I just love going shopping! I copy this from a longer article in the religion section of the Augusta Chronicle. As an aside I notice that this section was at the front of the newspaper this week whereas historically it has been the very last section after pets!
Some people approach finding a church like I approached finding a room. They do a quick search, focus on one issue they consider important (my one issue was price), then commit. It is not the best way to select a church.
Churches, like people, have strengths and weaknesses. One church’s strength might be its preaching, another’s might be its music, still another might be its strong sense of community.
The church that is strong in preaching might be weak in community, the one with great music might have a watered-down theology. Choosing a church on the basis of a particular strength could lead to regret. Better to look for the presence of certain core strengths that are important to church health. One of those core strengths is a love and respect for the Bible. A lack of dependence on the Bible might point to an unhealthy dependence on the latest trend or a hidebound reliance on an ancient tradition.
Look to see if the church’s pursuit of God extends beyond Sunday mornings. Are there Bible studies, discipleship-style groups, and spiritual formation opportunities happening during the week? Is the church active in the community? A church is not a church, no matter how dynamic Sunday mornings are, unless its love for God extends to the rest of the week.
Friendships and loving relationships are another distinguishing mark of a good church. How many cars are in the parking lot a half-hour after the last amen? Are people talking and laughing and praying together? Do they spend time with each other during the week?
A strong, healthy church uses time and resources to help people outside the church. If the church’s budget, which is a theological document, only includes items that directly benefit the church, something is out of balance. A good church follows Jesus’ example of service to others.
I often suggest people spend a month or more before they decide whether a church is for them. With churches, as with motels rooms, if someone asks, “Do you want to see it first?” answer “Yes.”
Shayne Looper is the pastor of Lockwood Community Church in Branch County, Mich.