My family is currently looking for a new church.  We’ve put this off since moving to the opposite side of town where the church we were members is located due to my being an interim pastor for the last 16 months.  Now that my time there is complete we’ve been visiting different churches.  I’ve visited a number of churches in the area on behalf of my full-time ministry, but it’s different when you are looking for a church to call home.

Essentials for us (in no particular order):

  • Solid theology (solidly evangelical, preferably Calvinist or has a pastor who is a Calvinist)
  • Expository & Christ-centered preaching
  • Committed to and effective in evangelism & community service
  • Solid children’s and youth ministries
  • Homeschool family friendly
  • Dynamic worship
  • Intentional fellowship

We have other things we’d like to see, but those are preferences.  What is important for you in deciding on a church?

43 comments
  1. I think the verses in Act 2 that describe the early church are good guidelines.. apostles teaching and breaking bread together seem to be desirable in a church.. once you find the right doctrinal statement of course.. but I suspect that might be one of your first filters 🙂

  2. We went to a new church six years ago and the fact that it had a solid childrens’ and youth ministries was all that mattered to me at the time. Folks said, “don’t you just love the pastor?”, and I said that I probably would but if my kids fit that was fine for me.

    1. @rossid, Our main thing with children’s & youth ministries is are they safe (screened volunteers)? Are the leaders responsible & solid? Do they teach the word? And as homeschooling parents – are they supportive of home education or are they going to make my kids feel like they’re freaks? And also make sure they won’t undermine what we are doing at home since I’m the one who is ultimately responsible for their spiritual growth.

  3. I always ask two questions:
    1) How do you interpret Genesis 1?
    2) What is your view of Israel?

    The answers to those two questions tell me whether or not I want to be involved in that particular church. It’s worked so far, even outside the US.
    .-= Casey´s last blog ..The [Expanded] Bible =-.

    1. @Casey, Ah, that’s interesting. I myself hold to the young earth position, I understand the case for old earth (how “yow” can be interpreted, etc.), but for me the question that got me to embrace young earth (I used to hold the old earth position) was a question that was never satisfactorily answered for me – how could their be disease and death prior to the fall?

      Anyway, it isn’t an issue that I would probably keep me away from a particular church since many don’t even take a stand on that particular issue and probably represent multiple views. If they bought the theistic evolution position then I’d scram. The main thing for me is that they believe God did create and they don’t believe we came from apes.

      My wife feels a little more strongly about that though.

      What answer are you looking for with you Israel question?

      1. @Shane Vander Hart,

        Well, it’s much more likely that they will have strayed from sound doctrine if they subscribe to anything but a literal interpretation of Genesis 1. They will not have a proper foundation for any of the other doctrines, and as you point out, they cannot explain death and suffering.

        As for Israel, I will only attend a church that recognizes the Jews as God’s chosen people and does not subscribe to any form of anti-semitism. If they tell me that the Church is the new Israel and that God’s plan for Israel is over, I know they probably won’t be the kind of congregation I’ll be comfortable in (most likely they will disapprove of the nation of Israel and democracy in general).

        Basically, it’s a worldview thing. I believe the Bible is the ultimate authority on everything.
        .-= Casey´s last blog ..The [Expanded] Bible =-.

      2. @Casey, Had to reply to your thoughts.

        My Father grew up as an Orthodox Jew. He became a Christian, but many of my family is still Jewish. Having said that, and understanding your views, The answer to your second question would tell me where someone is, but we would be looking for different answers.

        Do you not see the People of God as God’s chosen people now? The Church. Not sure how a reading of the New Testament would bring any other conclusion.

        There is a beauty in seeing covenant theology all through scripture.

        Please don’t assume that someone who sees the Church now as the Chosen people is then anti-Semitic. I love my own family. I just don’t believe that any blessing surrounds them, because they are jews.

        I am used to your views also though. Many on my Mom’s side of the family are hyper dispensationalists. It is sad to me that they do not even believe the Church to be the bride of Christ. Of course, my confused, messianic Father, would like to believe that the hyper dispensationalists are right, (but he knows better).

      3. @Shane Vander Hart,

        I don’t want to hijack your post, Shane, but I had better clarify myself so you don’t think I’m a nut. When I found my current church I asked the pastor those two questions. His answer to the first one was that he personally believes that it should be interpreted literally, but he does not make it an official position of the church. That’s fine with me, because I don’t see it as an essential for salvation. I just wanted to know where he stood.

        For the second, he said that God has not abandoned the Jews and that he still has a plan for them. That was all I wanted to hear. I know that not everyone who believes the Church has replaced Israel is an anti-semite, but usually the anti-semites believe that. The answer to the question will tell me one way or the other. I know you and I share the same political position, so I wouldn’t have any problem fellowshipping with you. 🙂

        I do believe that everyone in the Church is chosen individually, but the Jews are still God’s chosen people. Not because he loves them more but because they played and will continue to play a central role in his plan for the world. God’s promises to Abraham regarding the land and how his descendants would be a blessing to all the nations were not conditional on his descendants’ actions.
        .-= Casey´s last blog ..The [Expanded] Bible =-.

  4. I have always found it instructive to attend a church business meeting if possible. The way the body interacts during a meeting tells you a lot about a church.

    1. @Wayne, I favor contemporary worship, provided the lyrics aren’t shallow, it’s Christ-centered, and not Maranatha music. I can appreciate liturgy. That’s one reason I said dynamic which I think transcends style.

      Weekly communion, is that common in most PCA churches?

      Paedobaptistic, well Coleen who contributes here would second that. I can’t go there with you though ;). Which I guess is one reason why I’m not Presbyterian or Reformed though we’d be in agreement on the doctrines of grace.

      1. @Shane Vander Hart, Hey, I was just answering your question. 🙂

        I can only speak anecdotally about how common weekly communion is in the PCA. I would say it most likely looks like a bell curve with weekly and quarterly being on either side of the monthly bulge in the middle. My sense is that the majority of new church plants in the PCA are tilting to weekly communion.

      2. @Shane Vander Hart, I forgot to add, that you all should come visit Redeemer sometime. Maybe after you found a church so there isn’t the pressure. 🙂

        Anyway, I’d like to have you come sometime and we can give you a few minutes after the service to talk about SOY.

        Also, I was going to tell you that on Friday, I’m going to appear on the Macsworld web radio program. That should be interesting. http://macsworldlive.com/

      3. @Shane Vander Hart, Just a little “push back” on your initial comment. Why would you contrast liturgical with contemporary? You appear to be equating worship with music. You can just as easily have contemporary music with a good liturgy as anything else.

      4. @Wayne, I’ll try to listen live or at the very least when they post it online afterwards. I don’t know much about them either, I’ve only listened once (when they had Mike Householder on to discuss the ELCA’s recent decision).

  5. We moved churches earlier this year in anticipation of moving across town.

    I hate the idea some people have of “church shopping” where they turn up at a service with the attitude of, “OK … impress me.”

    I wasn’t looking for what a church could ‘offer our family’ but whether we could enter into ministry with the body of believers.

    We wanted solid Bible teaching for all the family, a congregation that loved God, and the knowledge that the church was ministering the gospel to the local community and to people overseas. The first church we visited fitted perfectly and we’ve been there ever since.
    .-= Rodney Olsen´s last blog ..Mark Simpfendorfer 1964 – 2009 =-.

    1. @Rodney Olsen, I’m leery of that attitude while we look as well. Really the theology and how the Word is handled is the most important. Also that worship is worship and not just going through the motions of singing songs because we sing songs in church.

      I could have and should have added a place “whether we could enter into ministry with the body of believers.” That is of importance to me as well. Which is why I want to make sure I fully buy into the theology and vision of the church – I want to be fully committed to the life of the church. Can’t really teach (one of my spiritual gifts) if I’m not in agreement with their doctrinal statement.

  6. If you can find an old Michael Horton Modern Reformation article called about what to look for in a Church “How to find a Church.”

    I think all of what you are looking for is good, except one thing, the home school part. I know what you mean, and I say this as a home schooler. There is an OPC out here in the Denver area, which has many home schoolers. In fact the Pastor of that Church is extremely well know in the home school movement. The problem has come about that the Church is defined as a Home Schooling Church. None home schoolers don’t feel comfortable, and many of the home schoolers there are not even Reformed, and yet are in a Reformed Church. I go to a Church that has a lot of home schoolers, but it is not what defines us. I am not sure that should be any part of a Church.

    But what should be? Well Horton says
    Correct Preaching of the Word.
    Correct administering of the Sacraments
    Correct use of Church discipline.

    Those come right from the Reformation.

    1. @Coleen, What I meant by that remark is this:

      1. The staff don’t view home education in a disparaging way. When we moved back to Des Moines, the youth pastor at the church we attended made a derogatory remark about home schoolers and had a low opinion of home education. Fortunately my kids weren’t old enough to be in the youth ministry yet, and that wasn’t a few held by most of the staff. My kids wouldn’t have been a part of his youth group. Fortunately he’s moved on.

      2. It would be nice for churches to consider when they have women’s ministry items during the day that they would consider home schooling families, as far as child care is concerned. My wife couldn’t take part in the women’s bible studies at our previous church because our kids were too old to be in the childcare, and too young to be left at home. That isn’t an issue anymore now that they are older.

      I’m not looking for the church to be known as a “homeschool church” what you mention would be more important though I think we’d disagree on what the “correct administering of the Sacrements” would be (at least with baptism) 😉

      1. @Shane Vander Hart, Shane, please understand that I understand your points. I have just seen so often that there are some Churches that are defined by the fact that people home school. I won’t go on about the problems that happen with that, as I know you probably understand.

        Having said that, the Church that we attend now, is friendly to home schoolers. I was even pleased to find out that a Women’s Bible Study takes place following Lunch once a week, and with all of the women being home schoolers, we are able to bring the kids, textbooks and all. And as someone who is not necessarily a fan of youth groups, it makes me feel a lot better knowing that my son is surrounded by homeschoolers. All of this to say, while I do believe what I said previously, I also take advantage of being at a Church full of lots of home schoolers.

      2. I don’t have time to write much, but I actually think it’s healthy to have a church where families have a variety of schooling options that they feel free to choose as a result of prayer and discernment, and don’t feel squeezed, pressured, or cajoled into one choice or the other.

  7. I have no idea why parents of home schoolers can so easily trust “churches” these days while they distrust public schools. Research indicates that our culture is Biblically illiterate both inside and outside of the church. Less than 19% of born again people claim to possess a “biblical worldview” and less than 9% make this claim in society. Parents – do you really think that Bible teaching is going to happen in the modern Evangelical church?

    1. @T.F., Yes, I think you are making a sweeping indictment of evangelical churches.

      In a public school they have 0% chance of having a biblical worldview fostered (intentionally that is).

      There are obviously some churches we wouldn’t attend because they don’t pay attention to the ministry of the Word.

      1. I think we agree that you have to be careful and prayerful in selecting a church…if you can find one in your area that is. The Evangelical church of which I am a product of and still am engaged in has indicted itself so it doesn’t need my help. As a Christian I would not want nor would I ask the public school to become “Christianized” because that is ridiculous and dangerous. Why would you even have that expectation in the first place? The truth is that individual Christians fail to train their children in the home, and churches are teaching so called Bible based “application” instead of the revelation of scripture. Our children and are ill prepared to defend their faith in the culture much less the adults. Most of our kids leave the church after graduation…yet the church still has it’s head in the sand. Why? Three weeks ago there was an article in our paper about how churchgoers are getting fed up with pastors who are downloading their sermons from the internet. Anyone can print off a sermon and read it to a group of people on Sundays. But it takes skill to be a Bible teacher who can teach towards an understanding of scripture. This is not the same as teaching application and emotional stories. Pastors when will it be a good time to return to teaching revelation in your church?

  8. We moved to our current house exactly because it was near a church that we felt comfortable attending. Back then we were looking for a church with an evangelistic outward focus (very hard to find in our area), solid biblical teaching without legalism, leadership that was involved in spreading the Gospel, concern for fellowship, and opportunities to get involved in ministry. It seems like this should be easy to find, but in a metroplex of millions it took us a year or more to find one.

    Kids programs weren’t too important to us then and are even less so now after reading the book Already Gone. It is about the epidemic of kids leaving the church many never to return. I recommend anyone with kids or grandkids read it.
    .-= Frances´s last blog ..Productivity =-.

    1. @Frances, thanks for the comment, the children’s & youth programs would be lower on our list compared to some of the other things we mention. Primarily because we view discipleship of our children to be our primary responsibility, not the church’s.

  9. Glad to see you’ve got your wish list prioritized into essentials and convictions on one column and preferences on the other.

    With dozens of churches in our region that meet the essentials and convictions list the tipping point was finding the place where we could best give our best back to God.

    Like someone once said “We don’t go to the church of our choice we go to the church of HIS choice.”
    .-= LarryK12309´s last blog ..Oh No! I’ve Been Brainwashed! =-.

  10. Re: Genesis Interpretation

    1. It’s possible to be old earth and take the days of Genesis as literal, as in Genesis “Gap theology”, essentially my position that there was a significant period of time that passed before the beginning of Genesis 1.
    2. The word “death” is subject to interpretation, depending on the context, and the issue of spiritual death is much more significant than physical death, which is merely a biological state.
    3. It’s biologically impossible to not have any death or disease on the whole planet, even during the course of one day.

    If someone is an evangelical I find little to no correlation between their view on Genesis 1 and their commitment to the integrity, infallibility, and inerrancy of Scripture. I think that’s a fallacy propagated in very narrow church circles.

    1. @Tom, I agree with you on a person’s position on Genesis 1, the only position I really would have a problem with is theistic evolution. I don’t like to debate old earth vs. new earth position when both camps should band together and say – “God created.”

      Now regarding disease… we are talking pre-fall, I think much was possible before the fall. After the fall I completely agree with you.

      Also I couldn’t reply directly to your home education comment. I feel the same way. I just don’t want my choice disparaged. Whether a parent chooses public, private, or home education they need to prayerfully discern that what is best for their child. They also need to recognize that they need to be involved in their child’s education regardless what is chosen. I’d be the first to say some families shouldn’t home educate, so I’m not one that thinks everybody should.

      Nor do I want the church to be filled with one particular group.

      1. @Shane Vander Hart, The PCA has a position paper on the Genesis 1 issue that is pretty good. It concludes that there are essentially 4 acceptable views that remain Biblically faithful to an evangelical Reformed orthodoxy.

        1. Calendar Days View (144 hour creation week)
        2. Day = Age View
        3. Framework Hypothesis (Wiew espoused by M. G. Kline and popular with the Westminster California folks.)
        4. Analogical Days View (God’s week is analogous to our week, but not necessarily identical to it.)

        I agree with you on the education thing. We’ve worked hard to encourage folks to make discerning choices, while giving them freedom to make that choice. (We’ve home schooled, public schooled, and Christian schooled our kids.)

  11. No matter what church you pick, you’re going to end up settling for less than what all of you ideally think you want, because that church doesn’t exist anywhere but on your bullet point list. Bullet point lists are useful, don’t take that wrong. They give you a way to define your criteria. But you probably won’t find it. So how much of your list can you live without?

    Also, kids need parents who are growing in their faith, more than they need to be in the best youth group.

    1. @Jack Brooks, Oh, I agree that there is no such thing as a perfect church, and completely agree that parents growing in their faith is far more important than kids being in “the best youth group.”

      When I mean solid, by the way, I’m not referring to flashy, style, particular programs, etc. I’m talking about safe and spiritually mature leadership. In my mind, substance always trumps style, and the church’s children and youth ministries never replace what I am to do.

      I’ll give you an example of what I mean. There is one church we attended where I heard the youth pastor preach and sat listened to a couple of his talks to the kids. No spiritual depth or maturity. It also made me question the discernment of the church that hired him as a youth pastor. I couldn’t see entrusting my kids to him.

  12. Also, and you’re going to think this is a weird piece of advice, but please don’t join a church where the overwhelming majority of the people home-school. “Supportive” is good. “Run by” will be warped and unwell. Sorry if that offends, but I really mean it.

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