People have many different reasons for searching out a new church to attend. Moving into a new area, returning to church after many years of not going or dissatisfaction with the current church all lead people to look for a new church home. The things people desire in a church are even more varied than the reasons they search in the first place. Every one has a different opinion about what is important in a church. Some look for a good kids ministry, others for a music program they like. Some look for vibrant ministries for singles, others for an active seniors group. Some look for a place to serve, others for a place to blend in. Some look for a dynamic preacher, others for friends. The list could go on and on.
The Bible teaches several things that are essential to a healthy church. These are the kinds of things Christians should make most important in their search criteria. The following things are in no particular order, but each are essential for a Biblical church.
Look for a church that holds to true, Biblical doctrine. The Bible places a high priority on proper doctrine. From the very beginning of the church the believers continued in “the apostles doctrine.” (Acts 2:42) Many of the letters in the New Testament were written to correct doctrinal errors in churches. The pastor of the church in Ephesus, Timothy, was instructed to give careful attention to doctrine. A church that teaches contrary to the Bible, especially about salvation, should never be a Christian’s church home.
Jesus gave two rituals to the church: baptism and communion. These two things are not optional. The timing or frequency of the Lord’s Supper is never addressed in the Bible. Jesus commanded “this do in remembrance of Me.” Jesus commissioned His disciples to “teach all nations, baptizing them.” A church which never has communion or does not practice baptism is not being obedient to the clear commands of Jesus.
The church that continued in the apostles doctrine also continued in prayer. Prayer is a major theme running throughout the Bible. Prayer was modeled, taught and commanded by Jesus. Nearly every book in the New Testament addresses prayer. Prayer is commanded for the individual and for the church body. A church that will not pray together is unhealthy and as substantial as a movie set.
God has also given clear guidelines regarding the character of those who will lead in the church. The Christian must look for a church whose pastors reflect the Biblical character, morals and doctrine described in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. The Christian must look for a church whose deacons are the kind of men described in 1 Timothy 3 and Acts 6. While no leader will be perfect, the leadership of the church should meet the New Testament qualifications for leaders.
A church that does not teach the Word is not a church. The New Testament church placed a priority on preaching. Believers gathered together to hear the preaching of the Word. The pastor is required to have the ability to teach and preach. Pastors are commanded to preach the Word when it is well received and to preach the Word when it is rejected. New Testament preaching is not motivational speaking, political campaigning, opinionated tirades or how-to speeches. The New Testament defines Biblical preaching as reading Scripture, explaining Scripture and applying Scripture to life (1 Timothy 4:13). Believers ought to seek for a church which preaches the Word.
Singing is also a necessary part of the gathering of the church. Though music style is a concern and of great importance to many, the style of music is not most important. What is most important is that the music ministry function in a way that praises God (Ephesians 5:19) and that teaches and encourages believers (Colossians 3:16). Congregational singing can never replace preaching, but when the church gathers it must teach itself through song. Christians ought to look for a church that sings together, that sings praises to God and that sings songs which teach Biblical truth.
The fellowship of the church is essential for a healthy church and for healthy Christians. This fellowship goes deeper than mere friendliness, though it seems hard to imagine how an unfriendly church can have genuine fellowship. Fellowship among believers is a joining together in harmony and humility for the purpose of promoting individual and corporate growth in Christlikeness. Christians ought to look for a church which will help them be more like Jesus (Ephesians 4:15).
The Great Commission commands every believer, including church leaders, to teach the gospel to the unsaved. The New Testament reveals that the preaching of the gospel was a regular part of the gathering of the church. A church that refuses to give the gospel can not legitimately claim to be a church. Christians must be part of a church which teaches the gospel, preaches the gospel and challenges every believer to proclaim the gospel to others.
Additional, important prioriteis could be mentioned, but what these criteria have in common is submission to the authority of the Bible. More than anything else, Christians must be a part of a church that submits to the Bible as the sole authority for its teaching, its practice, and its thinking. Christians need to seek a church that is clearly built on the Word of God.
Many other personal preferences weigh on people’s minds when they are evaluating a church. Many things seem important at the time, but care must be taken to ensure the Biblical things remain most important. A church can survive with a weak children’s ministry, but it is no church if it is not obedient to the Bible. Christians can be edified with a less than exciting music ministry, but a Christian will be malnourished if he attends a church which does not teach and follow the Bible.