The cynic, and the theologian, suggest that if you are looking for a “perfect church” and you happen to find it—please don’t join it, for obvious reasons! (You’re not perfect and you would destroy the only perfect church.)
Before making the decision to change churches, have you made a careful analysis of the situation? Are you sure it is time to change churches? Could it rather be time to change yourself? Are your thoughts, attitudes, actions, and lifestyle right?
There are times when it is very appropriate to leave a church and join a different church. The most obvious example is when you move to a new geographical location. But there are other legitimate times to move on to a new fellowship of believers. What follows are some ideas which I have personally used when seeking God’s choice of a church for myself and my family.
Biblically Based ~ The official doctrinal statement is important. However, it is more important to observe what is being preached week in and week out. Does the pastor preach the Word of God? Is it truly Biblical? Is much of it expository—direct commentary on Biblical passages?
Body Life ~ Are the local church members busy interacting with each other before and after the service? Or do they come at the last minute before the service starts and rush out as soon as it is over? The local church should be like a family that has healthy relationships. Are there lots of activities besides the formal church services? Is it a healthy church body?
Pastor’s Personality ~ Who does the pastor interact with before and after services? Is his interaction primarily with the wealthy or influential (see James 2:2-4)? Is his interaction primarily the church leaders? Or, does the pastor see himself as a true pastor to all the sheep? (Matthew 18:11-14)
Financial Status ~ This is often easy to determine since many churches print financial data in small print on their weekly handout. If it is not there, a little digging is worth the effort. Why is this important? Many times when a pastor is spending a lot of time urging a congregation to give more, or to witness more, it is an indication that a deeper problem exists. The problem may well be with the hearts of those making up the congregation. While this may not be a killer—it is a definite caution sign about the spiritual condition of many in the congregation. This in turn is a caution about the overall spiritual leadership of the local church.
Family Member’s Needs ~ As a parent sometimes it is more important to attend a church where your children are receiving excellent Biblical training (not just being baby-sat) than a church where your feeding needs are met. This is especially true when the parents are mature Christians.
Welcoming ~ Is the visitor truly welcomed? This is a difficult item to assess without multiple visits. Besides those who have been given “the task” to welcome newcomers, are other church members welcoming? I have deliberately listed this item last for a reason. In addition to being very difficult to assess, this is an area where a newcomer has a major role to play as well. Sometimes a congregation seems aloof because in their healthy body life they are inadvertently not giving attention to newcomers. Unless it is strongly cliqueish, I would be slow to rule out a church solely for this reason.
Which Church is God’s Choice for You? ~ This is by far the most important factor—and sometimes the most difficult to discern. A helpful resource for making Biblical decisions which are aligned with God’s desire for you is the book “Thy Will Be Done On Earth: Understanding God’s Will for You” by yours truly (more information is available elsewhere on this site).
The above are some of the factors which my family and I have used in selecting a new church. Many times one visit will allow you to discard a church from your list of potentials. However, it usually takes a number of visits to be sure a church is the right one!
If you are led to change churches, consider these questions. Do you need to change your behavior, activity level, and interaction with other church members? How can you exercise your natural talents and spiritual gifts in your new church? Can you love your new church and its members as they are? …as you learn more about their idiosyncrasies?