The church world is the only world I’ve ever known. My dad is a pastor. I have an uncle and a cousin who are pastors. I’m a pastor. In growing up in the church there are numerous realities one notices. Perhaps the most visible is this: people come and people go. People leave other churches to come to yours and people will leave your church and go to another. But what prompts, or should prompt, people to come and go? I have periodically engaged in my own thought experiment on this topic. “What if I wasn’t a pastor? How would I go about choosing a church?” Let me offer 5 questions I would wrestle with when choosing a church.
1) Are the stated beliefs of the church consistent with what the Bible is clearest about?
This assumes you’ve already worked through what you believe the Bible is clearest about. I believe the Bible is clear about it’s inspiration, authority, and unique nature of being the Word of God. I believe the Bible is very clear on the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus. It’s clear on the role of grace and faith in one’s salvation. And the list goes on.
So the first thing I’d do is find the list of stated beliefs (e.g. the statement of faith) a church has to see if they believe what the Bible is clear about. If there is alignment here, I would move on to my second question...
2) Is the preaching consistent with what their stated beliefs are?
Sometimes stated beliefs are just "window dressing." When you actually listen to the preaching you begin to realize there is a disconnect between the church’s stated beliefs and their actual beliefs as revealed in the preaching life of the church. The action item here? Listen to a handful of sermons online and then discern.
Assuming the stated beliefs align with Scripture. And the preaching life of the church aligns with their stated beliefs I would move on to the next question...
3) Does the corporate worship experience encourage participation or spectatorship?
Now I'd need to attend a service. The purpose of music in church on Sundays is different than the purpose of the latest viral YouTube video. It’s not to mesmerize the crowd. How a church does music on Sunday mornings is a barometer indicating something of the church's overall philosophy of ministry. Music is mentioned very few times in the New Testament. But one place it is mentioned is Colossians 3:16.
"Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.”
Paul is writing to the collective church in the city of Colossae. He tells these Christians that when they gather together they should teach each other through “psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit.” In order to teach each others through hymns, they have to be singing! Their mouths have to be moving and notes and words have to be coming out of them. If the congregation is being encouraged to be a singing congregation, excellent! Time to move on to the next question…
4) Does the church have a heart to reach non-Christians?
Does the preacher ever call non-Christians to repentance and faith? Does the church have any ministries designed to communicate the gospel to non-Christians locally? Is the church engaging in any international missions work? I would look for a “Great Commission” church.
5) Will my kids get all of the above?
I have young children, so what a church is teaching my kids is important to me. Will my kids be taught the core truths of Scripture? Will they be taught to proactively engage in worship through song? Will they be shown Jesus’ heart for non-Christians? I don’t want a church that is just trying to babysit my kids. And I don’t want a church that is trying purely to entertain my kids. Kids are capable of grasping more than we give them credit for. So I’ll look for a church that doesn’t shy away from teaching my kids the Scriptures, expecting them to engage in worship through song, and seeking to train them to be evangelists.
Once I’ve landed in a church that answers these questions satisfactorily, I will commit to it through thick and thin. The answers to one of the above questions would have to change for me to consider leaving it. I recently heard an older brother in Christ say he approaches his church commitment like a marriage. Wise words!