“Christianity isn’t a religion, it’s a relationship.” This phrase has become a cliché among Christians. The fact that Christianity is based on a relationship is true: the God of the universe wants to intimately know you and be known by you. That’s a relationship in the deepest sense of the word.

But there’s a problem when the “religious” aspects of faith are ignored. There’s a tendency to think that any institutional element of Christianity — namely, going to church — is optional.

The fact is, Christ loves the church and died for it. The Apostle Paul describes the church as Jesus’ bride. So to decide that you don’t need the church is to deny His sacrifice, to be unfaithful to your call from Jesus. It’s a bonus that more often than not, the church consists of decent, loving people who are committed to following Jesus. It’s a beautiful thing when a group of imperfect people worship God in unity, and learn together how to forgive and love like Jesus.

So how do you even go about choosing a church that’s right for you? The options are endless, as are the questions that come along with them. Which denomination should you belong to? What’s the difference between Catholics and Pentecostals? Anglicans and Baptists? What if you don’t like the preaching or the style of worship? Is it wrong to “shop around” for a church?

Finding a church that’s right for you can be an overwhelming process, and there’s nothing wrong with visiting a few congregations before you settle on one. Here are a few questions to ask yourself as you search.

Five Tips for Choosing a Church

1. Does this church believe in the essentials?

If the church you’re checking out doesn’t believe any of these things or adhere fully to the Bible, then keep looking. Scripture has some pretty harsh language when it talks about false teachers (2 Corinthians 11:1-14, 2 Peter 2).

2. Is this church informed by the Bible?

God has revealed His character most fully through the person of Jesus, and we learn about Jesus through reading the Bible. So the church service should be steeped in Scripture: from readings, to worship, to prayer, to the message. It should be the basis for all the church preaches, teaches, and lives. By applying the truths found in the Bible, church will re-focus your heart, allowing you to become more like Jesus.

3. Does it align with my convictions?

The reason why there are so many different types of churches is because each emphasizes different aspects of the Christian faith. For example, Pentecostals highlight the gifts of the Holy Spirit, while Baptists place more importance on the sacred act of baptism. Catholics stress the significance of tradition, while Reformed Christians emphasize God’s sovereignty and His will. It doesn’t mean one expression of faith is “more godly” than others; this is the beauty of the Church's diversity. By emphasizing different aspects of God and His call, each denomination compliments each other. So when you’re reading the Bible and prayerfully discerning what your beliefs are on certain aspects of faith, it’s best to find a church that most fully aligns with your beliefs.

4. Does it help me to enter into worship?

Sometimes, the style of music at a church, or the language used in the message, or even the way prayers are said can distract from what you’re there for: to give glory to God with other Christians. If you find yourself routinely annoyed, this church might not be the best fit for you. Chances are, if you keep attending, these little things will get even more distracting as time goes on.

5. Can my family get involved?

Being part of a church — not just going to one, but actually contributing to one — is a way you can serve God. Each person has gifts, skills, or qualities that can be used in the church. Find out what your gifts are, and whether there is a way you can use them at this church. And if you have children, consider whether there are other kids their age, and whether there are opportunities for them to learn about God.

Every church has its flaws. So don’t be surprised if you can’t find “the perfect church”... it doesn’t exist. If your search has gone on longer than a few weeks, it might be best to just choose a church and stick with it. A church can be a good fit simply because you’re invested in it. A community doesn’t exist simply for you; it’s what you put into it that makes the difference. Theologian Eugene Peterson has this advice for people looking for a church:

“Go to the nearest smallest church and commit yourself to being there for six months. If it doesn’t work out, find somewhere else. But don’t look for programs, don’t look for entertainment, and don’t look for a great preacher. A Christian congregation is not a glamorous place, not a romantic place.”

But it is a place where we can forget our busy schedules for a few minutes, marvel at all God has done, and learn something new about Him. It’s a place that confirms we were not created to face the trials in this life alone. And it’s a place where we can be used by God to bless others and to be blessed in return.

If you need some more insight into how to choose a church or would like to talk about your past church experience, one of our confidential mentors would love to support you in this process (just fill out the form in the Connect tab).

Photo Credit: Mars Hill Church Seattle