Finding a good church is obviously important, generic treatment since you want to find one that will help more than hurt your family. The pursuit of the right church is somewhat likened to the pursuit of a lifelong marriage partner. Just as there are many wonderful men and women to marry in God’s kingdom, treatment there is one that God has planned for, check and so it is with finding the right church for your family. (Ruth 4:13, 19-21; Matthew 1:1.5-16)
After you have found a church that best fits your family, stay with it, unless for some obvious reason it disqualifies itself. Continuous infighting, denying the inspiration of the Scripture, or the Deity of Christ are examples of such. Don’t church hop as many do, nor leave a church because it has let you down, changed pastors, or even made some errors in judgment. You need to stay with your church through thick and thin, ness and in health; like your marriage vows for example. (I Corinthians 12:12, 18)
In your search for the church that best fits your family, there are some important conditions and cautions to consider before making a decision. I have listed the following 14 guidelines.
14 guidelines in choosing the right church
- Choose a church that treats you like a family, one that is committed to building long term relationships; one that highly values and initiates intimacy between all of its members.
- Avoid a church that treats you like parts of a business or organizational institution, who is more interested in your tithe, weekly attendance, and volunteer availability.
- Choose a church that sees you more as a brother or sister in the Lord, rather than a client, which is one of the current terms used by many mega churches when referring to its members.
- Avoid a church that has grown beyond what it can handle. A church that does this usually pursues growth according to its own plan, not God’s. The thrill of the crowd, recognition, and achievement outweighs the desire to spend time and disciple the people God has intended and sent. Rushed services, the constant lack of volunteers to help in the children’s Sunday school, as well as other ministries, unavailability of the pastoral staff to meet with its members in a meaningful way, continuous hiring of professional staff to take over responsibilities once held by lay people, and the never-ending building programs to facilitate growth are just some of the signs of a church you want to avoid.
- Choose a church not for its size, but for its heart and resolve to intimately serve others and the family. The size of the church does not matter as long as it is able to function this way, like a close-nit family. Just as there are big families who are close-nit, so there are big churches that are also. God blesses big families and big churches, just as He does small ones (Psalm 127:4-5). But a large church has to work at intimacy (building close relationships), just as a large family must also work at serving the needs of all their members. A key to recognizing a large church who is devoted to building intimacy with its members is the reason for its largeness. Is it large because God has called to be so, or is it large because of its own strategies and self efforts (I Corinthians 3:7). Churches who are large due to their own strategies and self efforts often find themselves declaring to their own members and the community their growing size and significance (John 6:44). They would not sway their members away from openly saying, “This is the best or most blessed church in town.” So in respect to choosing a church that is large, see if they are overly impressed with their own growth. A large church who intentionally refrains from such thoughts about itself and comments it makes to its members may be one that God has truly grown, one that you should consider. The people in a large church like this see that their growth is from God, and they state it so. It is more of a tremendous responsibility then a so called brag to the community on what they have done. They see all churches as a blessing from God, regardless of their size and never single themselves out above another body of believers. They never see themselves as a competing church, but often pray for other churches and do all they can to help them grow (Philippians 2:3-5). You will not find them driving their people to build new buildings to accommodate more growth, but rather pursue other efforts, like planting smaller churches to better meet the relational needs of their people. They do not usually develop huge Sunday school classes to go with their huge worship services, but work to develop ministries like discipleship groups or small groups so that their members can develop a long standing and nurturing relationship with one another. If you can find a large church with this attitude and is devoted to helping its people not only love God, but each other in an intimate way, then this might be a wonderful place for your family to go and be a part.
- Avoid a church that is going through an internal conflict, one that is ready to divide in two, or who has already split from another (Titus 3:9). The purpose of the church is to share Christ with others, disciple those new in the faith, and devotedly love God with all its mind, heart, and soul, not to fight with one another (Matthew 28:19-20; Matthew 12:28-31). You don’t want to embroil your family in such an atmosphere of infighting, but rather in a church setting where loving patience, forgiveness, and humility win out over disagreements and potential relation ending arguments (I Corinthians . 3: 2-6:Colossians 3:12-17). You don’t want your children learning from leaders who cannot rightly handle conflict, who initiate and let infighting go on within the church. If your children are around this Sunday after Sunday, they may become like these leaders themselves one day, or on the other hand, reject the church altogether. If you join a church that has already split, be careful, there is no guarantee it will not divide again. Once a precedent has been set for solving conflict, it is very difficult not to repeat that precedent again and again. Think twice before choosing such a church that has split or seeks separation from other believers.
- Choose a church that teaches the Bible as God’s inspired Word (2 Timothy 3:16-17) A church that does this well may chose to teach the Word either exegetically or topically from the pulpit. An exegetical approach (verse by verse) was begun and illustrated by great men of the 1300’s like John Wycliffe. The topical approach (verses grouped together to establish a biblical view on a current issue or theology) was modeled by men like Paul of the First Century (Ecclesiastes 12:9). The key to good teaching lies in the answer to two questions: Is the teaching or preaching biblically based and are there relevant and practical applications which rightly fit the sermon? Some pastors are good at exegetically teaching the Bible, but very poor at drawing relevant life applications. Other pastors are great at drawing life applications, but very poor in accurately drawing them from the Word. Choose a church whose pastors accurately teach and peach the Word, as well as draw fitting applications.
- Avoid a church that habitually criticizes other churches. You need to be careful about attending a church that continually harps on the failings of other bodies of believers. Scripturally, if a church is concerned about the conduct of another church, for whatever reason, then it should approach them as outlined according to Jesus’ instruction. In Matthew 18 for example, all believers are encouraged to first go to the other when there is a dispute; to do otherwise is wrong. A church who adheres to the Word is no less obligated to the same with other churches (Matthew 18:15-17). To take a different path like tearing down another church’s credibility from the pulpit is wrong and quite destructive to the unity of the church at large. Often a church that continually criticizes other churches will become very self-righteous, to where it ends up being the only church truly doing God’s will in its own estimation (Romans 10: 2-3). Churches who criticize of other churches usually does not stop there; they in turn criticize their own people for a variety of reasons, like not giving enough tithes, commitment, or bringing others to church. You do not want your children attending or growing up in such an atmosphere of such criticism. If you do then you risk them from becoming critics of others too. And if this is not bad enough they could even end up rejecting or hating church as they get older, just because they grew tired of being around constant criticism and guilt every Sunday. You want your children to be a part of church who deals rightly with others, one that spends more time building up the body of Christ, not tearing it down. (Ephesians 4:29-32; James 5: 9)
- Choose a church that has a plan for disicpling your children, one that will equip them in the knowledge of the Word and help them discover over time their place and purpose in God’s kingdom (Psalm 119:105; Jeremiah 29:11). A church with a solid Sunday school (developing teachers, veteran teachers, good curriculum), a mid week children’s program like Awana and youth program are good signs to look for in a church. In your evaluation of a church find out how long the teachers have served in the program, and what their training is for new teachers. Look through the curriculum your children will be introduced to; see if it is biblically based and laden with Scripture. If your kids are in junior or senior high school, inquire about the youth pastor’s past experience in reaching young people, his biblical background, and how long he plans to be in the position. You don’t want to put your kids with a youth pastor who is only in the position until another more important one opens up. This interview process is important because you don’t want to choose a church you are going to be disappointed or angry with after only a few months. And more importantly you don’t want to keep moving your family from one church to the next in a quest to find the right church. You want to find one they can grow up in for the remainder of their childhood and beyond. So do your homework.
- Avoid a church that is small for the wrong reasons. For example a church which is small because it does not reach out to others, but only wants relationships at church with those who have been coming for years should be avoided. A church like this can become irreparably ingrown and exclusive over time, to the point where it is of little value in spreading the Word as the Great Commission commands (Matthew 28:19-20). Another basis a church is small for the wrong reason is due to the traditions it holds to, which does not take into account the changing culture it is called to serve. For reasons of comfort and familiarity, these tradition laden churches want to live in the past, the way things used to be in church, even if it means winning no one to Christ. Cultures change from generation to generation, that has always been true and is inevitable for the future. This does not mean the Gospel changes, it never should, but churches need to change, especially when it comes to meeting the needs of a culture. To equate a never changing Gospel with never changing approach to winning a culture for Christ shows a tremendous lack of biblical observation and knowledge. The culture Jesus and the disciples lived in was quite different then the one we live in today. In their day, the men and women of the early church wore long robes, long hair, and worshipped in homes, catacombs, and open fields. Today we wear different clothes, have diverse hair cuts, and worship in buildings. Two thousand years ago, the Bible was read, studied, and preached from the Greek, Hebrew or the Aramaic texts. Today we use several translations like the King James, New American Standard, and New International versions. In retrospect you need to think twice about joining a small church that cannot bring a never changing Gospel to an ever changing culture. Not all small churches are small for the wrong reasons; some are small for the right reasons. As an example, some are brand new, while others are going through a stage of rebirth. Those in rebirth are usually churches who realized over time they were not the kind of church God wanted, and thus decided by faith to follow His plan and become what He wanted all along. These can be great churches to be a part of, because they are filled with older and more mature adults who finally got it. Other churches are small because they are the only church in an area actually preaching the Word. Some times an area gets inundated with liberal churches that have learned how to gather the crowds, woo and maintain them for a season, but give them nothing when all is said and done. It takes time for a God led small church to make its impact in such an area. But eventually it will, because God is with them. Summarily, certain small churches listed above can be great for you family, just because of their smallness. Their very smallness assures your children of being well known by their Sunday school teachers, congregation, and pastor and church leaders.
- Choose a church that is involved in ministries outside of itself, one that is not preoccupied with building up its own membership and ranks, but ministers to those who cannot give back. See if the church is genuinely involved in missions, helping the poor, and giving support to the down and out (Luke 4:14-19). A church like this shows they have a heart like the Lord, one who cares for people regardless of circumstance or station in life. You want your children to be around such church people.
- Avoid a church whose pastors and leaders are not good examples as parents. Often without realizing it, church pastors and leaders end up preferring to build and run the dealings of the church, over and above ministering to their own families. This is wrong because God never called any parent, spiritual leader or not, to serve the church at the expense of the family. In fact the Scripture demands that those desiring church leadership responsibilities must manage their homes well first before taking on the affairs of the church (Titus 1: 5-6; I Timothy 3: 2-5). You don’t want to learn about how to spiritually take care of your children from those who cant’ do the same in their own home. Before you choose a church find out how successful the church leaders have been in raising their children. If their children have rebelled, or are dead to the Lord, find another church with better leaders.
- Choose a church that will be able to minister to your children at each age range and help you as parents to do the job God wants. It is important that your children be able to go to a church from kindergarten to high school. It is also vital that the church be able to provide help to you as a parent. Are their parenting classes available to take, or are there other parents in your similar station in life that can help you? In most cases only middle to large size churches qualify to service you and your children, but not necessarily so. Small churches that are new and developing or rebirthing may be able to do this as well; they just need time. By the time your children reach high school age, they may have the most dynamic youth ministry in town.
- Avoid churches that will not be there for you when your family goes through rough times. Sometimes churches get so involved in growing, building, and being significant, that they forget to shepherd the very people God gave them to take care of. Stay away from churches like this, they are usually the mega churches which dot our church landscape.
Ruth 4:13,19-21 13 So Boaz took Ruth, and she became his wife, and he went in to her. And the Lord enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son. 14 Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed is the Lord who has not left you without a redeemer today, and may his name become famous in Israel. 18 Now these are the generations of Perez: to Perez was born Hezron, 19 and to Hezron was born Ram, and to Ram, Amminadab, 20 and to Amminadab was born Nahshon, and to Nahshon, Salmon, 21and to Salmon was born Boaz, and to Boaz, Obed, 22 and to Obed was born Jesse, and to Jesse, David.
Matthew 1:1.5-16 1 The record of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham. 5 Salmon was the father of Boaz by Rahab, Boaz was the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse. 6 Jesse was the father of David the king. David was the father of Solomon by Bathsheba who had been the wife of Uriah. 7 Solomon was the father of Rehoboam, Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asa. 8 Asa was the father of Jehoshaphat, Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah. 9 Uzziah was the father of Jotham, Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah. 10 Hezekiah was the father of Manasseh, Manasseh the father of Amon, and Amon the father of Josiah. 11 Josiah became the father of Jeconiah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon. 12 After the deportation to Babylon: Jeconiah became the father of Shealtiel, and Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel. 13 Zerubbabel was the father of Abihud, Abihud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor. 14 Azor was the father of Zadok, Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud. 15 Eliud was the father of Eleazar, Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob. 16 Jacob was the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, by whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah.
I Corinthians 12: 12 ,18 12 For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. 18 But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired.
Psalm 127:4-5 4 Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, So are the children of one’s youth. 5 How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them; They will not be ashamed.
John 6:44 “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.
I Corinthians 3:7 So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth.
Philippians 2:3-5 3 Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; 4 do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. 5Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus.
Titus 3: 9 But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and strife and disputes about the Law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. Reject a factious man after a first and second warning.
Matthew 28:19-20 19 “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Matthew 12:28-31 28 One of the scribes came and heard them arguing, and recognizing that He had answered them well, asked Him, “What commandment is the foremost of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The foremost is, ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord; 30 and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ 31 “The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
I Corinthians . 3: 2-6 2 I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able, 3 for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men? 4 For when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I am of Apollos,” are you not mere men? 5 What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth.
Colossians 3:12-17 12 So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; 13 bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. 14 Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity
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. 15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.
2 Timothy 3:16-17 16 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17 so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.
Ecclesiastes 12: 9 In addition to being a wise man, the Preacher also taught the people knowledge; and he pondered, searched out and arranged many proverbs.
Matthew 18:15-17 15 “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother 16 “But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. 17 “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.
Romans 10: 2-3 2For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge. 3 For not knowing about God’s righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God.
Ephesians 4: 29-32 29 Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. 30 Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.
James 5: 9 Do not complain, brethren, against one another, so that you yourselves may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing right at the door.
Psalm 119: 105 Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.
Jeremiah 29: 11 ‘For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.
Luke 4:14-19 14 And Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about Him spread through all the surrounding district. 15 And He began teaching in their synagogues and was praised by all. 16 And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and as was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read. 17 And the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. And He opened the book and found the place where it was written, 18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, Because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, And recovery of sight to the blind, To set free those who are oppressed, 19 To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.”
Titus 1: 5-6 “…Appoint elders in every city as I directed you, 6 namely, if any man is above reproach, the husband of one wife, having children who believe…”
I Timothy 3: 2-5 2 An overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife…able to teach, 4 He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity. 5 But if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?