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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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).