Having served God‘s people now for many years, one of the things that I have helped many people do is to find a new church when they move away from our church and to a new city. If you are reading this you may be currently looking for a new church here in Pensacola or you may be moving out of the area. Either way I hope this post is helpful to your search.
I of course am biased to my own church but know that God has different places of worship that have different emphases or styles. How can you decide which congregation to join?
Well, there will be some obvious things to tick off. If you're looking for a particular denomination or worship style, that will probably be the way you start to narrow down your options. Recommendations from friends, family and previous churches can also be a good guide. With those things taken into account, what should we be looking for in a new church?
1) A place that is sound in faith. With so many churches how do you know which ones are truly sound in beliefs? The tone of the preacher himself? There should be truth that is spoken in grace, not harshness nor compromise.
Another place to look is at a church’s statement of faith. Do they believe that the Bible is innerant and the only trustworthy guide to live our lives by? Is Jesus truly focused on as Lord and Savior and the only way to be saved? What about the present day work of the Holy Spirit in doing the works that Jesus did as well as his first disciples?
Solid beliefs build solid people.
Beyond that, there should be sample sermons on each churches website. How much is the Bible actually referred to in what is being preached?
2) A place where you feel welcomed. It's incredibly simple, but a vital point nonetheless. A warm smile as you enter the church for a service can make or break the whole experience. Yet there's more to a good welcome than that. Do people who aren't part of the official 'welcome team' come and say hello? If so, that's a good sign.
Aspects of the service itself can be welcoming (or not!) as well. If you're unfamiliar with what usually happens, then clear instructions, either written or verbal, can go a long way to making you feel at home. No one wants to be the person who joins the wrong line while waiting to receive communion or the person who stands up at the wrong point in the proceedings!
3) A place you feel comfortable. This is related to point one, but is about much more than being welcomed. A church in which you can be comfortable will look different depending on your personality and what stage you are at on your faith journey.
Some people will want a smaller church while others like larger. Still others will be looking for a more contemplative, quiet way of experiencing God. Style of worship is very personal.
A place where you can be comfortable isn't just somewhere where you have a 'nice' experience. It's somewhere that encourages you to grow in your depth of understanding and your spiritual walk.
4) A place that doesn't let you stay comfortable. Having said comfort is important, it's important that we don't get too comfortable. There can, of course, be a number of ways in which churches do this. Some churches tend to fall into a pattern of doing things that remains static and too similar from week to week. It isn't just liturgical churches that can suffer from this problem – any form of church can become routine.
A church that doesn't challenge you to engage with the Gospel afresh isn't going to be a place which helps you along the path of discipleship. This doesn't mean there needs to be controversial preaching every week or daringly experimental music. However, an attitude of relying on the Spirit to prompt proceedings will probably mean that there is a level of discomfort which is good. Think of it like the grit which gets into an oyster – without it there would be no pearl.
5) A place that is outward focused. This may look very different in different contexts but one trait the best churches all share in common is an attitude not just of welcome, but of reaching out beyond themselves. Churches tend over time to become inward and cliquish. The question is does the leadership continually seek to point the people out toward a lost and broken world that needs Christ?
A church that is taking Jesus' seriously will be reaching out into its community to tell people the good news of the gospel as well as being actively engaged in doing works of mercy.
None of these five points is a silver bullet. Finding a new church can still be a tricky task. But armed with this checklist, some recommendations and some prayer – you could be well on your way to finding your new church home...