It’s not uncommon for people I know and love to be looking for a new church.
Sometimes it’s Gateway people who are moving to a new city and wonder if I know of any good churches. Other times it’s friends or family in other places who are trying to find a church home. And, of course, I meet lots of people new to our church who are in the not-fun process of “church shopping.”
As a result, I’ve thought a lot about what I’d look for in a church (and I’ve thought a lot about how to leave a church well — which I wrote about in the appendix of our membership packet).
It seems that the most natural things to look for in a church are things like:
- Do I like the preaching?
- Do I like the music?
- Do my kids like the kids programs?
- What’s the feel or vibe of the church?
- How is this church similar to churches I’ve enjoyed in the past?
- How is this church different from churches I’ve disliked in the past?
- Does this church do _________ ministry? (insert whatever my interest is)
All these are perfectly normal questions to ask. They’re so normal that we tend to ask them without even officially asking them — they’re just intuitive.
However, I want to propose five more unusual questions that I would ask if I was looking for a church.
These are questions that go a bit deeper than just our feelings or instincts, into some areas that touch convictions that are important to me (thus, I hope the answer to each would be “yes”).
1. Do I need to bring my Bible?
My definition of preaching is: The hostile takeover of the heart by the Spirit of God through the Word of God. Thus, I believe that the Spirit flies in tandem with the Scriptures. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ (Rom 10:17).
I want to be part of a church where I need a Bible because the preacher is going to get me engaged in the biblical text.
This not only gives me and my family a better chance of growing spiritually, but also shows me that the church and preacher is under God’s authority by truly preaching the Scriptures and not just using them.
(Some might say, “Well, I don’t need a Bible because they put it on the screen.” Fine with me. The point is that the Scriptures should be the main course of the sermon.)
2. Are men serving in kids ministry?
A church where men serve in kids ministry tells me a few important things. First, it tells me that the church engages men. It’s too easy for churches to only appeal to women and children. But a church that has men serving in kids ministry is engaging men.
It also tells me that the church has a culture that expects everyone to serve. Few things are as thrilling as seeing important business guys humbled by caring for toddlers that don’t care one bit who the guy is, how much money he makes, or how important he is.
Finally, it tells me something about the quality of leadership and organization in the church’s ministries. Women are typically more noble than men–they’ll serve and keep serving because it’s the right thing to do. But many men won’t keep serving if the ministry is disorganized, sloppy, and poorly run.
3. Do they practice church discipline?
Church discipline is one of the most miserable parts of being church leader. It’s the process of formally confronting unrepentant sin in the members of a church with the hopes of restoring them to repentance.
It stinks. Really bad.
That’s why it’s a good indicator of the kind of church I’d want to participate in. It’s such a miserable experience that leadership would only do it if they knew they had to because the Scriptures commanded it. (I suppose there are some folks who delight in weird, cultish, sin-sniffing but those people give me the creeps anyway).
In other words, this question helps me discern whether the church leadership sees itself as under the authority of the Scriptures by doing what the Bible says even when it’s uncomfortable.
4. Is there a strong mixture of people singing passionately and not singing at all?
I don’t want to be at a church where everybody is singing passionately because that tells me that it’s not a church where outsiders and non-Christians are being invited and sticking around.
Nor do I want to be at a church where nobody is singing passionately because that tells me that there’s not a culture of people in the church who are developing a white-hot relationship with Jesus.
I’d look for a church that had a mixture of people who are coming out of their shoes in delight and people who are awkwardly standing because they’re still trying to figure out what this whole Jesus thing is about.
A church like that is a place where non-Christians can meet Jesus and experienced Christians can mature.
5. Do the leaders like each other?
I believe that the culture of a church’s leadership eventually becomes the culture of the church as a whole. Leaders teach what they know, but they reproduce who they are.
And, since we’re created in the image of a relational God, ministry is primarily about relationships.
Therefore, I want to gauge (as much as possible) what kind of relationships exist among the leaders in the church.
Do they like each other?
Do they enjoy time together?
Do they respect each other?
Do they defend each other (and not just because they’re supposed to)?
Do they trust each other?
Do they see each other merely as co-workers or do they see themselves as partners in the gospel ministry?
If my family and community will eventually begin to look a little bit like these leaders, then I’d like to admire the relationships they have.
If you find a church where the answers to these questions are “Yes,” then stay there! Get involved, dig deep, invite friends, and thank God for providing a great place.
If you are in a church where the answers to these are “No,” then work to be part of the solution as much as possible.
If you are looking for a church, consider these kinds of questions. They aren’t obvious. They may even seem weird.
Of course, there are more questions worth asking. And not everyone will share my convictions or assumptions related to these questions. That’s fine. But if you ever find yourself looking for a church, I hope these give you some ideas to consider.