chooseachurch

There are many good, important reasons for attending church; the foremost is that it is biblically commanded. Beyond that, it is a place to meet other like-minded people, people who will encourage and strengthen you in your faith and in your life outside of those doors. Services will help to educate you, to challenge you, to motivate you.

Okay, maybe not at first. Walking in those doors the first time will be hard and feel awkward. Your mind will tell you that you don’t fit in and it will want to find fault in the words and actions of others. You may find yourself feeling judged, your mind reminding you of all the reasons you don’t belong here. The first step in choosing a church is to acknowledge that this will happen anywhere you go and to accept that. Here are some other things that will help:

 

Read the Bible & Bring it With

church-473701_640Having a good working knowledge of at least the New Testament will help you recognize whether or not the church you attend has a good, honest scriptural basis. Many churches I have attended don’t have Bible’s present for attendees or only if you specifically ask. One church didn’t even have a Bible on premises. Odd, but true. Look around and ask yourself: “Do others bring their Bible?”; “Does the preacher quote from scripture?”; “Does he site these verses?”; “If you look them up is it quoted accurately and in context?”  If the answers to these questions are “No” it may be worth evaluating whether or not this church is prepared to biblically teach and motivate you. I’ve attended services where there has been little or no scripture quoted. Others have thrown out simple phrases such as “In Romans it says…” Where in Romans? A good church should teach you. You should be left with places in the Bible to go to directly review this once the service is done.

 

Understand Denominations

Choosing a church can seem intimidating. There are enough denominations it will make your head spin! The church, after all, is made up of human beings and human beings are notoriously good at disagreeing. The numerous denominations have cropped up after ‘irreconcilable differences’ in beliefs- from hosting believer’s baptism vs. infant baptism, the purpose & power of baptism, role of women in the church, how often to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, if the bread truly transforms into the Body or is merely symbolic, etc. There are also denominations, such as Catholicism or Christian Universalism, that have teachings not founded by the Bible. Making a choice can be overwhelming.

Again, having a good understanding of, at minimum, the New Testament will help you make a more informed decision. You don’t have to be a scholar, by any means, but knowing the basics of the Gospel will help you to prepared in making decisions.  Determine what, if any, of a Church’s teaching are a make or break for you and include this in your choice. Be careful that your heart does not sway you in this and that you make these choices with a biblical mindset. For example, the idea that some people may not be saved is terrify to me, particularly as a mother. The thought that one or both of my children may not grow to be Christians is hard, but to know what this means of their fate is even worse. Because of this, it is easy for me to be tempted to take a Christian Universalist’s position and believe that all humans will eventually be restored to a right relationship with God, but I know from what the Bible says that this is not biblical.

 

Look for a “Bible-Based” Church

bible-1089968_640This is an excellent option should choosing a denomination seem overwhelming and they are quickly becoming more popular. Bible-based churches tend to be just that- non-denominational & bible based, though many might be right in saying they are typically Protestant-like. Their teachings stem directly from God’s Word. There are no identifiable standards between each congregation so how services and leadership work may vary. You may need to attend several to find the right one for you. Some may be more simple, others more elaborate and contain some of the more ritualistic habits you might recognize from your more “standard” church (i.e. siting the apostle’s or nicene creed, standing & kneeling, etc).  Some like that and find it comforting, some don’t because it smacks too much of ritualism. Neither is necessarily right or wrong. That said, be wary of churches labeled simply “Non-denominational” as their beliefs may or may not align with the Bible’s teachings. Many churches these days have websites that list for you their core beliefs- read these and make sure that they are indeed biblically based.

 

Go with a Friend

A less intimidating way to scope out churches is to attend with a friend, neighbor, or coworker. They will be able to give you insight into other things the church has to offer- Sunday school, adult bible studies, community work, etc. They will be able to tell you whether or not this is a “typical” service, what they like about their church, and also introduce you to others that attend there.

Don’t want to commit? Others you know can still give you insight into various churches in the area and help you narrow your search so you can attend if and when you’re ready.

 

Look into Their Social Media

Yes, it seems odd. Churches and social media? Like I said, most churches these days have at minimum a website. This can be a great place to review their belief statements, learn more about other services they offer, worship hours, and maybe even listen to past sermons. Are they on Facebook? If so, what are their reviews and what do people have to say? Does their community seem engaged? What sort of things do they “Share”? Do the posts match what the Bible teaches? Is it uplifting and motivational?

 

Your First Visit

I wholeheartedly believe that your first visit can tell you a lot about a church. Are you welcomed? Some churches have all sorts of welcome packets or brochures, cards for you to fill out so someone can reach out to you or put you on the church’s email list. That’s great. Maybe the better question is, Do you feel welcomed? I have heard from various others (albeit few, thankfully) who have attended a new church to be completely unacknowledged. One woman even told me how another lady say her tattoos and told her flat out, “I don’t know that this is the place for you.”  Ouch. THIS is not Christianity. Let me be clear on that. If you are unfortunate enough to come across this type of experience, I deeply apologize, but please, please, please know this is not Christian. Run, but don’t give up. I’m a tattooed weirdo in relatively conservative church and have been embraced fully. There IS a church for you.

Maybe what you want is different, though. Perhaps you want a larger church so that you can come and go somewhat anonymously. That’s great! I can dig it. If you’re new to church-going it can seem less intimidating to be able to duck in and duck out. I know I felt very much the same way. There is something to be said about the sort of worship that can be put on by a larger church- bigger and better music, large screens, dimmer lighting, and none of the awkward introductions, small talk, or being singled out.

holding-hands-752878_640There is something to be said about a smaller church, though. Many times a smaller church allows better access to the preacher, particularly if you have questions after service or need more one-on-one guidance. There is an opportunity to get to know other people who can do the same, share their stories, and help to keep you accountable. They will notice when you aren’t there. They will check in on you because you have become part of their church family and they care. This is what I now love about my current church- but what scared me most in the beginning. I didn’t want to be noticed; I didn’t want to make small talk; I just wanted to get in and get out. Slowly but surely I became more comfortable. Now, I have a number of people I can turn to with questions; people I look forward to seeing each week. The setting is more intimate and allows me to speak my truths even when they are ugly and hard. It truly is a family.

Other things to consider: What are is the church doing in their community? What are they doing to support missionaries? How is their love of Christ evident? Are the people open and honest? Are they welcoming to all people (is diversity evident)? Is there a message of love and redemption or is it all hell and brim fire? Is the reliance on Christ evident?

 

This is just a starters guide. As much as I would love to say that when you walk through the doors of the “right” church your heart will know. I would love to say that. However, I’m not sure that is how it works for most people. I think it also differs significantly dependent upon where you are in your relationship with God. I didn’t have one. Not really. I was closed off, skeptical, and stubborn. Boy was I stubborn! I didn’t leave church feeling good. More times than not I left feeling angry and when I wasn’t angry I was bored. It often sent me home with more questions than when I came – questions I made a conscious choice to explore. And as much as I didn’t want to, I went back. I went back because I had made myself a promise to go every Sunday for 3 months. At the end of that I could stop. By then I didn’t want to.

This might be your story. It may take you years to find the “right” church for you. It is my hope for you that it is not. That you walk through those doors and you just “know”. But if it isn’t, I hope you still go, that you still look, that you search for God and not give up because I promise you, there is a church for you and He is leading you there.