Little did I know when I gave my life to the Lord Jesus Christ in 1988 that I would spend the next twenty years moving around the country. From 1989 to 1996, most of my moves were related military service and from 1999 through 2011, the moves have been job related. During that time, I have moved nearly twelve times. One of the first things I would do after a move was to try to find a good church home. At first, I had a very simple way of choosing churches that didn’t always work, but over time I discovered that there were things that I could look for in the churches I visited to help me find a good church home. While these may not work for everyone, these things have helped me find good church homes where I had opportunities to serve, to spiritually grow, and make some life-long friendships with other believers.
Church attendance is really that important. The apostle Paul wrote, Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching (Hebrews 10:25) as guidance to the importance of church attendance and fellowship. He also strongly suggested the importance of church membership in describing how the local New Testament church is similar to a body: For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him. And if they were all one member, where were the body? But now are they many members, yet but one body (I Corinthians 12:12-20). Just as we do not see tribes of fingers or toes living separate lives apart from the body, God never intended Christians to exist in isolation from other Christians. Church membership provides the believer a place to belong, a function and duties to do, and a body to give the spiritual support and encouragement to face the trials, temptations, and hardships of the world.
Never join a church on the first visit. This sounds almost too simple to be true, but yes, I had to learn this lesson the hard way. Being a young Christian, I believed that the first church I visited was the one that I was being led to by the Holy Spirit rather than simply coming across their name first. While it is right and in my opinion necessary and proper for a Christian to be a member of a local church, it does not mean that you must join the first church you visit. Not all churches are the same, even if they are in the same denomination. What I learned and works for me is to make at least six visits to the church before I make the decision to join. I attend as many of the prospective church’s services as they have and my schedule allows me to attend – this includes Sunday morning and evening services, Sunday School, Wednesday night service, and any special event that occurs during the time I am visiting. The reason for this is because you can really get a sense about the spiritual growth and standing of a church on what the church is doing.
As a Christian, I want to attend a church that is not only doctrinally sound, but is also going to be able to help me grow as a man and as a Christian. I do not want to be a member of a “show church” where the spirituality and fellowship is fake. Unfortunately, any church can put on a good show for Sunday morning service. During the evening and Wednesday night services, when the core membership attends, is where you are going to discover the nature of the church. You’ll quickly learn if the hospitality was genuine, if their warmth was real, and if they truly strive to serve the Lord.
Set out to visit churches with the expressed purpose to learn about their faith. Being a Baptist, when I was a much younger and naïve Christian, I assumed that any church that had “Baptist” in the title would be a good choice. What I found out is that there are as many different Baptist churches as Baskin-Robbins has ice cream flavors. I quickly learned the importance of having a relatively open mind about the non-doctrinal differences of the various churches. So what if they have their AM worship service before the Sunday School classes? Who cares that they do not have a regular choir or use a certain hymnal, or even have Sunday School classes the way the last church did? These are minor things, and while may seem strange to a visitor, actually serve the needs of that particular congregation. What is important are the bigger issues – does the pastor or preacher teach sound doctrine? Does the congregation’s attitudes towards visitors show the love of the Lord Jesus Christ? Are a majority of the members sincere in their devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ and their Christian faith? When choosing a church to join it is more important to join a local church that will encourage spiritual growth more so than one that simply makes you feel good to attend.
For me, I need hard Bible preaching and teaching. I need to hear about the importance of continuing the fight against the flesh and resisting the temptations of the devil. I’ve attended churches that made me feel good, only to discover that there was little to no spiritual growth in my life and I know that there are many that read this blog that also have had similar experiences. It is not from the comfort of a church pew and soft feel-good sermons that brings about spiritual maturity. It is the Holy Spirit, through personal Bible study, prayer, Christian fellowship, and strong preaching of the Word of God that prepares us for spiritual growth.