You may be looking for a good church for a variety of reasons. Perhaps you are a new believer in Jesus Christ—praise God! Maybe you are moving or have moved to a new area. Perhaps your current church differs from your understanding of biblical principles or patterns.1 If any of these scenarios describe your situation, you are in need of a good church. Local churches fulfill specific roles in God’s plan of saving and sanctifying people. Jesus promised that he would build his church (Matthew 16:18), and we want to be part of his building work by participating in good local churches.
How to Look for a Good Church
Searching for a local church to join can be difficult, frustrating, and overwhelming, but God helps us to walk according to his will (Romans 12:2). Pray for wisdom and discernment to find a good match. Ask him for good Christian friends that you can encourage and be encouraged by. Ask God for a church where you can serve alongside others so that you all “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). He wants you to succeed in this worthy task, so pray with humble dependence upon his care for you.
Take care and give appropriate time in your search, since your participation in a local church is a significant decision that may affect you and your family for years to come. Here are some preliminary steps to take before you get too far along in your search.
Clarify Your Convictions and Preferences
As you look for a good church, you’ll want to carefully consider how a prospective church (and, if applicable, its denomination or other affiliation) aligns with your theological convictions. Everyone is a theologian; that is, everyone has ideas about God. Our theology properly comes from the Bible and may be summarized into various doctrines about God, humanity, the problem of sin, the saving work of the Lord Jesus, the person and work of the Holy Spirit, and much more.
Theology affects all aspects of our lives and the life of a church.
We are all growing in our understanding of these doctrines as we learn the Scriptures better, but you will want to define to a certain degree those doctrinal convictions that are important to you. Because theology affects all aspects of our lives and the life of a church, you should take time to identify your non-negotiable convictions as well as other doctrines that you would be willing to tolerate in a local church.
There are many aspects of church life that you may have preferences about. These items may include the numerical size of the congregation, the meeting schedule, the number of programs for various ages and stages, type of music used in worship, and so on. Before you invest years of your life in a local church, be sure that you have carefully thought through your preferences so you will not be continually irritated (or be irritating to others!) when things do not go your way.
Discover the Churches in Your Area
Perhaps if you have already been invited to various churches in your area, you could start your search with these. If not, you could ask family or friends what church they are a part of. You could also look through local telephone or newspaper directories, or go online to search for area churches. You might also consult specific online directories of local churches, such 9Marks, The Master’s Seminary, or SermonAudio. If you are currently in a church that is part of a denomination or other association of churches, you may want to see if there is a participating church in your area.
Perhaps you discover that you live in an area with few prospective churches. You may need to broaden your search area to find more churches to consider. Alternately you may need to revise your list of convictions and preferences—not necessarily changing your mind on these issues or capitulating on essential doctrines, but at least deciding what you can live with in a local church.
Learn More About Each Prospective Church
Most churches will have some sort of online presence, perhaps on a website or social media platform, or there might be some descriptive information in the online church directories mentioned above. In any event you should also contact the church directly or plan a visit to talk to a church leader to learn more about the church.
Some key questions to consider as you gather information may include the following:
- Is the church’s statement of faith clear and biblical, according to your perspective? What significant doctrines does it not address?
- Is the church part of a denomination or other association of churches?
- Who are the leaders in the church? How long have they been there? What training and other experience have they received?
- What is the history of the church? Is the congregation established, growing, or waning?
- What are some of the church’s core commitments that may make it distinct from other churches?
- You may want to ask for a copy of the last financial report and/or the current budget. What is the level of transparency? What priorities are reflected in the way the money is allocated? What indebtedness does the church have?
Filter, Prioritize, and Visit Your List of Churches
Select those churches that you think may best satisfy your convictions and preferences. Sort the list according to the priority you have to learn more about each church. Plan a visit to each church and take notes about the church meetings you attend, comparing what you experienced against the items most important to you. Especially if you visit several churches during your quest, these notes will help you accurately remember key elements of each church you visit.
What to Look for in a Good Church
Alongside your convictions and preferences, you will want to consider some critical characteristics that mark a good church. Each church will have its own distinct composition of these attributes, and some aspects will be quite obvious while others may take a bit more time to discern.
- Sound Biblical Teaching
- High View of God
- Love for One Another
- Godly, Caring Leadership
- Gospel Ministry
1. Sound Biblical Teaching
A good church teaches, believes, applies, and obeys the Bible.
The role of the Bible in the life of the church may be the most significant factor to consider because it is our primary authority in matters of faith and practice (cf. Psalm 1:2; Acts 2:42; 2 Peter 1:3). A good church teaches, believes, applies, and obeys the Bible. (2 Timothy 3:15–17; James 1:22). Of primary importance is the clear preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The presiding influence of the Scripture comes primarily through the pulpit preaching, but also through Sunday school classes, home Bible studies, and natural conversations among church members (Romans 15:14; Ephesians 4:15). The Bible should be the primary voice of any lesson, not an introductory allusion or an afterthought (2 Timothy 4:2). The preaching and teaching should promote understanding of the Bible, which promotes and builds personal holiness and a biblical worldview. If possible, listen to several sermons from the church; these may be online or you may be able to request copies of any audio recordings that are available.
Questions to Consider
- Do they clearly present the gospel? What do they teach is necessary for a person to be saved?
- Does the church teach that the Bible is the Word of God, without error in its original manuscripts?
- Does the church teach that the Bible is the final authority in our lives and is wholly adequate to speak to the matters of our faith and practice?
- What place does the reading of Scripture have in the church meeting (1 Timothy 4:13)?
- Does the church’s music communicate sound doctrine?
- Does the church present a consistent view of the Bible’s history, including the creation account in Genesis?
- What curricula are used in the Sunday school classes and home Bible studies? What is their approach in teaching the Bible?
- Are parents encouraged and equipped to teach the Bible in their own homes?
2. High View of God
The gatherings of the church should show reverence for God and should include the whole church in songs of praise and adoration (Colossians 3:17). Scripture teaches us that the “fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight” (Proverbs 9:10), so we fear, love, and cling to God for our very life (Psalm 36:5–9; Matthew 22:37–38). The church should have a high view of his perfect attributes, including his sovereignty, holiness, goodness, and love. God is both over all (Psalm 47:2; 83:18) and separate from his creation (Genesis 1:1; 1 Kings 8:27), yet he is a personal God who draws close to his creation (Psalm 57:1, 100:3; Revelation 21:3–4). Christians should practice a prayerful dependence upon God, bringing requests and thanksgivings for their own sake and for the sake of others (Acts 2:42; Philippians 4:4–7). Christians want to please the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:9; 1 Thessalonians 4:1) and bring him glory in all of life (Psalm 86:12; 1 Corinthians 6:20, 10:31).
Questions to Consider
- How is love for Jesus Christ evident in the congregation (Ephesians 6:24; Revelation 2:4)?
- How do the public prayers in the church meeting reflect God’s passion for his glory?
- How does the church trust and glorify God through trials (Romans 5:1–5, 12:12; James 1:2–4)?
- How does the church carry out the Lord’s commands to baptize (Matthew 28:19) and to share the Lord’s Table (1 Corinthians 11:23–34)?
- How does the music leadership encourage the congregation to participate in worship?
3. Love for One Another
The local church grows and matures as its members actively serve one another (Ephesians 4:11–16; 1 Peter 4:10–11). It constitutes a prime venue for Christians to show love to one another, as Jesus said to his disciples, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34–35; cf. Matthew 22:39; Acts 2:42, 46). This love is neither merely abstract nor purely emotional, but proves itself in that we each think and act to advance the best interests of others (Philippians 2:3–4). This love proves itself in such things as humility, peace, affection, graciousness, self-sacrifice, patience, forbearance, devotion, encouragement, admonition, discipline, and comfort.
By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
Questions to Consider
- How were you greeted and regarded on your first visit with this church?
- How does the congregation show love for one another?
- Do you see a unity based in humility, self-denial, and self-sacrifice, and not selfishness or factiousness (Philippians 2:1–4)?
- What do the people talk about outside of the formal meeting of the church? What meaningful, heart-level relationships are being developed within the congregation?
- What place do children have in the meeting of the church?
- How might you contribute yourself and your resources to this church?
- How does someone become a member of this church? What must you agree to believe and do?
4. Godly, Caring Leadership
Jesus Christ is the head of his church (Ephesians 4:15, 5:23; 1 Peter 5:4), and he has delegated authority to qualified men to feed and lead his local congregations (Philippians 1:1; 1 Timothy 3:1–13, 5:17–20; Titus 1:5–9; Hebrews 13:7, 17). The Bible teaches that each church should be led by men of integrity who teach and model spiritual maturity (2 Timothy 3:10–17). These godly leaders must love the church and be committed to the sanctification of the people (Acts 20:28; Galatians 4:19), including the practice of confronting sin in the church (Matthew 18:15–20). They provide clear teaching of sound doctrine and come alongside those in the church in difficult situations or doctrinal error (Titus 1:9). These shepherds seek out the lost and straying sheep (Matthew 18:11–14; cf. Ezekiel 34), especially those in the congregation who are discouraged and seem to have lost hope. They are to serve humbly and gently yet boldly as under-shepherds of Christ.
Questions to Consider
- Who are the leaders of this church? How does one become a leader? What qualifications must the leaders meet?
- How long have the current leaders been with this congregation?
- How does the church leadership provide pastoral care for the congregation?
- Would you feel comfortable submitting to the spiritual nurture of these men (1 Timothy 3:5; Hebrews 13:17)?
- What is the role of the congregation in decision-making?
- How does the church show a high regard for its leadership (1 Thessalonians 5:13; 1 Timothy 5:17–18; Hebrews 13:7, 17)?
5. Gospel Ministry
Our Savior has entrusted to the church the message of salvation (Romans 1:16) and given us the task of making disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:18–20; Luke 24:47). The church must proclaim the gospel of grace that all people should turn from their sins and recognize that Jesus is Savior and Lord. Local churches can support local and foreign missionaries and missions projects, perhaps also participating in short-term mission trips to encourage church members to serve the Lord in these ways. Church members can also meet practical needs of our neighbors, being channels of God’s abundant mercy to human need and suffering, always serving with a view toward communicating the gospel of Jesus Christ. The church should pursue a desperate and dependent holiness, not so we can think of ourselves as better than others, but so that we freely confirm God’s saving and transforming work in our lives.
Questions to Consider
- What strategy does the church follow in sharing the gospel outside the church building?
- How does the church pray for unbelievers?
- How does the church pray for missionaries and mission agencies?
- What evangelistic activities does the church encourage and perform?
- What missionaries and Christian agencies does the church support? What gospel work do these people do?
Once you find a good church, be involved and build relationships with others in the congregation.
Remember that no church is perfect, but you should be able to find a good church that you can joyfully be a part of. Take time to be thorough, but also avoid a continuous situation of being separate from a specific community of faith. Once you find a good church, be involved and build relationships with others in the congregation. Love, serve, and meet needs as you’re able. Be present. Seek to know and be known by the church leaders. Pray for yourself and the whole church to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity” (2 Peter 3:18).