Technology has changed the way we approach church attendance. Online campuses are on the rise, online giving is the primary source of many church budgets, and podcast preachers have replaced pulpit preachers as sources of primary spiritual nourishment. This trend in how we do church is both encouraging and troubling. It is encouraging because God is using technology to reach people in their homes and other untraditional places. It is troubling because the overwhelming amount of biblical evidence points to one truth: Jesus wants us to be connected to a local community of faith. One of the first questions anyone new to a community asks while church hunting is “How do I find the right place for me?”
My wife and I have lived in six different cities over the past seven years. We’re both seminary trained and love Christ’s Church, so finding a great local church community is important to us. Here are some questions we have asked over the years so we don’t find ourselves becoming online parishioners or sitting in podcast pews.
1. Is this church gospel-centered?
Not all churches are centered on the gospel. Gospel-centered has become a buzzword in the Christian space. But this isn’t a new thing. The gospel has always been the gospel. It has always stood at the center of God’s redemptive plan. Some churches just happen to do it better than others. What does gospel-centered mean? The songs the church sings are vertical. The sermons have one source of hope—Jesus Christ. The biblical text—not personal opinions—drives every sermon. Every ministry in the church is saturated in the balm of grace—receiving it from God and extending it to others.
2. Is there only one hero at this church?
We like tangible heroes. So it can be easy to extol people in ways that are borderline idolatrous. There are subtle ways this happens. Have you ever experienced disappointment because the senior pastor wasn’t preaching one Sunday? This may be a sign that this person has become a hero. There’s only one hero of the Church—Jesus Christ. When looking for a local church look for signs that Jesus is the hero of that community of faith. Those signs include servant-leaders not afraid to do menial tasks and men and women in leadership who consistently point people to Jesus.
3. Is this church serious about discipleship?
Jesus had one mission statement for the church (Matthew 28:18–20). Prominently featured in that statement was making disciples. Discipleship should be a conspicuous feature of any church serious about Jesus’ call to his church. He modeled it himself, his early followers modeled it, and a local church that understands Jesus’ words does the same. What does that look like? A clearly defined discipleship process, a flourishing small group ministry, and a programmatic equipping of men and women for the work of ministry (Ephesians 4:12). Find those things and you’ve found a community serious about discipleship.
4. Is this church transparent with its members?
In today’s culture, it’s important for a local church to exhibit transparency. This starts with finances. Every church has a responsibility to steward its finances in Christ-exalting ways. Here are some questions to ask when considering transparency. How does the church report on its stewardship? Does the church have annual reports prominent and noticeable on its site? Does the church earmark and use funds for missions work? A transparent church is a transformed church.
5. Is this church involved in the community?
Many churches are commuter churches. That means the local church’s building hosts people each week who drive into the community and drive right back out of the community. This could lead to the church’s lack of community involvement. Check for signs of community involvement as you think through joining a church community. Ask local retailers their thoughts about the church. Find local non-profits and ask about the church’s volunteer work over the years. If you’re really diligent, ask local community leaders (e.g. a city councilperson) about the church’s community involvement.
6. Does the statement of faith on the website align with the statements of faith coming from the pulpit?
We live a copy and paste culture. Sadly, many churches do the same when it comes to their statement of faith. A clearly defined statement of faith pervades the church’s culture. It means that leadership has thought through the implications of the statement of faith for its local community. Do some legwork and find out if its true. If a church doesn’t have a statement of faith on its website this could be a red flag. Listen attentively to sermons to discover a clear alignment between what is written and what is said.
7. What does this church value and how does that align with my values?
Core values are huge when it comes to finding a local community. If you have small children, it’s very likely you value family and family ministries. Some churches may want to value family and family ministries, but it doesn’t work out practically. Think about the church embedded in a college town. That church will likely have more single, twenty-somethings without children, so family ministries may not be a priority. You can tell what a local church values by how much time, effort, and money it put into developing that core value. If a local church spends a significant amount of its budget building and developing its youth and children’s ministry, then you’re probably in a church that values family ministry. Discover a church’s values and you’ll have something to measure against your own personal values to see if it aligns.
These are some of the questions my family has processed over the years to help find a local church. This list isn’t exhaustive, but I hope it helps you start to think through finding a local church.