
But this summer my wife and I took a short sabbatical. On eight Sundays we attended eight different churches. And the news is surprisingly good. We would definitely go back to seven of those churches, and would happily recommend them to others.
No, that’s not a perfect record. But perfect was never the goal. It was simply to find a good church. And the news is overwhelmingly positive.
Here’s how our search came together. On half of the Sundays, we went with friends to the church they attend. For the other half, we picked from Christian traditions that were different than ours. In all but one, God was honored, the Bible was taught, and we were blessed by having attended. I know I’d get more readers and attention if I wrote an article about everything that was wrong with the bad experience we had—it was both comically and sadly bad—but I see no gain in that. I’d rather point you towards the good.
So how did we have so many good church experiences, especially in California, which is not exactly a Bible Belt region and is supposedly a spiritual black hole? We followed a handful of principles when looking for a church to attend, and the only time we had a bad experience was when we stepped outside of those rules because of unforeseen circumstances.
(One important qualifier: If you are dealing with church-based trauma, the road ahead will be a bigger challenge than what I’m addressing in this article. This is for people who are simply looking for a church home, but are not sure how to do it.)
Here are five steps to follow if you’re looking for a good church where you live:
1. Remember What The Church (As In, Every Church) Is For
Don’t start with “what do I like (or not like) about this church?”
Start with “Is Jesus the focus of the worship? Is the Bible being honored and taught well? Are people being discipled? Is there a spirit of generosity and joyfulness? Are needy people being blessed?”
If so, the church is being the church. If not, it doesn’t matter how much you like or dislike it.
The church meets to glorify God, teach the Word, and bless others. Look for that first.
2. Ask People You Trust
This was the biggest, easiest difference-maker of all. Every time we went to a church that was the home congregation of fellow believers we trusted, we had a very positive experience.
3. Be Open To Different Christian Traditions
We loved spending time in the churches whose worship style or tradition is different than what we’re used to. It’s a great way to see, hear, and know God in ways that we might otherwise miss.
Don’t interpret your discomfort with a different format as a bad thing. Sometimes it’s God trying to tell you something new.
4. Look For Opportunities To Serve
Don’t just look for a church that suits your needs, look for a church that honors Jesus and has an emphasis on meeting the needs of others. In all the best churches we attended, serving others was a visible, front-and-center core value.
5. Don’t Approach It Like A Consumer
If you hadn’t noticed it yet, this is underneath every previous point. We must take our eyes off ourselves.
It’s amazing how many times I’ve heard someone complain about a church by listing concerns that had nothing to with the quality of the worship service, but only with the style of it.
Too casual. Too formal. Too traditional. Too trendy. Too quiet. Too boisterous.
Sure, we don’t want to commit for years to a church where the music, the liturgy, or the traditions are unpleasant to us, but it’s also important to phrase it that way. Don’t say “this church isn’t good” when what you really mean is “the style of this church doesn’t work for me.”
Church is not about us. If we act like a consumer of religious goods and services, we will either be disappointed, or we’ll find a church that’s trying to scratch that itch. And being happy in a consumer-oriented church may be worse than not being able to find one at all.
Which Church Would I Attend?
So, did we find a church that we would choose to attend on a permanent basis? Yes, and no. Yes, because any of the seven are worth a further look, and if I was told “you have to attend this one” for any of them, I’d be good with that. No, because they’re not my home church.
Last Sunday, we got to worship at home again. Our congregation of 30+ years is not the best church (none is), and it’s not even the best church for everyone. But it sure is the best church for us.
But here’s an important qualifier. It hasn’t always been the best church for us. When we arrived over 30 years ago, it was not a church I would have attended if the Lord hadn’t called us to pastor there. It was a church in crisis.
But over the years, it has become the church we’ve been blessed to call home. Not because it started that way but because, with God’s help, it became that way.
No church is perfect. But there are a lot of churches that could be right for you.
Don’t give up.
(Photo by Timothy Tsui | Flickr)