My friend and I were talking, knowing that his final Sunday was coming, and he asked if I knew of any "good" churches in the city where he is being relocated. I thought about the churches and pastors that I was familiar with in the area and began to list them one by one describing what I thought to be their strengths and weaknesses. He was familiar with some of the churches from co-workers, had visited a few already, and I could tell that he was rather nervous about starting the process of looking for a new church home. We walked away from each other with a promise to pray, "put out feelers," and keep in touch.
I have thought a lot about what my friend will go through as he and his family search for a new home after being such an important part of such a close-knit church family for over a decade. I couldn't help but relive some of the anxiety, frustration and discouragement that I experienced when I had to look for a church as a college student. After nearly 13 years at my home church, my father accepted a call to a church in another state and I had to start the search for a new church all by myself. I'll never forget it. I tried large churches and small churches. I visited churches with my friends and a few by myself. I visited contemporary churches and traditional churches and one that I'm not even sure they knew what they were. I even snuck into one that wasn't a Baptist church.
I finally felt the Lord leading me to one particular church, so I joined and became involved with the college ministry. It was a great church that has an important place in my life. It was in this church that I accepted God's call to ministry during a Wednesday evening Bible study and my fiancée, now my wife, was baptized. Looking back I'm not sure that I realized at the time just how important of a decision I was making as a college student, but my choice in what church to join has had a great impact on my life.
No doubt there are those reading this who are facing a similar situation, searching for a new church home. As a pastor I know that it can be a difficult and rather scary process. So, with that in mind, I want to share some practical, pastoral and biblical suggestions that I believe will help those who find themselves having to find a new church home.
When your family looks for a church:
-- It should be a biblical church. I know, that should be a redundant statement, but sadly it's not. The church you plant your life and family into should be a church that believes and teaches the Bible. It shouldn't view the Bible as just another form of literature, or as a good place to start a self-help speech, but as God's Word to us. It should preach and teach the "whole counsel of God" -- both the Old and the New Testament and should seek to apply the truth of Scripture to your life. As a preacher, I might add that I believe it will be highly beneficial for the spiritual health of your family for the Bible to be preached with power and authority.
-- It should be an accountable church. A "good" church is a family, one in which members are held accountable and responsible for their walk with Jesus and their witness in the world. There should be a system that encourages godly living and disciplines those who sin and refuse to repent. Recently I ran into one of our former members involved in a practice that would not be accepted if he were still a leader. In talking with a man who discipled him as a younger man, I was told, "If he were still here he wouldn't be living that way." There is such a thing as a healthy and holy peer pressure that comes from being involved in a Christ-centered church that helps us hold one another accountable.
-- It should be an evangelistic church. There should be an evident passion to reach people for Jesus. It should be easily seen in everything the church does. Every event, every ministry should be led by people who love the lost and are personal soul winners. The women's events should be done to bring friends to Jesus. The men's fellowships should be done for the purpose of seeing men come to Christ. The youth and children's ministries should be sowing seeds and seeing a harvest of young hearts. The hallways and highways around the church should resound with the cries of new babes who are being born into the Kingdom of God. When a church is an evangelistic church there will be a life and excitement that will be evident in anything and everything that it does.
-- It should be discipling church. Evangelism is important, but the church's mission doesn't stop there. Look for a church that seeks to develop every member of your family, from the youngest to the oldest, in your walk with Jesus. There should be a plan and passion to move every member along in their knowledge of the Bible and what it really means to be a Christian man or woman. You see, where there is life there will be growth. The church should reach people and then build people into fully mature, reproducing followers of Christ.
-- It should be a caring church. The church that will care for you and your family is a church that really cares about people -- all people. It supports those who are weak, helps those who are hurting and lifts those who are discouraged. It doesn't seek only to minister to the affluent and attractive, but also the poor and needy.
Now, obviously there is no perfect church. In fact -- as is often said -- if you find a perfect church, don't join it; you'll mess it up. However, these are what I believe to be very important characteristics of a "good" church that would be "good" for you and your family. Keep these in mind as you visit and search for a church to call "home," and when you find a church you feel the Lord leading you to join, jump in with both feet. Get involved. Serve where you are gifted and in ministries for which you have a passion. Be faithful and positive, forgiving and helpful. You never know just how great of an impact your church choice will have on your life and the life of your family.
Brad Whitt is senior pastor of the Temple Baptist Church in Simpsonville, SC. This column first appeared at his website, BradWhitt.com. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter(@BaptistPress), Facebook(Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email(baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
Copyright (c) 2012 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press www.BPNews.net