Looking for a Church? (part 1) Don’t Judge on Superficials

Churches Rochester NY_08

Often people will describe a church by saying, "The church is just like Northridge!" What that really means is that on the surface, it looks like Northridge in some of the following ways:

  • Casual dress
  • Contemporary music
  • Quality videos
  • Use of large screens
  • Friendly toward guests
  • A lot of younger families
  • It is a multi-site church

Churches Rochester NY_09

Here is what I always want to say when people say they visited a church "just like Northridge." I start with "What do you mean? How is it like Northridge?" Almost always, they answer with some of the descriptions above. It is important to know that the list above is quite superficial. They may reveal a heart for the Great Commission, or they could reveal a desire to be "cool" or just following what is popular. In other words, don't read too much into those superficial similarities. Just because many churches share those similarities doesn't mean they are "just like" each other. The things listed above are not the most important things when looking for a church. They may be (or may not be) the "icing" on the biblical cake of looking for a church, but they are not the most crucial things you should be looking for.

So – if you ever are in the position of looking for a church – what should you be looking for? What do you think? I'd love to hear some of your thoughts. Feel free to comment on my blog, on my Facebook page, or just reply by email. If you'd rather not have your response published, just tell me that in your reply email.

What should you be looking for in a church? And don't "just" say "Preaches the Bible." Doesn't every church claim they preach the Bible?

Churches Rochester NY_01

  1. I think one should ask about the church’s statement of faith, also
    do they believe the bible is the inerrant word of God.
    Ask for the church’s mission statement; is that something that
    you and your family want to support.

  2. Looking for a church should require visiting a new place at least three times. I believe the most important feature to look for is preaching and practices which are centered on pleasing God, and NOT on solving life’s problems. This seems on the surface to be counter-intuitive when it comes to ministering to seekers who do not yet know/love God, but when a non believing visitor leaves a good church he should be saying “wow, who is this Jesus these people love and serve so joyfully?” NOT “gee, maybe the Bible teaching at this church has the answers to making me happier…” Cultural relevance, the way we dress and the kind of music played, use of media, these are all features which help us ensure that it is the gospel only that may offend or “turn off” a visitor. These are features that should and will change with time… but the concept that we are made to serve God, and not the other way around… that’s timeless.

  3. What I look for in a church is excellent leadership qualities, to be challenged spiritually in the preaching and teaching, to learn more information about the Bible, the Culture, how it all connects and relates, and a pastor who is gifted in articulating those truths of the Bible in a very understandable way. A church that clearly give the impression to all that it is safe to come as you are, and embraces everybody when they come exactly as they are.A church that takes the Great Commission seriously and shows evidence of that. For me it’s also very important for it to be obvious that the Body of Christ , the church congregation, really is looking out for each other, exhibits love for each other and care for each other. I need a place that won’t compromise the truth of the Bible but does it in a very loving way. Also what I look for is evidence in the lives & behaviors of the leadership and pastors that they are the real deal, meaning not perfect by any means but that they are transparent, clearly have a deep love for Jesus, and that Jesus is exhibited through their behaviour and in their lives pretty consistently.

  4. I guess when I consider a church to be similar to Northridge it would have these qualities: there would be a high focus on creating more and better disciples (growing responsibly), high appreciation for Acts16:5, The pastors of the church may not always be 100% positive on exactly what the best interpretation of tough passages are but they would all agree that the Bible is the Word of God and the Word of God is 100% true, The music would primarily focus on exulting Jesus for what he did on the cross and what He continues to do for us every day. Obedience to God’s will would be strongly encouraged & for those struggling there would be resources made available. The church would promote autonomy in learning more than just what is taught on Sunday mornings. Membership would be important to this church – and holding each other accountable and helping each other & chasing after those who wander. The church would do everything with excellence and model that excellence by example for its congregation and especially it’s volunteers. The church would need to be unwavering in its commitment to reach the lost – I think if a church looks like that I may consider it to look a lot like Northridge

  5. Here were some things we considered when looking here in Roc.

    We actually visited two churches during the job interview weekend…

    Prior to picking those two to visit, we went online and read the doctrinal statements of both churches. That was important to us. A lot of times, these statements are more vague…not like the old times when people would post the 1689 confession of faith on their site under “what we believe.”

    Maybe it’s because my dad is a pastor, but I always want to meet/communicate with the pastor(s) of the church. You may recall me emailing you after my first visit.

    Beyond doctrinal statement and leadership, here are a few things we were looking for:

    * Do people sing like they’ve been redeemed?
    * Is the singing centered on Christ, the cross, and God’s character?
    * Will my kids receive sound teaching?
    * Does the church practice church discipline?
    * Multi-generational: Ideally, we’re in a church full of young families and really old mature believers who can impart wisdom.
    Community-focused, not program driven

    The superficial things you mentioned in the post were interesting to me. Most of the way Northridge does those superficial things doesn’t appeal to me personally. However, I know that for many others, it can be one of many things (big screens, contemporary music, videos) that make newcomers feel welcome and keep them coming back. Also, Northridge has been one of the few churches I’ve attended that I’ve actually invited unsaved friends to. Sad, but true. So although I don’t love all the “superficial” things (contemporary music, big screens, videos, etc), the Lord has used those things to break through some prideful cynicism on my part. I’m learning to take a chill pill.

  6. Other things I’d look for in a church:

    1. Who are they playing to.. God or people?
    We tried a church in Florida “like Northridge” . In a movie theater, friendly greeters, free bagels, good band.. BUT… Some things said from the stage were not things I expected to hear in church. It felt like they were trying too hard to be “culturally cool” and not so “God cool”.
    We didn’t go back the 2nd year.

    2. Leadership
    I would definitely look for a team approach, how they interact.. Is it expected that everyone contributes and is valued and provides accountability to each other vs. a “one man, follow the leader ” type organization. Are they part of the people, or set apart from the people? Are they “real”? All affect the culture and dynamics of the church.

    3. Financial management
    If they teach a program like Financial Peace, do they follow the same principles in the church? Can you respect their stewardship?

    4. Outreach
    Are they reaching out to people or relying on costly gimmicks to get people to come to them? I just don’t think those gimmicks work. You may get people to come for the gimmick, but what will keep them there?

    Unfortunately it takes a while to unveil all these things, and by then you’ve made some connections and started to develop relationships, so it makes it a little harder to pull away. And if you do pull away it can have some negative feedback… Like, people think you’re not really committed to your faith, or you’re a church hopper. Not always true. I left a church because I was desperate for my faith. And , Thank The Lord , I landed at Northridge! Best move ever!

  7. I think I’ve probably been guilty of asking too many questions too quickly. That said, how does one find a lot of this stuff out before moving to a new area? My move was in many ways contingent on me finding a church that met many of the criteria you’ve listed in the previous posts.

  8. Aaron – 

    I was thinking of you when I wrote part 4! haha… but in a good way… So (maybe this should be part 5) here are a couple of thoughts:

    1) I dont it is BAD to ask questions early (or even before attending), but it does make you suspicious. BUT that is MY problem – not yours. That is what I have to work through – not you. In reality – 25% of those that ask questions early and often end up being GREAT additions to our church. It is the 75% that can wear me out. Again, thats MY problem – not yours. I wrote that just helping those who may move and begin looking for another church.

    2) Although anyone asking questions may draw suspicion from guys like me (What is your motive?) – those suspicions are QUICKLY overcome by involvement and commitment. 

    3) Ultimately, the 75% are looking for a perfect church (which doesnt exist)… The 25% are just looking for a church that agrees with their theology and methodology that they could fully embrace and jump into. The 25% realize they are joining the church. The 75% often think they are asking the church to join THEM. 

    4) A lot also has to do with our target. Our target is people far from God. We arent looking to add members from other churches in the area. ALTHOUGH it is good that happens… we NEED to be adding mature Christians too. If we only add new believers we will quickly be in trouble with not enough leaders to disciple them. It is easy for us to forget that in the process. When God brings mature people our way – it is a HUGE blessing!!

    5) You had a HUGE advantage because of your background. I knew where you graduated from and someone on our staff knew your reputation in college. So I never viewed you suspiciously… Again, that isnt fair to others, but it is reality.

    So – what is the solution? I dont know that there is one. I just think the longer someone waits – the less suspiciously they will be viewed. I think they can risk being viewed suspiciously if they want to ask questions early to find a church quickly in their move.

    Finally, I totally agree with you – making sure there is a good church BEFORE a move. Im surprised at how rare that is. If i were moving – Id be asking questions too. I would just have to know that probably the one I ask questions of MAY be viewing me suspiciously, but I also would be confident that that suspicion wont last long and Im ok with it.

    I dont know if that makes sense or not. 

    I guess part of my fear in writing What to Look for in a Church may give people too much courage to ask the questions I suggest and they may end up asking MY questions and not be able to dialogue about WHY those questions are important. And if they cant explain WHY church discipline is important, they will be viewed even MORE suspiciously than just asking questions. 

    I hope that all makes sense… 🙂


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