What things should we look for in a church?

What should you look for when shopping for a new church?  This article will, hopefully, answer the question for you or at least give you some important things to think about.  Of course, CARM strongly recommends that people stay away from Mormonism, Jehovah's Witness, Catholicism, etc.  But, with all the thousands of churches, it is impossible to examine each one and make a recommendation.  Add to this that people have different preferences regarding styles of music, traditional or contemporary services, catering to younger or older, etc., and you can see that the job becomes even more difficult.

So, following is a list of things that we would recommend you consider when trying to find a good church to go to.  First, let's look at what the church should have, and second what the church should not have.

What you should expect to find in a good church

  1. Doctrinal Issues:  A good Christian Church should adhere to the essential doctrines of the Christian church including:
    1. The Bible is the inspired Word of God and is the final authority in all that it addresses.
    2. There is only one God in all existence and at all times.
    3. The doctrine of the Trinity that there is one God in three, eternal, and distinct persons.
    4. That Jesus was born of the virgin Mary.
    5. The Deity of Christ, that Jesus Christ is both divine and human and is still a man.
    6. That Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead physically, in a glorified body.
    7. That salvation is by grace through faith alone, not by faith and baptism.
  2. Moral Issues:  It should advocate moral integrity.
    1. It should promote fidelity in marriage.
    2. It should be active and/or supportive of missionary work.
  3. Other Issues:
    1. The preaching must be Christ-centered.

Avoid a church that affirms any of the following

  1. Bad churches are everywhere.  Avoid churches that...
    1. Deny any of the essentials listed above.
      1. Without the essentials of the faith, we have no faith.  If a church denies the Trinity, the physical resurrection of Jesus, etc., then the church is not Christian. 
      2. For more information on essential doctrines of the faith please see The Doctrine Grid and Essential Doctrines of Christianity.
    2. Affirm women pastors and elders.
      1. The Bible tells us that the pastor is an elder (1 Tim. 5:17), and that elders are to be the husband of one wife (Titus 1:5-7, the literal Greek says, 'man of one woman').  Furthermore, Paul tells us in 1 Tim. 2:12-13, "But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. 13 For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve."   Because Paul ties this into the created order, it is not a cultural issue.  If a church misses this plain area of scripture, how can it be trusted to properly interpret other areas?
      2. See the article: Should Women Be Pastors and Elders?
    3. Supports homosexuality in any way.
      1. Obviously, this would be a problem.  Homosexuality is a sin according to scripture.
        1. Lev. 18:22, "You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination."    
        2. 1 Cor. 6:9-10, "Or do you not know that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, 10nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, shall inherit the kingdom of God." 
        3. Rom. 1:26-28, "For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, 27and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error. 28And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper."
      2. See the article: What does the Bible say about homosexuality?
    4. Where unbelievers are being paid to lead in worship.
      1. Worship is an act of adoration where the Christian offers his/her heartful thanks and praise to God.  This is not the place for unbelievers who are getting paid money to lead believers in worship to God.
      2. See the article: Should unbelievers lead Christians in worship in a church service?
    5. Require baptism for salvation.
      1. Salvation is by faith in Christ and nothing else.  Romans 4:1-6 clearly teaches us that justification before God is by faith, not by faith and any ceremony. 
      2. See the article: Is Baptism Necessary for Salvation?
    6. That teach full preterism.
      1. Full Preterism is the teaching that all things prophesied in the Bible concerning Jesus' return have been fulfilled, including the return of Christ and the resurrection.  Full Preterism is unbiblical.
    7. That teach universalism
      1. Universalism is the teaching that all people will eventually be saved.  This is a serious error since it contradicts God's word in several places:  Matt. 25:46; Mark 3:29; Rev. 14:11; Rev. 20:10.
    8. That promote legalism.
      1. Legalism is the excessive application of the law of God to the Christian life, where one's standing before God and community are based on how well a person keeps God's laws.  Often legalists require certain kinds of dress, not watching movies or certain TV shows, etc.  They often impose their views on other Christians and judge them according to that standard.
    9. That promote positive confession.
      1. Positive Confession is the erroneous teaching in some churches that the atonement of Christ bought us health and wealth, and that if a person is sick or poor it is because that person lacks proper faith.
      2. Avoid churches that support teaches such as Kenneth Copeland, Joyce Meyer, Benny Hinn, etc.
    10. That preaches moralism.
      1. Moralism is preaching morality for the sake of morality.  It is like saying "Be honest because being honest is the right thing to do."  This is wrong.  It should be something like this, "We should be honest because God has bought us with his blood and has redeemed us from sin.  Because of the cross and God's great gift of salvation in Jesus, we should then be honest." 
      2. When moralism is the message, Christ is not at the center.  When Christ is not at the center, then the preaching becomes idolatrous.
    11. That the Church your considering focuses on itself
      1. This one is more difficult to discover until you've been there a while. Sometimes churches elevate themselves as "God's church," or the "right place for you to be," etc. Sometimes the staff of a particular church talk about special things that happen at "their" church and how "their" church helps people.  Instead, the church should focus on Jesus.
    12. Soul Sleep
      1. Soul sleep is a false doctrine held by some Christians. It is the position that when a person dies he does not exist anymore, or is in a state of unconscious it continued existence because he is separated from his body. Then later on he will be reunited with his body and enjoyed existence with God or be annihilated.  It is aberrant at best.

Debatable Issues

  1. Romans 14:1-12 tells us not to judge a person on debatable issues.  We must be careful to continue in fellowship with other believers and not pass judgment on debatable issues.  Such issues are:
    1. Can you lose your salvation?
      1. This one is important only if they teach that you must be good in order to stay saved.  Then, that is a false gospel since it means they are keeping themselves saved, by compliance with the Law.
    2. Should we worship on Saturday, Sunday, or any other day?
    3. Is the rapture pre, mid, or post tribulation?
    4. Which is the correct view on the end times: Amillennialism, Premillenialism, or Post Millennialism?

Questions to ask when considering a church

  1. How big or small is the church?
  2. How far away is it?
  3. Is the church Christ-centered in its preaching?
  4. What style of worship do you like?
  5. What time does the service begin and end?
  6. How often is communion offered?
  7. Is there Sunday School?
  8. Does it have mid-week Bible studies?
  9. Does it have child care?
  10. Does the church allow children in the sanctuary during service?
  11. Has there been a church split recently?  If so, why?
  12. Does it support missionaries?




About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.