“If I wanted to go to a nightclub, I would go to a nightclub!” my great aunt commented after attending a service at the fastest growing mega-church in the country. “The only thing they didn’t do was serve drinks!”
She has very a clear picture of what a church is and isn’t, but she’s not alone. We all have different ideas of what a church should look like. Today’s church culture is as diverse as ever, offering formats to suit practically anyone. On the surface, this is a great thing. People are finding safe places where they can worship and find community with like-minded believers.
But with so many options and so many different styles, it can be easy to bounce from church to church, never really finding what you’re looking for. There is no such thing as a perfect church—each one has its positive and negative aspects. And just because a church has a few things that rub you the wrong way doesn’t mean you should pack up.
The decision to commit to a church may have many different factors—and ultimately requires a lot of prayer, but here are a few questions to ask as you work through the decision:
1. Is This Church Fostering True Spiritual Growth?
Whatever it may be—worship, community, mission opportunities, etc. Are you getting the things that are going to help you grow in your relationship with God?
This may look different for different people. While it seems like all Christians would grow in the same things, that isn’t always true. This is where we have to decide the things that are most important to us in a church, and the only person that can tell us that is ourselves.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re in the wrong church if the worship set or the sermon doesn’t blow your mind every week, but it does mean you should search for a church that regularly and clearly preaches the Gospel and God’s Word—that challenges you to grow and helps provide some resources to do so.
2. Are There Opportunities to Serve and Use My God-Given Abilities?
God calls us to serve Him with the special gifts and talents He has given us. Some people are natural-born leaders and teachers, which are vital to any church. However, not every church needs sound engineers and videographers. Finding a place where your spiritual gifts are needed and valued in the operation of the church means that you truly become a part of the body.
However, this doesn’t mean a guitar player should automatically cross First Baptist Church of [Insert Name of Small Southern Town Here] off the list of churches to visit and consider joining. Maybe the general Sunday morning congregation doesn’t care for anything that isn’t an organ, but the youth group might need someone to help lead more contemporary worship on Wednesday nights. Perhaps the church is open to new kinds of worship but there isn’t anyone that can actually lead it. Finding opportunities to initiate new opportunities and growth in a church can be just as important.
3. Does This Church Value Community?
After growing up in a traditional church where we sang out of a hymnal and had intense (and many times ridiculous) business meetings, I was craving something different when I went off to college.
Soon after I moved, I found a less traditional church. The music was awesome, the pastor was challenging, and nobody was complaining about how much the church was spending on toilet paper. It was a welcome change.
However, as time went on, I realized that the church that I thought would give me exactly what I wanted didn’t give me what I had taken for granted before: a close-knit community. I can’t say that I missed the politics or the traditional worship style, but I missed being surrounded by people who encouraged me and genuinely cared for me throughout the week—not just on Sunday. I eventually decided that it was worth more than the contemporary music and casual atmosphere.
A church is supposed to be a body, and community is the place where real growth, change and reaching the world truly take place.
The Larger Body
Along with the individual bodies of believers in different churches, we also need to remember that every church is part of the Body of Christ spread across the globe.
Of course we’re going to disagree on some doctrine and worship style and methods of evangelism and whatever else, but writing off other churches as “old, closed-minded people that can’t handle change” or “meddlin’ kids that just want to go to a concert every Sunday,” is ignoring the larger picture.
We so often let the way other people like to worship dictate our opinions about them and their faith, and it is a two-sided coin. Shouldn’t we respect that our parents and grandparents grew up doing things a certain way that they like? Shouldn’t we be glad that young people are hearing the Gospel and worshipping God, even if that involves lights and electric guitars? More importantly, shouldn’t we love and respect each other simply because we are brothers and sisters in Christ?
While you’re seeking a church that works for you, remember that being a part of the body of Christ means that we are all on the same team. Loving one another, praying for each other and listening to each other shouldn’t depend on what kind of church service we like to attend. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12:12, “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ.”
Tucker is a journalism student at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina. He loves to travel and hopes to one day take Anthony Bourdain's job. Follow him on Twitter @tucker_ficklin.Ê