My Thoughts on Church Shopping
Updated: May 18, 2020
From Indiana to Texas to California, I have been to a lot of churches. I mean a lot a lot. I have seen the good, the bad and ugly. Churches of all sizes, all styles of worship, different denominations and a mix of all kinds of congregations. I've collected enough church swag, I should do unboxing videos and reviews. (*takes mental note*) With all that experience, I wanted to share some tips about finding the church God wants you at.
To begin, there is no perfect church.
And while we are at it, friendly reminder that church is not a building. Church is not a traditional activity we do on Sunday's. It is not something we do just because someone told us we needed to go.
The church is the body of Christ. A group of believers coming together to worship God, grow in our faith and discipleship and be equipped to build His kingdom on Earth as it is in heaven.
It has been said that the church is a hospital for the spiritually sick and there is some truth of that. Being a Christian is basically admitting we are broken, sinful messes in need of our Savior Jesus Christ. It has also been said that hurt people hurt other people. Which is why a level of humility, grace and mercy should be demonstrated towards God's people, understanding we are all made in the image of God. We are all in a sanctification process. We need to not be so dismissive of people and pray we see them the way God sees them. It will give you a whole new perspective.
(Side note: with that said, there are situations that cross the line and even some churches can become toxic and detrimental to your spiritual growth. I am working on a post on red flags to know when it's time to leave a church, so stay posted.)
Now moving on to some more advice:
Get to know God and His word first
But isn't church where you go to do that? Yes, but, how do you know if a particular church is teaching you the right things about God. I know many people will disagree, but I strongly recommend spending time reading the gospels, Psalms and Proverbs and learning how to pray and worship Him on your own first. This way, you have a spiritual detector to see past the cafe, and activities and production and all the superficial stuff to get to the real question:
Is God even in the building or is this just some social club?
“These things I have spoken to you while being present with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you. Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.
My upbringing in the church was mostly of the Assemblies of God and Pentecostal flavor. But my mother raised my brother and I to learn how to read the Bible on our own, get a word from God on our own, pray on our own. We couldn't rely on her relationship with God. We had to have our own. And that we shouldn't automatically accept what a pastor is saying is truth. Go home and test the spirits. Does it actually line up with the word of God?
I often hear people quoting their pastor or denominational arguments more than the Bible, mostly because their foundation in faith was given to them by someone else's relationship with God and not their own.
When I was in college, I was desperate to find a church and connect with fellow Christians. I began attending one church and their college men's group. Their services were meh, but I did enjoy the Bible studies and everyone was soooo friendly.
Until they sat me down for "the talk."
The talk that I wasn't saved because I was not water baptized. I explained that I was baptized at 17, and filled with the Holy Spirit with the evidence of tongues at 12. (Yes, it can happen in that order but that is for another post.)
“No, that's not right“, they insisted. Because I didn't believe at the moment of my water baptism I received salvation, they believed I wasn't saved. So I would need to be water baptized again, in their church, in their way.
Now if I had not had my own relationship and experiences with God that aligned with scripture, I might have fallen for it. Serious doubts about my salvation arose, and I went to more extensively study the topic on my own, avoiding commentaries and bias arguments. I was willing to admit I was wrong and be re-baptized if necessary. But first I wanted to know, "Holy Spirit, what do you say?"
I returned concluding they were mistaken. I do believe they are saved Christians and I am too because of our faith, saved by grace, through no works on our own but by His on the cross. I laid out the experiences with God, went over all the scriptures with them and parted ways. I could not continue to be in an environment that constantly caused me to question my salvation.
Pray God will place you where He needs you to be
Friendly reminder: it's not all about you. Finding a church should not be about convenience.
Questions that we ask that don't matter:
How far is the church?
How is the worship?
Is the pastor funny?
Is there a cafe?
What kind of activities do they have for me and my family?
Questions you should be asking:
What are the opportunities for me to serve?
Will my gifts and calling be utilized and developed for building His kingdom?
Are the teachings convicting and anointed?
Are the people there a part of the body of Christ God wants me to be connected with?
Don't see something you would like at your church? Instead of thinking "that sucks, let's move one", think "maybe I can start that up at this church."
When I moved to California, I prayed for 3 specific things when I decided on what church to attend:
divinely connecting with the right people to mutually push each other into our God given purpose
a place my gifts and callings would be utilized and developed
a place I would find my wife
After countless, meet and greets with the pastor, spiritual tests, new member classes and small group introductions, I finally found a church, despite my initial hesitation and criticisms (pray for me) that God wants me at. Though still waiting on that last thing, the last two years of attending my current home church has far exceeded my expectations and changed me for the better. I have grown so much spiritually, been involved more than I have ever been in a church and taken on multiple leadership roles. I started baptizing people and teaching in front of large groups. I am praying and leading people to salvation more than ever before. The favor of God has been strong on me in all the areas I am serving. And that is the key.
I am serving more than I am consuming.
Put God first and He will show up. But it all started with changing from a "what I can get from the church" mindst to "what does God want me to do for this church?" mindset.
God wants you planted in His body more than you do. It can be exhausting; I know. But keep the faith. You will find home.
Visit a Small Group
The Sunday service should play a small role in your decision to join a church. It may be the main event but remember, we the people are the church. And if you are serious about planting roots in your new church home, you need to meet and know the people you are going to do life with. Visit a small group to sense the spiritual maturity of the congregation. Who are these people? I personally believe in diverse congregations because that is what Heaven will look like. What is flowing from the head should be flowing to the body. Sometimes there is a disconnect between the good preaching and example and how people are translating it in everyday life. You don't want to be unequally yoked to the wrong body.
Check out their statement of belief
This should be very easy to find on their website, if they have one. (If they don't, see it as an opportunity to serve instead of judging them.). Consider it a warning if this is hard to find or it is vague with little to no scriptural support. A church should not be afraid to state what they believe.
Side note: I always check to see what they say about the Holy Spirit. That is the major differentiator for most churches. I'll leave it up to you to determine what it should say - hint, ask the Holy Spirit.
What ministries do they have?
A great way to learn about opportunities to serve or opportunities to step in and fill a gap.
Are there online messages?
This is an efficient way to check out multiple churches quickly, but does not at all replace the live experience. Don’t be distracted by the style of the preaching or the appearance of the pastor. Question to keep in mind: Are the messages Bible based? Are the messages anointed?
With these tips, I pray you find your church home like I did. It will be sooner than you know.