(Adapted from my book Learning to Breathe: How to Cultivate a Life-Changing Relationship with the Holy Spirit)
When my wife Shannon and I were in our 20s, we moved to Dallas. I took a position as the worship leader at a relatively small church. Wanting to connect with people quickly, we decided to join a small group Bible study through the church. But we had a hard time finding information about how to sign up. The church didn’t have a website (yes, it was a long time ago), and we didn’t see any information about Bible studies in the church bulletin. One Sunday morning we decided to sim- ply ask some people sitting near us how to sign up. What happened next is still burned painfully into my memory. Shannon approached a middle-aged couple and asked them, “Can you tell us how to join a Bible study?” The other woman shrugged her shoulders and said, “I don’t know. But our group is full.”
Now that I’m a pastor, I often remember that moment when I see guests walk into our church. Churches are full of all kinds of people. Some are walking with the Spirit closely, and they fill the air around them with His joy and life. Others are selfish and immature, draining spiritual oxygen from the room. Church can be a place of deep healing and spiritual growth, or it can be a place of terrible pain and frustration.
The church is one of the primary tools that God wants to use to transform us into the image of Jesus, though. The Scripture tells us that the Holy Spirit does some of His most awe-inspiring work when Christians worship Him together. As imperfect as it is, the church is a miracle of God’s grace and power.
But how can you find a church where you can grow and walk with the Lord? What should you look for? Here are just a few important questions to consider as you search for a good church:
1. What does this church believe?
Most churches have some kind of statement of beliefs posted on their website. It probably explains what they believe about Jesus, the gospel, the nature of God, and other critical issues. Consider whether the church holds to traditional Christian doctrines, like the humanity and deity of Jesus, the Trinity, salvation by grace through faith alone, and the truthfulness of the Bible.
2. What is this church’s mission?
Every church is called to the same basic mission, to make disciples (Matthew 28:18–20). To put it in simple terms, a disciple is a follower of Jesus. When you investigate a church, then, ask if the church focuses on sharing the gospel and helping Christians know Jesus better. If a church is inwardly focused, pouring all of its energy into keeping its current members comfortable and happy, it will eventually decline and die. Find a place that is spiritually vibrant, equipping its people to be evangelists and disciple-makers.
3. How does this church worship?
I’m not talking about whether the worship band sings hymns or choruses. Instead, it’s important to ask if church services follow the patterns we see described in the New Testament. Is there sound teaching from God’s Word? Does the church observe communion on a regular basis? Are new believers baptized as a public demonstration of their faith in Jesus? These basic functions characterize a church with healthy patterns of worship.
4. How are decisions made at this church?
Not every healthy church uses the same type of leadership structure. Some churches give more authority to the congregation, while others have a board of elders that makes most of the decisions. However, if all the decision-making power belongs to one person, that’s a red flag. If one pastor has unilateral authority to make all of the decisions, with no accountability, I suggest going elsewhere. In a healthy community, decisions are made transparently, and multiple voices are allowed to speak into the process. Ask a few current members if they trust and respect the leadership at the church.
5. Are there opportunities to build deep relationships at this church?
Ask some of the church’s members if it’s easy to connect with their community. Is there a clear and simple pathway for you to find a group of Christians who can help you grow? You’ll still need to take some initiative, of course. No church can make friends for you if you don’t put in any effort. But a healthy church will offer clear-cut ways for you to begin building relationships.
6. Are there opportunities for you to serve?
We all have spiritual gifts and abilities designed to build up the body of Christ. We attend church in order to grow closer to Jesus, but also to help other people grow closer to Him, as well. One of the ways we help is by serving wherever the church needs us. Seek out a church where you can participate in meaningful ways. If all of the ministry is performed by paid staff, keep looking around until you find a church where everyone can be involved in service.
7. Are people at this church actively seeking to become like Jesus?
One of the main benefits of the church is that it helps us to walk more closely with the Spirit. We need our fellow Christians to help us produce the fruit of the Spirit. As you interact with the people at your church, then, consider whether you see the Spirit at work in their lives. Every church will have its struggles and its sins but look for signs of growth and spiritual fruit. Are members of this church gracious, truthful, and Christ-like? Are they seeking to become more like Jesus on a daily basis? If so, then it’s likely to be a healthy church.
The beauty of the church is that God’s people can worship and serve Him together rather than alone. Together we help one another become more and more like Jesus. And as we walk in the Spirit’s power side by side, we become more effective at representing Him in the world, so that others can see the beauty and the joy of knowing our Savior.