By Chad Napier, Crosswalk.com
Many of us are blessed with a comfortable Christ-centered church, which we have attended for years and possibly decades. In these church families, we know all the members, the staff, the pastor, the pastor’s family, and most of the regular visitors. Additionally, we are familiar with the format of the services, such as when to stand, when to sit, and how communion is observed.
These ‘comforts’ may seem commonplace or non-critical, but when you’re visiting a church, and these comforts aren't all necessarily the same, it can feel unsettling.
All Christians worship the same God, but in many different fashions.
I was raised in a Baptist church, but one Sunday both my parents had to work so I went to church with my Pentecostal baby-sitter. I was only ten years old, but I still remember my wide-eyed and uncomfortable feeling. I was unaccustomed to the dancing, the shouting, and the music, which included the usage of drums and tambourines. This church was located within my hometown so I knew many of the attendees. But you can imagine how one feels when visiting a new church in a new town, where there are no familiar faces.
My wife and I are still members and attend Sunday services in our hometown. However, since we are unable to make the one-hour drive on Wednesdays, we searched out a local church where we now live for a mid-week prayer and bible study. Neither of us knew anyone within the community who was active within a local church so out searching we went.
Even as Christians, it’s helpful to accept that visiting a church for the first time is an awkward and possibly intimidating process. So, to help ease the discomfort, here are a few ideas to keep in mind when choosing what feels best for you and your loved ones:
1. Research their professed beliefs.
The most important consideration to look for in a new church is one which shares your beliefs. In past decades, you could look at the denomination and its designation would tell the visitor all he or she needed to know. However, with the advent of “progressive” churches bucking the standard beliefs of denominations, one must go a step further in research.
Most churches with a website will have a section devoted to “beliefs” which outline exactly its positions on salvation, marriage, membership, and baptism.
2. Search for a denomination if you prefer, and watch a video of their service online.
Are you looking for a particular denomination? If so, you can safely do a Facebook or internet search of the local churches of your desired denomination. The church will include service times and generally you can gather its style from the videos posted.
Some church websites include audio recordings from past sermons and videos of entire services. These are helpful in many areas: the style of the preaching, length of messages, and the energy of the congregation.
Watching a video of a Sunday service will save you wasting a Sunday by making a trip to a church which is nothing like what you are looking for.
3. Look for a worship style you enjoy.
Are you looking for a church with a traditional or contemporary worship service? Many churches offer both styles of services. The sermons are usually the same for both services, but one service will offer contemporary songs while hymns are the music in the other.
4. Consider what congregation size feels best to you.
Many of us desire a smaller, more intimate congregation in which the members desire to know each other personally. Others prefer a large congregation where small groups allow for personal interaction or the ability to remain anonymous and unattached.
5. Check out the church’s social media to see if you’ll feel comfortable in what you like to wear to church.
Do you prefer to dress in a more relaxed fashion or don the old school suit and tie for men and dresses which fall below the knee for women? Generally, if the service is labeled “contemporary,” the congregation will be wearing blue jeans or khakis. Again, a thorough review of the church via its social media page/s will usually let you know what kind of dress is expected.
6. If you have children, ask about the variety and type of youth offerings.
If you have children, a great consideration will be made as to the type of youth offerings within the church. Many Christian parents desire an active youth group. Some parents want “children’s church” for their younger children.
7. Inquire about pastor turnover.
This consideration usually reflects the stability of the church. If the church has been through pastors like the University of Tennessee has been through coaches of its football team, you may want to further inquire. There is probably an underlying reason the church can’t keep a pastor. If so, you will want to ask questions.
8. Discern if there are opportunities for service that would fit with your gifts or passions.
Does the church have areas or positions in which you will have the opportunity to serve if you so desire? Many of us have been active in our previous church and desire to continue service at our new locale.
Of course, the new church will want you to establish yourself before turning the keys over to you.
However, you will want to consider how active the church is before considering attending. If you are a Sunday School teacher, but the church doesn’t offer Sunday School, you may want to look on.
What does the biblical church look and feel like?
Colossians 3:16 teaches that the model church should be full of preaching, teaching, and the singing of psalms with a thankful heart. The scripturally-based church doesn’t cater to the changing winds of society. In 2 Timothy 3:16-17, we are taught the word should be preached in season and out of season. It should be used to “reprove, rebuke, and exhort.”
While there is no ‘perfect church,’ a friendly church is a great foundation. In Ephesians 1:19, Paul taught we “are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” with “Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone.” The model church should uplift Christ and provide a place of worship with our fellow brothers and sisters. There are no big “I’s” and little “you’s” in this church.
People desire a church full of encouragement.
In 1 Thessalonians 5:11, believers are told to lift and build one another up. Our world in general is full of disappointments and spiritual “beat downs.” The church is a safe haven for downtrodden and the broken hearted.
We are each there for renewed strength and to strengthen those who worship with us.
The model church doesn’t have any walls and reaches out into the community.
James 1:27 noted that pure Christian love directs us to “visit orphans and widows in their affliction.” The ministry of the biblical church reaches outside the four walls of the sanctuary. There are many who are unable to attend services because of a providential hindrance.
The Christ-centered church is a giving organism.
Paul wrote in Acts 2:44-47 about the church who sold their possession and belongings and distributed the proceeds to those in need. It’s fine if the church house is one of the most beautiful structures in the community, but resources must be devoted to “beautify” the souls within the community. The Lord added to the church which worshipped within its walls, then went out and fed those in need.
The model church should exemplify and believe in the power of Christ.
Paul in 2 Timothy 3:5, taught us to avoid those “having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.” Churches who believe in the power of Jesus are healing churches. In James 5:14, the sick are to call upon the elders of the church “and let them pray over [us] and anoint with “oil in the name of the Lord.”
Bible-centered churches believe in the healing power not of themselves, but as instruments of the power of Christ; and use the laying of hands on the sick by its elders.
Chad Napier is a believer in Christ, attorney at law, wannabe golfer, runner, dog lover, and writer. He enjoys serving his church as a deacon and Sunday School teacher. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, and at his golf devotion par3sixteen.com. He and his wife Brandi reside in Tennessee with their canine son Alistair.
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