“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 us and be known by us. That’s a relationship in the deepest sense of the word.
But there’s a problem when we use that statement to reject certain crucial aspects of the Christian life. For instance, there’s a tendency to think that any institutional element of Christianity — such as belonging to a church — is optional because it is "religious".
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 be unfaithful to our call from Jesus, which includes participating fully in God’s family. It’s a bonus more often than not, since that family 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 in the power of the Spirit.
So how do you even go about choosing a church? 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 seek God’s will in this matter.
Five Tips for Choosing a Church
1. Does this church believe in the essentials of the Christian faith?
The Bible is inspired by the Holy Spirit (2 Timothy 3:16).
Salvation is not earned (Ephesians 2:8).
There is a real heaven and hell (Revelation 21:4-12).
If the church you’re checking out doesn’t believe any of these things or adhere to the Bible as the Word of God, then keep looking. Scripture use some pretty harsh language to talk about false teachers (2 Corinthians 11:1-14, 2 Peter 2).
2. Does this church base itself on what the Bible teaches?
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, the church will refocus your heart, allowing you to become more like Jesus.
3. Does it align with my biblical convictions?
The reason why there are so many different types of churches is because each emphasizes different aspects of the Christian faith. That doesn’t mean one expression of faith is “more godly” than others. By emphasizing different aspects of God and his call, each denomination compliments the others. So take the time to study the Bible and pray to discern what you believe concerning the aspects of the faith that are most important to you, knowing it’s best to find a church that best aligns with those beliefs.
4. Does it help me to worship God?
Sometimes, the style of music at a church, or the language used in the message, or even the way prayers are said, can distract you from what you’re there for: to give glory to God with other Christians. If you find yourself routinely annoyed with the way things are done in a certain church community, it 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 of serving God. Each person has gifts, skills, or qualities that can enrich church life. 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 that church offers them opportunities to love and follow Jesus.
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 nearby church and stick with it. A church can become a good fit simply because you’re investing in it. A community doesn’t exist simply to meet your needs; what is more important is what you bring to it. Theologian Eugene Peterson has this advice for people looking for a church:
“Go to the nearest 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 together with a small gathering of his family. 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.
A Christian church is a family you fully belong to.
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).