Editor’s Note: Launch Your Life is a practical guide for twenty-somethings to navigating life’s twists and turns, and to achieving success in all you do. This excerpt, though, is a great encouragement for people in any season of life who are looking for a local church to call home and a community to embrace as family.
So, you’re in a new city or a new town and you need to find yourself a good church, but how do you do that? If you grew up in church, picking one was pretty easy; you just went wherever your parents went. Even if you left your parents’ church for a new one, you probably chose the church the majority of your Christian friends went to.
But perhaps you’re a new believer and you’ve never had to find a church before at all.
No matter our background, we’ve all got certain traditions we’ve grown up with and particular styles we’ve grown accustomed to. For many of us, those styles have served us well, so we hold on to them for dear life. For others, those situations really rubbed us the wrong way, so we oppose them with everything we’ve got.
Which is right? Which is wrong? What about doctrine? Certainly, what a church teaches is critical, but a lot of churches don’t exactly agree with each other on what the Bible teaches. Differ as they may, a great many of those churches still abide by what could be rightly considered their own faithful interpretation of Scripture.
Seven Things to Look for in a Good Church — Acts 2:42–47
Where better to look for guidance on picking a church than the Bible? Specifically, we’ll look at one of the earliest accounts of a New Testament community of faith. As you begin your search, be on the lookout for how churches handle the following seven points. If one or more are missing, get ready to exercise some discernment in evaluating whether that is a faithful community in which you would like to be a member.
And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need.
So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved. — Acts 2:42–47
1. Believers as Members
Now all who believed were together. — Acts 2:44
The local church should be a safe place for the believer and nonbeliever alike to come and hear the good news, to taste and see that the Lord is good. The local church should be a place that loves and serves the community regardless of whether they profess Christianity or not.
That said, when we talk about a believing membership in the local church, we’re not talking about the people who attend that specific church or are served by its ministries. The people we’re talking about are the covenant members of that church. These are the people who have sacrificially, emotionally, financially, and spiritually “bought in” to that church and what it’s doing for the kingdom.
If you encounter a church that welcomes unbelievers as covenant members, a red flag should be raised. The membership body of a church is one of the visible fruits of the culture in that community. If the church does not value faith in Christ or the authority of Scripture in teaching, then they are straying outside the bounds of what would be considered a church by biblical and traditional standards.
2. Qualified Leadership
And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship. — Acts 2:42
The health of a church is largely dependent on the health of its leadership team. When we talk about evaluating someone as a church leader, we’re not talking about something as straightforward as grading a term paper. We’re talking about evaluating a human being with all of his or her strengths, weaknesses, quirks, and shortcomings. It is a highly subjective task and, to be honest, none of us are qualified to do so; only God knows the heart.
What we can do, however, is get to know the overall leadership in the church and find out a little bit about who they are, how they got there, and what they do. Look at some of the aspects of a qualified leader as set forth by Paul in 1 Timothy 3.
3. Preaching and Teaching
And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship. — Acts 2:42
It is an undeniable fact that preaching was one of the primary ways in which Jesus did ministry. He was an itinerant preacher, traveling the countryside and expounding the Scripture to all who would listen. Jesus not only set the example but commanded His disciples to carry on His teaching ministry (Matthew 28:19-20). In so doing, Jesus established the Church and appointed the teaching and preaching of the Word as the primary means for nurturing and leading believers into spiritual maturity.
A church that preaches faithfully from the Scriptures may not be perfect, but it will set the stage for healthy and vibrant spirituality in its people.
They ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. — Acts 2:46, 47
If worship styles in the church were like flavors of ice cream, Baskin-Robbins would be out of business. The object of our worship is what matters most. When we worship God rightly, we do so in order to praise
Him and give Him glory with all of our being (in spirit). He also wants us to do it on His terms and in the light of His revelation (in truth), which means we should never stop seeking to know Him as He is revealed in Scripture. Find a church that prioritizes worship on His standards alone and you’ll have found a church that will be faithful in its worship.
5. Church Unity and Fellowship
Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. — Acts 2:44, 45
Ask yourself whether or not you feel welcome in this new community of believers. If you’ve tried to plug in and get connected to community but have not been received with the open arms of fellowship, then it may not be the place for you. If you are readily welcomed, however, and still don’t feel like you’re at home, it’s time to ask some deep personal questions…
- Am I pursuing every available opportunity to get involved?
- Are these people struggling to accept me, or is it the other way around?
- Have I brought some misguided expectations to the table regarding what this new church community should be like?
- Am I judging this new group of people on my past experiences or present circumstances?
- Are they speaking difficult truth to me, and is that ruffling my feathers?
In prayer, do some business with God and earnestly ask Him to reveal to you why this church seems to be shutting you down. Be ready to listen and act based on His leading. The result of your obedience will surely be His glory and your greatest good.
And awe came upon every soul. — Acts 2:43
You shall be holy, for [God is] holy. — 1 Peter 1:16
To believe in God and to pursue His will for our lives means to stop seeing the world as culture defines it and to start seeing it as God defines it. That’s what Paul meant when he told believers to stop conforming to the patterns of this world and to be transformed by the renewal of their minds (Romans 12:2). A good church will exercise strong discernment in this area. They will wisely distinguish between the areas of culture and the world with which we should engage and those we should reject outright. A good church will fight to maintain the sanctity of its people and to challenge them to live up to the moral standards set forth in Scripture, knowing all the while this quest for moral purity and holiness is a messy process done not in search of but in response to a grace freely and fully given. Does this mean the members in the church are better than those outside its walls? No.
Does the idea that we are holy, or set apart by God, give us a reason to boast and look down our noses at unbelievers? Absolutely not. If a church holds that view of holiness, then you should probably run the other way.
And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved. — Acts 2:47
God created the church in order to accomplish His mission in the world. In Ephesians, Paul tells us that in the gospel of Christ, God has made known to us His eternal plan to unite all things to Himself (Ephesians 1:10). He invites us to be agents in that plan by telling us we were saved by grace so we might go out and do the “good works, which God prepared in advance for us” (Ephesians 2:10) and to extend this grace to every person on this Earth. A faithful church will take these words seriously and recognize they exist for far more than Sunday morning worship services. Here are a few questions to help you figure out where a church lands on this great and sacred mission.
- Are they hearers or are they doers? Does this church seek to teach its congregation for the sake of teaching, or does it point them to actually go out and do something with that teaching?
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. — James 1:22
- Are they on mission? The Bible is pretty clear on a few difficult truths…
1. We’ve all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
2. We’re all dead in our trespasses.
3. Without God, we’re destined for eternal judgment. That’s the bad news. Thank God there’s also good news…
4. God came in the flesh as Jesus Christ.
5. Christ died to pay the penalty for all of His people.
6. Christ rose on the third day to defeat Satan, sin, and death.
If the church seems willing to serve without spreading the good news, then this might not be the church for you.
Find Yourself a Good Church
We were not created for isolation. We can’t do this alone. For the good of your eternal, spiritual life, you’ve got to find a church to call home.
Excerpted with permission from Launch Your Life by Kenny Silva, copyright Thomas Nelson.
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Whether you’ve just moved to a new city, or just graduated from college ready to launch your life, or you’re a new believer, you may be looking for a local church to plug into and build your church family community. What other thoughts do you have about finding a solid, biblical, and healthy church? Join the conversation on our blog! We would love to hear from you!