As new and/or soon-to-be believers, we soon must face the unenviable position of selecting and attending a new church. We must go church shopping.
If you’re not yet sure how you feel about attending a church, please see my post on being a churchless Christian.
The universal church is all followers of Christ everywhere, also referred to as the Body of Christ. Today, I want to talk about church shopping as it pertains to the local church.
Now some of you may have been invited to church and maybe have already followed an “invitation” or an “altar call” to the front of this same church. If this is the case, then this church has fulfilled one of its functions, but that does not necessarily make it the best church for you (please notice I did not say “perfect” church).
For those that have not yet been to a church service and are simply seeking, this post will equally apply to you.
So what considerations go into church shopping? We must be careful that we do not forgo the fundamentals in our selection.
It is not unreasonable to want to like your pastor. We just need to ensure that we don’t pass up scriptural soundness for a compelling personality. We ensure scriptural soundness through our own knowledge of the Bible and by testing the pastor’s teachings with it.
What are secondary things?
What other considerations are often there?
- Is the church conveniently located?
- Are there convenient service times?
- Is the parking situation convenient?
- Do they have a good coffee shop (or no coffee shop)?
- Do we enjoy the music or the musicians during worship time?
- Do they have a good logo that looks good on my car or my shirt?
- Are the lights, sound, screens, and website all acceptable?
I realize that some of these are realistic, practical considerations. If you have to work on Sundays, you need a church that offers services on different days. I get that.
I am not even trying to call anybody out for wanting good coffee. I’m simply saying that these things – all of these things – are secondary things. We first should be sure that a church has its primary things together before any of the above things are considered.
What are the primary things?
A church has (or is there for) three purposes:
- To worship and glorify God
- To grow the Body of Christ
- To edify the Body of Christ
These three functions will be present in most churches in varying degrees. When a church consistently allows any of these functions to suffer or misses one completely, then we should begin to consider other churches.
1. To worship and glorify God
This is any church’s primary purpose. All other functions that occur within, by, through, or because of a church must ultimately flow from this singular purpose. As a Christian’s primary purpose is to worship and glorify God, so too is that of a church.
A church’s very presence is a form of worshiping and glorifying God if it facilitates these things for its pastors, staff, and members.
A church (by which I mean the building as well as its pastors, staff, and attendees) invites believers to come together and worship corporately and practice and experience Christian fellowship. It is a place where friends, neighbors, and relatives can also be invited by its members so that the Gospel can be shared with them.
The pastors are worshiping and glorifying God by teaching or facilitating (depending on each pastor’s respective functions) a church’s members.
The musicians (also called the “worship” team) are worshiping and glorifying God through their music, song, and leading of church members in worship.
The baristas, greeters, ushers, light and sound people, and even the janitors can be worshiping and glorifying God through their service to the church.
Most importantly, a church worships and glorifies God by growing and edifying the Body of Christ.
2. To grow the Body of Christ
“And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”acts 2:46-47
Another function of the church is to evangelize–to share the good news of the Gospel with the unreached and the unchurched. A church (possibly like the one you may have attended recently) invites visitors, makes them feel welcome, and shares with them both Jesus and the Gospel. Church growth should be for the purpose of worshipping and glorifying God.
A church may go out into a community or another part of the world to share the good news of the Gospel through missions of evangelism such as the opening of schools, hospitals, food banks, orphanages, or other churches; all with the purpose of sharing the Gospel, showing Jesus to the world, and growing the Body of Christ.
A balanced church cannot forsake mission or evangelism and be satisfied only to teach its existing members. While it must edify Christians, it must also grow by sharing Jesus and the Gospel with seekers, the unreached, and the unchurched.
Showing the world the Jesus that is in us, and sharing the Gospel is a chief function of members of the Body of Christ. We must seek a church that does the same thing.
3. To edify the Body of Christ
“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-12)
The Apostle Paul, the chief missionary and planter of first-century churches, understood that simply starting a church or baptizing a new Christian was not a complete work. As he demonstrated through all his New-Testament writings; ongoing teaching, counsel, moral and spiritual promotion, as well as accountability, rebuke, and correction were necessary to build up and uphold the strength of a Christ-follower as well as a Christ-following church. This is the process of edification and it should be done for the purpose of worshiping and honoring God.
My biggest challenge as a new believer was seeing beyond the “catching and cleaning” of the seeker-friendly church I first attended to a more spiritually complete walk with Christ. It was that journey that was the impetus for this blog.
A balanced church will not only reach the unchurched, but have a strong foundation of teaching, convicting, and encouraging its members through the weekly message, as well as a network of small groups and Bible studies aimed at not only educating these new believers, but providing additional continued growth in more specialized areas such as those of men, women, widows, singles, couples, marital and family counseling, and of course children.
A church must not neglect the spiritual and moral growth of the congregation for the purpose of growing the size of the congregation.
“Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.”acts 20:28
As we seekers go about seeking our first churches, we must bear these priorities in mind.
Much of this discovery will require some trial and error. Be patient, flexible, and vigilant. Once we ensure a good balance of these foundational principles is in place, then we can look at, shall we say, “less-foundational priorities” such as service times and the presence or absence of a good latte.
Even if we find the best church (notice I did not say “perfect”) for us, our walks change. Our levels of Christian maturity will change. The church that captivated our new, “seeking” minds may fail to change with us in ways that our Christian walks and maturity require. And we must be ever watchful that the church we attend does not wander completely off the theological reservation. For that, we will always need to depend on our own knowledge of the Bible.
If I ever did find a “perfect” church, it would cease to be perfect the moment I began attending it.
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Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.