This begins my "How To" series: how to do things that every Christian should know how to do. They're designed to be short, quick, practical, and helpful. %%
So you want to find a new church to call home.
If it's because you're already at a biblical church and you want to avoid repenting, or because you don't want to deal with personal conflict, or because you don't like the music, the preaching 'style,' the type of people, the blah, blah, blah, I have one thing to say to you:
Stop reading this post, go back to your church family, and repent.
I mean it.
Go to them and repent. You dishonor the Lord by deriding those whom He calls His Bride. You insult your brothers and sisters, for whom Christ died. And you are destroying the unity of the church. Do not take your sin and spread it like wildfire to another gathering of God's people! You don't need a new church; you need a new spirit of repentance.
But, if you're looking for a new church home because you're moving to a different city, or because you have already talked to and prayed with your church leaders about this decision, or because you've never had a biblical church to call "home" in the first place, welcome. I hope you find this post helpful.
[Yes, there are other good reasons to leave a church and look for a new one, but the list is meant to be representative, not exhaustive].
But before you get your hopes up too high, I should state some things up front: 1. These are suggestions from experience, not commands from Scripture. Thus they have [comparatively] very little authority. 2. I make no promises that this guide will help you find a church that fits all your criteria. Biblical essentials far outweigh preferences. 3. If you are looking for a perfect church, and somehow manage to find it, don't join it. You'll ruin it. [Aka, there are no perfect churches, so stop looking for one.] 4. Finding a biblical church is far more a matter of wisdom, faith, and providence than steps. But practical steps help.
And now, onto the steps! These are better done before it becomes urgent, but late is better than never!
1. Gather a List
Don't use a Google search; most places have lots of churches, but few good ones. Use church search engines instead (9Marks, TMS, WTS). Talk to pastors who have connections. Ask friends you trust for recommendations. Getting a big list is okay; we'll whittle it down as we go.
2. Examine the Doctrine
Look at each church's website. Look for a clear commitment to the essential doctrines (infallible Scriptures, orthodox nature of God, total depravity of man, perfect GodMan nature of Christ, salvation by grace alone through faith alone, Christ as Lord and Savior). For an example, see here.
Be especially vigorous to eliminate the churches that have vague doctrinal statements. Also eliminate the churches that seem more interested in appealing to what the world wants to hear than what God has said. If a church won't clearly state what it believes on its website, it will hardly stand for the Truth when it counts.
3. Look for Practice
For each church that passed step 2, look at their websites for a clear commitment to practices that flow from the essential doctrines. Expositional preaching (methodical verse by verse), plurality of elders, biblical membership/commitment, sacraments of baptism and communion, practice of evangelism and missions are all things to consider.
Demote the churches that don't express this, but don't eliminate them. After all, a church is not defined by it's website.
4. Hear the Preaching
For each church that passed step 2, starting with the churches that weren't demoted in step 3, listen to a sermon online. Try to find a recent one from the main teaching pastor. You need only listen enough to get a feel for the preacher.
Look for biblical content. Ask yourself, "Can I grow in Christ from this teaching?" Most likely it won't be obviously unbiblical, but if the preaching doesn't incite your mind and soul to want more, then there's something lacking.
Demote the churches with weaker preaching. Take note of the churches that have stronger preaching. Be gracious and fair; preachers have off days (and on days) too.
5. Experience the Reality
Hopefully by now your list has been organized into clear categories of "Check out!", "Good," and "Meh." Ideally the "Check out!" category should have less than half a dozen. If not, you might want to be a more vigorous in your whittling. [Or maybe God has blessed your area with lots of good churches; who knows?]
But now, it's time to take the plunge: go visit! Start with the church that has the highest merits. Remember, a church is the people, so, in all the churches that you visit, meet the people. Seek to find evidences of God's grace. Look for a love for the gospel. See if by their words and their life they practice the Scripture.
Ask yourself, "Is this a people that I can love for Christ's sake? And, will they love me?"
If there aren't any red flags or warning signs, visit again, maybe for even 2-4 events in a row. Don't commit yet, but don't be afraid to respond if people invite you into their lives. If you're still not quite at home, (and if you can bear it), move on to the next church on the list and repeat the process. With each church, be sure to write notes so that you remember and can objectively compare.
6. Ask for Guidance
Throughout this entire process, ask God for guidance. That means pray — for objectivity, for wisdom, for faith, for love, for hope, for the church that you're leaving, and for the future church that you will be joining [believe me, they'll need all the grace they can get].
Secondly, ask wise friends for guidance. They know you don't have it all together. They know you are not all-wise. Why should you pretend? If they're wise friends they'll be both supportive, helpful, and good fellowship in this time of transition.
7. Commit to the Church
As you see the Lord arranging circumstances and helping you reach a conclusion, decide on, and commit to, a local church. And make your decision firm; don’t look back. Don't compare it to the other churches you visited, or your old church. Love it for what it is.
Yes, there are inadequacies and sins you haven't yet seen. That's okay. We're not looking for a perfect church, just a biblical one.
As soon as possible, get involved. Yes, you will always have your friends at the old church, but they are no longer in your proximity anymore. So love the people that you're with. Take membership class. Serve. Give. Get to know the elders and deacons. Ask questions and seek to benefit the church in every way you can. Recognize that this is, for now, your home away from Heaven, your spiritual family in Christ.
I hope that was helpful! I am blessed to not be looking for a new church, but have had the privilege to help a few new college/grad students look for one.
For a more theological treatment of the church, please see the following resources:
• Everything from 9Marks.org. Seriously. • Why Church Matters by Joshua Harris • The Master’s Plan for the Church by John MacArthur • The Deliberate Church by Mark Dever
Also, if you have any suggestions for future How To's, let me know!