“We have no servers,” one of the young women said in a low voice to her small audience.
“Excuse me?” another girl said.
“They forgot to arrange for enough people to serve the guests. We need volunteers. Can you help?” the first woman repeated.
“Sure,” the girls replied.
“What do you need?” the men asked.
“Servers to cut the meat, arrange the tables, and serve the food.”
“Consider it done.”
The author once attended a wedding of church members, as an invited guest. The bride had such a crowded schedule that she forgot to arrange for enough servers. Her groom took care of certain things, but naturally assumed that this part was covered. He had no clue. No problem, we, the church members, jumped in to fill the gap as servers – not near as miraculous as Jesus turning water into wine (John 2: 1-12), but we had a great time and got better acquainted with the bride’s and groom’s relatives. The bride and groom had a wonderful wedding, the other invited guests had a great time and the impromptu servers went home with sore feet, but happy that the party turned out well. That’s what the body of Christ is all about – supporting and encouraging one another, heaven-bound.
You’ve seen people flock into a building every Sunday, they look ordinary enough and you want to check them out, but you don’t know where to start. Or you’re new to the Christian faith and you’ve no idea where to start. What do you look for in a church? How do you know if you’ve found a good worship gathering?
What is a church?
Webster’s dictionary calls a church a building, an organization, or public worship1.
The Christian definition of a church is not a building, but a group of people who believes in God through His resurrected Son, Jesus Christ. The church predominantly refers to followers of Christ, commonly referred to as the body of Christ in the Bible (I Corinthians 12: 14-28). A church can be a gathering of believers to worship God, and by default, the building that houses the gathering of the local body of Christ (Act 2: 1ff; Matthew 18:20; Revelation 2: 1ff).
What about denominations?
If you’re new to church, denominations may mean little to you. In recent centuries, a plethora of church branches, called denominations, have emerged. Denominations sprung from debates over the tenets of the Christian faith, how followers of Christ should worship, and where the emphasis of the faith should be placed. However, when Christ ascended into heaven, He left one body, His disciples and followers, with a mission to help others get to know Him, until He returns to gather His people home (Acts 1: 6 – 14; John 14: 1 – 4).
Given that followers of Christ have only one Savior, denominations have drawbacks because they fracture the body; but if a body of believers departs from the true teachings of the Word and the pursuit of God’s holiness, it may become necessary for those who choose to remain true to find another body of Christ that upholds the true Gospel. Every follower of Christ should select a local body of Christ among whom to worship.
A home church is a local gathering of Christ’s followers within a reasonable travelling distance from your home, where you can worship and get involved frequently, preferably, at least once a week.
If you have relatives who belong to a denomination, you may think that you should choose that denomination. Since salvation is by grace, not by works, in truth, a follower of Christ should remain true to God through Christ Jesus, not to a denomination (Ephesians 2: 8 – 9; I Corinthians 3: 1 – 22).
The importance of committing to one local Body of Christ
- Commitment to corporate worship and growth: Having a home church eliminates the weekly guess-work of where to go and encourages regular church participation. You are more likely to go to church if you know what church you will attend, than if you have to make a decision every Sunday morning of where to go to worship. Assume you are looking for a church that meets over 75% of your needs, but haven’t found one. What do you do? Roll over every Sunday morning and go back to sleep? No. If you do, you are more likely to quit than to try, to your detriment and regret later in life. Choose a church that meets 50% of your needs – as long as the qualities include: i, teaching the Word of God, ii, Salvation by grace, iii, transforming power of God and iv, holding the believers accountable – and make it your home-church for now. Continue praying for one that meets over 75% of your needs, as listed in “What to look for in a church”. The advantages?
- Consistency in worshipping with other believers. Every Sunday when you wake up, if you don’t have a list of churches you should visit, instead of rolling over and hoping for better luck next Sunday, get up, get dressed and go to your temporary home-church, then keep praying and searching for your ideal church
- You can ask the local believers and leaders for help. They may help you create a program to help meet your needs, or they may know a church down the street that has such programs
- You will not get tempted to crowd God out of your life by scheduling golf, or other distracting activities on Sunday mornings, that will distance you from the LORD and other believers who can support you in your quest to finish strong
Warning! As many pastors often say, a church is full of ordinary human beings, just like you, but who believe in an extraordinary God. There is no such thing as a perfect church; but a gathering of believers who are in the process of being made to be like their perfect Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Paul wrote two letters to the Corinthians. The first letter corrected problems in the church. In the second letter Paul testifies about his hurt and triumph over adversity. He also discusses Christian life and service.
One day, when Christ returns, the Church will be perfect, in the meantime we continue to grow. As in any healthy, growing, maturing family, the sign of a maturing follower of Christ, is one who is able to remain committed through the aches, pains and triumph of corporate church growth with other believers, while also remaining committed through the aches, pains and triumph of his, or her, own personal spiritual growth. With this caveat in mind, what should you look for in a church?
What to look for in a church
Look for a church that:
- believes in the infallible Word of God. Avoid churches where the leaders cherry-pick their way through the Bible, especially if they themselves are apostate, or are living in disobedience
- teaches salvation by grace, not works and encourages believers to submit to the transforming power of God through Christ Jesus alone
- holds believers, including the pastoral leaders, accountable for their behavior. The pastoral leaders should be humble and obedient to the undiluted principles of God
- offers variety of programs designed for growth of the local believers, or allows believers to start one, provided it is within the precepts of God
- is innovative, within the boundaries of the Holy Word
- preaches the Truth boldly – a church that teaches the Truth will continue to grow, but one that compromises may appear to grow initially, but will ultimately fade away
- is growing. The church should be reflective of the local demographics
- is stable – where members of the church are routed in the Word and committed to Christ. The members should respect their leaders, but worship the LORD. Believers of the local church are more likely to hold their pastors accountable if they stand in awe of God, than if they stand in awe of their local pastors
- is trustworthy with the LORD’s resources
In addition to qualities listed under General Qualities, look for a church that provides ministry programs that meets your needs, or the needs of your family, or look for a church that will support your initiative to start new ministry programs to serve others, provided your desire is in line with Biblical teachings and the core tenets of being a follower of Christ. Always keep in mind that the purpose of church ministry is to build the body of Christ, not to destroy it (Ephesians 4: 11 – 16).
Parents with Children
In addition to recommendations listed under General Qualities, look for a church that offers children’s programs – such as Children’s Sunday school and midweek activities. While many churches do due diligence to vet children’s volunteers, and volunteers are generally good, decent, conscientious people, ask the church about their policy on selecting volunteers who work with children.
In addition to the other suggestions for qualities to look for, if you are single, look for a church that:
- encourages you to remain true to your faith as a single person, for example, remaining pure, until you get married, of if you choose to remain single, continuing to honor God with your body and thus honoring yourself.
- offers programs that incorporate single people
- has other ministry areas where you can get involved
Part of worship includes free-will donation. Firstly, it allows you to align your priority with God. Jesus said that your heart will be where your treasure is (Luke 12:34). Secondly, giving in worship help pay for the local overhead expenses, including administrative costs. The solvency of a local church is often dependent on the generosity and faithful giving of the local believers through God’s grace. In otherwords, in order for the church door to remain open every Sunday, the bills must be paid. The local congregation takes care of that. Thirdly, giving helps build God’s kingdom (1 Corinthians 9:13 – 14). It is not unusual for a new body of Christ, or, a church with needs, to get help from more established branches (2 Corinthians 9: 1ff).
Many churches, including churches in emerging countries, publish congregational offerings regularly in the open church bulletin. Some publish their total giving weekly, others monthly, but most at least quarterly.
Whether a church depends solely on local free-will offerings, or gets donations from the body of Christ in other areas, among qualities you should seek, is a church that encourages good stewardship and transparency.
A Growing Church
Look for a church that is growing. A church that is growing, as long as it teaches the Word boldly (2 Timothy 4: 1-5), is a church that is alive. Apart from language barrier, a church that is growing should be reflective of the local demographics. Jesus commissioned His disciples to go into the world and make disciples, beginning in Jerusalem, their home town (Luke 24: 47).
Caveat: Even a diminishing local body can be turned around, if that body starts practicing the qualities of a good church. Paul planted, Apollos watered, but it was the Holy God who gave the increase. (I Corinth 3: 1ff).
In conclusion, the secret is always to look for the church that puts God first, not human beings, and one that teaches the Truth, instead of pleasing the world. Happy church hunting!
ff = and the following verses
1. Webster’s New Ideal Dictionary, G. & C. Merriam Co. 1978
2. Bible references can be found in any version of the Bible: The New King James Version, The Living Bible, the New International Version and others.