This week's question comes from a church shopper. He asks, "How do I go about finding a good church to belong to?"
To answer the question we have to define what a "good" church is. Scripture gives us some benchmarks that can help us decide whether a church is "good" and help us decide whether we would want to associate with it.
The first benchmark of a "good" church is: It is faithful to the commands and the commission of Jesus. Jesus pronounced two commandments that were above all others: "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the greatest and first commandment. And the second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself'" (Matthew 22.37-39). And Jesus gave one commission above all others: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations" (Matthew 28.19).
Now, every church I've ever known assents to the "great commandments" and the "great commission." But few churches have I known that give the commands and the commission priority in their ministries. Any church more concerned with the worship of God than the worship of buildings, denominations, and money; more concerned with loving others than in being "right"; and more concerned with reaching the unchurched than in satisfying the whims of the churched is worth its weight in heavenly gold.
But how can you tell if a church is faithful to the commands and the commission? By noting the second benchmark of a "good" church. The second benchmark is: It is united under a common vision and mission -- and virtually everyone in the church is "onboard" with the vision and the mission (Ephesians 4.11-13).
Recently, I visited a church that was united in its purpose. I spoke with many people in the church and I was struck with one thing -- every single person had one thing in mind: helping the irreligious become committed disciples of Jesus. Every ministry the church did, every worship service the church led, and every program the church sponsored was centered on the question, "Will this inspire the unchurched to become disciples of Jesus?" This unity in vision and mission had enabled the church to make disciples of literally thousands of people, all of whom were just as committed to the vision and the mission of the church as those who had first invited them.
Unity does more than just grow churches, though. A church whose membership is committed to a vision and a mission has neither the time nor the energy to get into destructive conflicts. Unity also creates an atmosphere of harmony and expectation of great things. Therefore, a church unified around a single vision tends to be joyous, excited, and caring.
So, these are the two benchmarks of a "good" church: (1) It's concern is with loving God, loving others, and in making disciples; and (2) the church is united in its vision and mission. These marks will be evident in every church that takes seriously the commands of Jesus Christ.
The sad reality is that many churches do not share a common vision, nor do they take seriously the commands and the commission of Jesus. These churches are marked with conflict, disharmony, frustration, and their ministry focus is on those who are already members of their particular church. The unchurched are welcome, so long as they are willing to conform to the desires of the current membership. It's not that these churches are "bad," but they certainly are not taking seriously the God-given reason for their existence.
So, how do you find a "good" church? Most good churches are growing. They're growing because they're committed to the commands of Jesus, and people are attracted to those whose faith-commitments makes a difference in their lives. So ask around; find out which churches are growing. Then visit, watch, and listen. Ask questions about what the church thinks is important. Find out what motivates the people. And if they meet the benchmarks of a "good" church, you can be sure you've found a church worth joining.