Walking into a new church for the first time can be daunting. You approach the door with clammy hands and a lump in your throat. Thoughts whizz back and forth in your mind like the Central Line during rush hour. Will they notice me when I walk in? Will I have to introduce myself or will they approach me? Will I like the worship songs they sing? Should I sit at the front where they can see me or should I find a seat at the back so I can be out of plain sight? Should I stay and speak to people after or should I leave early to avoid the awkward chit chat?
Reasons to Search
Maybe you’re looking for a church for the first time as a believer or leaving the church that you grew up in. Perhaps you moved country, city or area and you’re searching for a new local church to attend. You might be as I was, fed up with your current church situation – something just isn’t right and you can smell it from a mile off. Whether it’s the doctrine, the leadership or the church as a whole – there isn’t a Christ-centred approach to the way things are run and you are ready to leave.
You might be a recent convert from a different religion or spiritual practice. You may even be in the extreme category and you’re finally leaving a ‘cult’ and just want to find a safe, good church to attend. As you dread the long drawn-out process of searching for a new church and the possibility of falling victim to ‘church hopping’, you might be asking yourself the question, where do I even begin?
Prayer is one of the most undermined resources of the believer. Despite being one of the most impactful and effectual instruments in the Christian’s arsenal, many of us do not draw for it as regularly as we should. The implications of not finding a local church, let alone a sound local church, are major, both to our spiritual condition and our ability to fulfil the purposes and commands that have been set out for us to do as part of the body. Therefore we cannot afford to depend on our own wisdom to guide us to a church that will enable the fruitfulness of both of these aspects. The wonderful thing about making prayer your first effort in finding a church is that it will never be in vain. The Bible speaks on both the assurance of having our prayers answered when we appeal to God in His will and also the vast access to God’s wisdom when we ask for it (1 John 5:13-15, Proverbs 2: 6-7). God not only invites us to ask for wisdom when making decisions but he stores up wisdom that he is waiting lavish us with, to help us make the right decision.
For the Lord gives wisdom;Proverbs 2:6-7
from His mouth come knowledge and understanding;
He stores up sound wisdom for the upright;
Now if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God–who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly–and it will be given to him.
So we must approach God’s well of wisdom, constantly, like a thirsty pilgrim who continually laps up the water in his palms to his lips knowing he needs energy for the journey ahead. We must saturate every thought and decision with prayer. Along the course of finding a church, we must consult God at every step of the way.
It is important to have a clear definition of what it is that you are looking for. Therefore it is necessary to do your own study and research in order to be clear on what a healthy church looks like. The Bible gives both demonstrative and prescriptive examples of what a good church should entail. The book of Acts paints a beautiful picture demonstrating what church life should look like through the practical example of the early church. If you study closely at the life and times of these early believers, you will discover a useful framework to guide your decision making for finding a new church to attend
And they devoted themselves to apostles’ teaching and fellowship to the breaking of bread and the prayers
The first fundamental thing to look for when seeking a new church, is both the leadership and members’ desire and commitment to sound gospel-centred preaching and teaching and following the sacraments (i.e. baptism and Lord’s supper). A church, whose leaders are devoted to shepherding their congregants through the teaching of God’s word and whose members delight in sitting under such preaching and teaching and allowing their lives to be shaped and changed by it. Furthermore it is important look for whether the members demonstrate their commitment, love and bond to one another through regular prayer meetings.
All who believed were together
It’s also important to look for sense of unity in what the members believe and how they live their lives as a result of what they believe. This means that membership should consist of solely believers, even if unbelievers are regular attendees.
Day by day attending to the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they partook of food with glad and generous hearts
Another thing to notice is the attitude of the members; do you notice the same faces who faithfully attend every service, every week showing a born again love and generosity to one another? Do they have genuine tight-knit relationships, sharing each other’s burdens and their possessions with one another?
Praising God and having favour with all the people
What reputation does your church have with the local community/unbelievers? Are they engaging with members of the local area/borough?
Asking for personal recommendations from Christians you deem as reliable and trustworthy sources, particularly those who you notice are mature and growing steadily in the faith, is a quick and easy way to find churches that you can check out.
Explore these churches’ websites. What is their statement of faith? What do they believe? What are their values? Does it place the Gospel at the heart of their beliefs and affirmations? Do they have a correct biblical understanding of God and salvation, i.e. a Trinitarian view, salvation through grace by faith alone etc? Is the way that the church is set up and their practices, according to biblical command?
There is only so much that you can gauge about a church based on their website and testimonials. In order to get a better estimation of a church, attend their services.
Reflect back to your study of church examples in the Bible, does the leadership, membership, teaching reflect biblical example? Take note of leadership – look for joyful leaders who are humble yet eager to cheerfully serve their members, exercising oversight not under compulsion but willingly, not for shameful gain but with genuine godly passion.
Fellowship – does it have a membership that loves the brethren, caring for one another and their needs? With humility, do they exhibit born again love? (1 John 3: 16-18, Rom 12:11-17). What is the spirit and life of the church? Is it one of intense joy? Even while being realistic about their problems and suffering are they are able to remain constantly rejoicing? Is it an environment where the members have their gaze fixed on eternity and are able to find more meaning and joy on the living hope that is to come rather than their present reality? (1 Pet 1:3).
Finally, do they welcome you well? Could you see yourself serving at this church? Is there an emphasis on the members maturing spiritually, discipleship and equipping the saints for the work of ministry?
Test the teaching – do they teach the whole counsel of God’s Word as being infallible? What do they teach concerning matters such as roles of manhood and womanhood, sexuality, race, sin etc? Do they preach and teach on these matters uncompromisingly from a gospel-centred lens?
Make a Choice
All while you are doing these things, be sure to remain prayerful and seek God’s Word for direction. Trusting God’s wisdom, make a decision, choose a good church and commit to it.
If you are searching for good churches to attend and would like some recommendations, be sure to contact the OGGM team through our social media platforms or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. We are more than willing to help.