Choosing a church can be a challenging decision. In today’s society, with so many styles of churches, denominations, and varying belief systems, it can become overwhelming to choose the best church for your family.
As one who has helped launch a church in the D.C. area and served in many roles from worship leader to church secretary, I can attest that there are numerous aspects of a local church that must come together for a well-rounded church experience. This goes beyond the coffee brewing at the hospitality station and worship teams that can shift atmospheres with soul-stirring tunes.
When choosing a church, we must ask ourselves questions that take us beyond being just consumers of the “Good News.” Instead, we must discern whether our new church will be a safe place where our spiritual walks can be transformed and if we will be equipped to impact our community with the love of Christ outside of the church walls.
It may take several visits and meetings with the leadership to establish if your local church is a healthy environment for you.
With this in mind, these eight questions are vital to ask before joining a local church.
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1. Do they teach the Bible accurately?
This may appear obvious. However, there are churches throughout the world that are not approaching the Word of God with wisdom and truth.
2 Timothy 2:15 says, “Study to show yourself approved unto God, a workman that needs not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”
We must ask ourselves:
- Is the Word being “rightly divided”?
- Are Bible verses being used in their proper context?
- Are there beliefs being taught that clearly contradict scripture?
- Do the messages always “feel good,” but never challenge people to walk in God’s truth?
These simple questions can give us the confidence that the church can be a place of true spiritual growth.
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2. Are those in leadership well-trained?
The Bible gives clear instructions on what classifies as qualifications for leadership. According to Pastor Darrell W. Johnson, commitment, conviction, competency, and character are the foundational aspects of a well-trained leader.
Training goes beyond seminary degrees and includes the way leadership interacts with people. Leaders should have the time and a heart for people (Philippians 2:3-4) , Bible-based convictions (Romans 12:2), thorough knowledge of the scripture , and reflect God’s character (Galatians 5:22).
We must ask ourselves if the leaders live a life that could be imitated as described in Hebrews 13:7: "Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith."
Although no leader will ever be perfect, those in leadership should draw us towards Christ, not away with their words and actions. Great leaders can balance preaching the truth and stewarding grace.
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3. What is expected of members?
Membership expectation is important to know upfront.
Years ago, I joined a church that required every mother to serve in the children’s ministry two Sundays month. As this was a huge time commitment, I wanted to ensure this was something I could do before agreeing to be a member.
Many churches have an assimilation process that include an orientation to the ministry, Bible basics class, and membership class that must be attended before one can serve or be deemed a member.
Others, however, have no formal process and simply ask that you serve with your time, talents, and financial support when you are able to. In either case, transparency about expectations upfront keeps everyone accountable and can help avoid future conflict.
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4. Is the church a family?
In the book, When The Church Was Family, Joseph Hellerman discusses the importance of relationship building in churches. He believes that the churches shouldn’t just pride themselves in how large the ministry is but how close the bonds are between the members.
Many modern churches have the “look” of a welcoming environment. From smiling greeters to coffee stations and donuts, churches have become experts in having a streamlined appearance of hospitality. However, hospitality within the church includes relational intentionality outside of the Sunday morning experience.
Biblically, we see the church being more than a building or meeting place. Acts 2:42-47 describes the church as a place of fellowship, shared resources, and sincerity. Even Jesus refers to His followers as family (Matthew 12:49, Matthew 23:8).
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"The church is not like family; it is family."
Whether the church provides meals to new mothers or offer weekly small groups, it can be fairly easy to see if there is a sense of community being fostered amongst the congregation.
Churches that are relationship focused are safe places for people to be vulnerable and seek prayer when in need. Furthermore, those in the congregation should always seek to bring more into the family through intentional acts of inclusion. If no one notices when you walk through the door or you are greeted with an awkward stare of judgement versus love, it is likely this church is not seeking to bring more people into their community. As Pastor Dhati Lewis writes, the church is not like family; it is family.
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5. Does the church have a heart for the community?
In the Great Commission, Jesus tells us to go into the world and make disciples (Mark 16:15). Although the church is a great place for fellowship for believers, it should also seek opportunities to minister outside the walls of the church.
Evangelism is not just a special calling for some, it should be the heart of every believer. We are all called to be His ambassadors and share the Good News that all can experience the love of God and have eternal life.
Churches can do this in tangible and practical ways with:
- Backpack drives
- Sponsoring families for the holiday season
- Street-based ministry
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"we should constantly consider ways we can volunteer...to impact the community"
In the same manner, reaching out to local schools to provide resources and Christian-based extracurricular activities are ways that churches can show that they place an importance of being a beacon of hope for the community.
As believers, we should constantly consider ways we can volunteer our time and talents to impact the community that God has placed us in. For remember, the Bible says that when we are serving others it is like we are serving God.
““And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’” (Matthew 25:40).
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6. How can I serve here?
"Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it." (1 Corinthians 12:27).
We all have a place in the Body of Christ. Whether you have the gift of worship ministry or a love for teaching children, we should always seek to be of service in some capacity in the church we commit to. Each member of the church has special abilities that are needed to help the organization run smoothly and give those who enter a life-changing experience.
Before joining, pray over the ministries offered within the church and be aware of the requirements. This is a good time to also ask the Lord, “How can I be of service here?” When we serve from a place of love and humility, we can help add value to the overall ministry. This will not only bless the ministry, but God promises that as we bless others, we shall also be blessed. And in general, when many serve, few suffer burnout.
"A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed." (Proverbs 11:25).
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7. Is there opportunity for growth?
Church should not only be a weekly gathering where we can receive a “good message.” It should be a place where we can grow spiritually and be equipped for sharing the Gospel. We should always desire to move beyond elementary teaching and grow deeper in our revelation of Christ.
"Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God" (Hebrews 6:1).
Growth can happen in the context of small groups, strategic discipleship programs, and one-on-one times with those in leadership. In the context of intimate settings, we can learn how to effectively pray for others, go deeper into biblical truths, and practice ministering to the unchurched. Attending a church that fosters discipleship helps us to live out the life God has called us to and know how to effectively draw more people to Him.
"And what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also." (2 Timothy 2:2).
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8. Is Jesus calling me here?
Although there are many aspects to consider when choosing a church, we must fall back on hearing from the Holy Spirit.
I can attest that there have been many times I attended a church that lacked in an area. However, I later realized I was a part of the solution to the problem at hand.
We must be willing vessels to go where He is leading, even if the church does not “check all our boxes.” The worship experience, children’s ministry, and hot coffee do not have to be perfect for God to be leading you there.
Remember the church represents an opportunity for you to establish like-minded family and be equipped for spreading the Gospel. Pray that God makes it abundantly clear where He is leading you in this season of your life. May His peace be your guide through every choice.
" Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." (John 14:27).
Victoria Riollano is an author, blogger, and speaker. As a mother of six, military spouse, Psychology professor and minister’s wife, Victoria has learned the art of balancing family and accomplishing God’s ultimate purpose for her life. Recently, Victoria released her book, The Victory Walk: A 21 Day Devotional on Living A Victorious Life. Her ultimate desire is to empower women to live a life of victory, hope, and love. She believes that with Christ we can live a life that is ALWAYS winning. You can learn more about her ministry at victoryspeaks.org.
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Originally published Monday, 12 November 2018.