What Do I Look For When Choosing
John MacArthur, Jr.
We've all heard that the choice and purchase of a home is one of the most significant decisions a person will ever make. In this temporal world that may be true. However, choosing where you and your children will learn the things of God and serve the Lord Jesus Christ has eternal ramifications.
Every week at Grace to You we receive letters from people asking us to recommend a good church in their area. Those requests indicate three types of people wanting to make a wise choice in selecting a church home: those who have moved or will be moving, new believers wanting to choose a good church, and those whose current church has departed from biblical principles. Such circumstances force us to consider what's really important in a church.
Is This Church Right for Me?
What are the biblical criteria you need to be aware of when considering a new church? Let's compare the search for a new church to that of a new home. When looking for a house, people typically ask, How much does it cost? Is it large enough to meet our family's needs? How well is it built? What kind of neighborhood is it in? Does it have a warm and homey atmosphere? Is it conducive to hospitality? Similarly, before choosing a church home you need to consider its foundation, structure, function, and environment.
Before we consider those important components, please realize that no church is going to be perfect. Some local churches may be in seemingly excellent condition, while others are obvious fixer-uppers! Many fall somewhere in between. You must seek God's will and be led by the Holy Spirit in selecting a church. Also you need to evaluate how you and your family can contribute to that ministry so it is not just another church, but truly a church home.
Investigating Its Foundation
Jesus said that the wise man builds his house upon rock and the foolish man builds his house upon sand (Matt. 7:24-27). When storms come, the stability of the foundation determines both the direction and durability of the structure. Whether you're searching for a home to live in or a church to worship in, its foundation is crucial.
There are four main components that make up the foundation of a strong local church:
A Proper View of Scripture.
An Emphasis on Bible Teaching and Preaching.
Examining Its Structure
Once you are satisfied with the foundational aspects of the church, you need to look at its structural components. Recently I walked through a new house under construction. I noticed posts that weren't plumb, seams that didn't meet properly, and beams that were crooked and uneven. Those were glaring structural defects in a home advertised as being built by "the last of the true craftsmen"!
The structural components of a local church provide not only its strength, but also dictate the character and direction of its ministry. Those components include:
Evidence of Order.
Functional Goals and Objectives.
Seeing How It Functions
When satisfied that the foundation and structure are what they should be, the wise home buyer will then look at how functional the house is. Does it fulfill the purpose for which it was designed? Does it meet the needs of the family?
As you observe how a church functions, look for an emphasis on worshipping God. See if the leadership stresses the importance of honoring and glorifying God in all things (1 Cor. 10:31; Col.3:17). Also observe the involvement of the individual members. Do they exercise their spiritual gifts among the Body of Christ (Rom. 12:3-8; Eph. 4:11-13; 1 Pet. 4:10-11), or do they seem to expect the pastor to do everything?
Does the church emphasize evangelism as one of its primary functions? Are home and foreign missions an important part of its ministry (Matt. 28:19-20; Mark 16:15; Acts 1:8)? What about discipleship? Do you see church members and leaders seeking to make disciples and reproduce themselves in the lives of others (2 Tim. 2:2; Titus 2:3-7; Matt. 28:19-20)?
A strong local church is marked by love. Do the members seem to genuinely care for one another? Do they minister to each other's needs? As you become acquainted with the church, do you sense that the members are loving one another as Christ commanded (John 13:34-35)? Notice if friendships form easily (cf. Heb. 10:24-25; Phil. 2:1-4; Eph. 4:1-3).
The leadership of the church you choose should be committed to teaching and supporting God's design for the family (Eph. 5:22--6:4; Col. 3:18-21; Titus 2:1-8; 1 Pet. 3:1-7). Does the church schedule contribute to or take away from the strength of the family?
Checking Its Environment
If you have ever gone house hunting, you know what it's like to walk through and sense the atmosphere of the place. It can feel cold and gloomy or warm and inviting. It can have a homey feel or it can be impersonal--almost like a museum.
Doubtless you have had the same experience when attending various churches. Certain observable factors contribute to the overall atmosphere of a local church. Those environmental components are usually manifested in attitudes.
A High View of God.
The Presence of a Sincere Faith.
Spirit of Sacrifice.
Proper Attitudes Toward the Pastor and Other Leaders.
Spirit of Unity.
Am I Right For This Church?
We have looked at the foundational, structural, functional, and environmental components of a vital, healthy local church. Now look at yourself and ask, Are there opportunities here for me to serve and exercise my spiritual gifts? Does this local body have a need that by God's enabling I can meet? Am I willing to get what the church can do for me, but also what I can do for the Lord as I serve Him in this church? Am I willing to give of my time, money, energy, and prayers to contribute to the success of this church (Mark 12:30; Rom. 12:1)?
A house is not a home until all the members of a family contribute to its success. The same is true of a church home. Only when each member in the family of God exercises his or her God-given gifts will God's children feel at home in His church. The decision you make about what church to attend will greatly affect your spiritual life and the lives of your children. In fact, the decisions you make now will affect your descendants and the generations to come. That's a sobering reality.
Remember that no church will ever perfectly fulfill all these criteria. There is no perfect church. Also, remember that every church is going to have its own special blend of the characteristics we have examined. The key is to find a church that has them in proper balance, not overemphasizing some or de-emphasizing others. A balanced ministry is a Spirit-controlled ministry. If you find a church that possesses most but not all of the characteristics we've mentioned, don't immediately disregard it. Consider whether God wants to use you to help improve that local body as you exercise your own particular spiritual gifts.
Choosing a church home is one of the most significant decisions you will ever make--one that reaches into eternity. May each of us spend at least as much time and effort making that decision as we do deciding on our earthly dwelling.