What is the Best Church for Me?

Getting asked not to return to church really stung. I had done nothing wrong. The pastor chose to believe the lies of another person in the church over me. It didn’t matter that I had physical proof of the truth. I was given an ultimatum and I chose the door. 

It wasn’t the first time I had been let down by a church, but it was the one that hurt the most.  It took me three years to get over that hurt. To be honest, it still stings a little.

I’ve been going to a church for about three years now, but it took about a year and a half before I finally felt like I could call Calvary Chapel of Orlando home. For a long time I just went to Sunday services and occupied a seat. Slowly I got more involved and started to make friends. Now I feel like I’m a part of the community.

Breaking up with a church and finding a new one is a process that can be painful. Maybe you’re looking for a new church because you’ve moved. Maybe you just don’t feel connected to the church you are going to and feel led to move on. Or maybe, like me, you’ve been hurt and you need a place to lick your wounds and learn to trust again. How do you start over? What do you look for in a church?

1. Is the main thing the main thing?

If you don’t align with the church’s view of salvation, then you have no business being there. That is the first thing I look for in a church and it needs to be the number one priority.

What is the main thing?

  • Jesus was without sin (2 Corinthians 5:21, 1 John 3:5, 1 Peter 1:22, Hebrews 4:15)
  • Jesus died in place of our sins (1 Peter 2:24, 1 John 3:5, Romans 6:1-14, John 3:16-21)
  • Jesus rose again (Matthew 28:1-15, 1 Corinthians 15:3-8)
  • You can have assurance in salvation (1 John 5:11-13, John 1:12, John 10:28-29, Romans 8:38-39)

Salvation comes to those who believe that Jesus defeated death on the cross and have repented from their sins and put their faith in him. That is the core of the true Christian faith. Don’t add to it and don’t take anything away. Your works will not save you, so if someone is trying to tell you that you need to do X, Y, or Z in order to be saved, it’s time to walk away. You shouldn’t have to prove your salvation by exhibiting a specific spiritual gift or by any other means. 

There are other doctrinal differences in churches, and that’s where things can get complicated. You need to decide what hills you’re willing to die on. Whatever those differences, there needs to be Scripture to back up the belief.

2. Is the teaching Biblically sound?

We live in a society that wants to hear and say what feels good. The thought is that our speech and ideals need to be widely accepted, otherwise you’ll be accused of being hateful. We want drama free Christianity. The problem with this is that Christianity has never been without controversy. Jesus’ death on the cross was controversial. So was his resurrection. The early church was not accepted by society and the early Christians were widely persecuted for their faith. It is believed that the majority of the apostles were martyred. The truth of God’s word can be hard to swallow, but we need to embrace the struggle and not water it down or sugar coat it. That’s how our faith is stretched and grown.

I’ve been in a church that watered down its teaching in order to reach seekers. It’s one reason, of many, that my family left. If someone is really seeking something spiritual, they need to be immersed in the Word of God. Not just splashed with it. A good church teaches from the Bible and teaches how to study the Bible. A good church is willing to help their congregants wrestle with the difficult passages and come to a scripturally sound conclusion. A good church backs up what they are teaching with Scripture. The pastor doesn’t just share a passage and then his thoughts on it. Rather, he teaches from the Bible and backs up what he’s saying using Scripture.

3. Does the ministry of the church extend outside the walls of the church?

After Jesus’s resurrection, he gave us the Great Commission “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” The last thing he said before his ascension into heaven was, “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” 

Clearly our purpose as Christians goes beyond our own salvation and into our responsibility to concern ourselves with the salvation of others. If the church contains its ministry to a building, then it’s not fulfilling God’s commandments. 

So much of Scripture is about reaching lost souls, helping orphans and widows or others in need. The fulfillment of the command to go and reach others is going to look different from church to church. I do believe a good church will have both local and global emphasis on outreach. 

Outreach should start with the children’s and youth ministry. If we’re not reaching children and teenagers, then we are missing out on an opportunity to win the souls of the most malleable ages. The church should also provide a place where kids can invite their friends and hear the Gospel whether it’s on a Sunday morning or at a special event.

Additionally, the church should have the means to help those in their own community. Whether that’s a benevolence department, a food bank outreach, or a connection with a local nonprofit, the church should love its neighbors well.

Outreach needs to continue “to the ends of the earth.” There should be global outreach opportunities for both the youth and the adults that attend the church. Whether it’s sponsoring a missionary or sending out a mission team through a nonprofit organization, the congregation needs to have opportunities to be the hands and feet of Christ worldwide.

4. Is there a good community?

Part of growing in your faith is being challenged and held accountable by other believers. A good church will consist of a community of believers that desire to spur each other on in their faith. They are people that become lifelong friends. The people in your church are those you do life with, pray for, and help one another in times of trouble.

Jesus lived in community. He surrounded himself with the twelve disciples and many others, such as Lazerus, Mary and Martha, and Mary Magdalene, just to name a few that come to mind. Sure, he was their rabbi, their leader. But he needed them, too. He could have done everything all on his own, but they assisted him in his ministry (Luke 9:1-6). They gathered with him for the last supper (Luke 22:14). They were with him in the Garden of Gethsemane where he prayed in distress (Matthew 36-38).

Jesus lived in community because God made us for community. He made us to bear one another’s burdens – to support one another in our trials and to restore each other when we falter (Galatians 6:1-10). He made us to serve Him through loving and supporting our neighbors (Matthew 22:37-40).

Part of loving one another is by walking alongside each other through the good times and bad. We need to surround ourselves with like minded individuals in order to walk this out.

5. Do you connect with the church?

If these top four priorities check out in the church you are visiting, you may be in the right place. However, just going through the motions doesn’t do anyone any good. The Holy Spirit needs to be present. You need to connect with the teaching, feel led to get involved in the outreach opportunities, and feel comfortable building relationships with the people. All of these things work together, through the Holy Spirit, to provide a great worship experience.

There are many other things we can look for in a good church. However, there is never going to be a perfect church. I really like the church I’m going to right now but there are still things I don’t agree with. They have their scripture to back up their point, and I have scripture to back up mine. These are not things that are a hill worth dying on for me. I can disagree with them and still be fully connected, engaged, and growing alongside the church’s Spirit filled community of believers. 

I polled social media and came up with a few examples of things that people value in a church that I believe are battles that can be let go of if everything else checks out. It may be important to you, but you need to really challenge yourself–how important is it really

  • Diversity–This could mean both ethnic diversity as well as diversity of age. If you live in a diverse city, then this would be a good indicator of a thriving church. I did not grow up in a very diverse town, so the church I grew up in didn’t have a hope of being diverse. Age diversity is also nice, but a good church shouldn’t depend on it if you are surrounding yourself with the right people. I once went to a rather new church that was still mostly young families and young adults and it was a thriving community. However, it was not a substitute for having older people to mentor me, so I had to find that elsewhere and, for a season, it worked out fine. 
  • Teaches from a specific Bible translation–There are many good Bible translations out there and each have their own merits. I personally prefer the ESV but my church teaches out of the KJV and NKJV. I decided to buy a NKJV Bible so that it was easier to follow along with during church and Bible studies, but I still do my personal studies in ESV. There are merits to both translations and studying between the two has been helpful. Some churches draw a hard line with Bible translations, but ultimately it doesn’t matter what translation you study if the main thing isn’t the main thing.
  • The worship music is good–Yes, it’s nice to have music that is played well. However, church is not a concert. It’s a worship service. The music is there to help you get focused on God. It doesn’t have to sound like a professional band that you hear on the radio. If you are a musician and you dislike the music, then maybe God is calling you to serve on the worship team? However, if the Holy Spirit is present and the lyrics are Biblically sound, does it really matter if the lead guitarist slips up every once in a while?

Being in the right church is important for growing your faith and striving towards righteousness. However, it’s easy to let a long list of likes and dislikes make it hard to settle into a good church. If the church has the correct view of salvation, has Biblically sound teaching, good outreach opportunities, and a solid community, you know you are in a great place. We need to be careful about letting the little things get in the way of the main thing–the Gospel message. 

Are you going to the right church or is it time to make a change?