This has been a question I have been asked not just through the blog, but even more recently in my church by those visiting. It is a common scenario. You move to a new area. You get settled at your new residence and job. You get the kids settled in school. Where you settle in a local church often times becomes a longer, more drawn out task. After checking out all the churches you desire to visit, here are some questions to ask yourself as you narrow the search to make a decision.
Is this a church where my family will be regularly fed by God’s Word? This is the first question that needs to be asked. Not just are they faithful to the Word of God, but is this a church where the preaching and teaching is such that my soul and the souls of my family will be nourished because of the way the Word of God is taught and preached? In other words, are they preaching expositionally through books of the Bible as the regular, steady diet of the congregation. This does not automatically answer this question, but is a great place to start and evaluate, in my opinion.
Is this a church where I am convinced the care of my soul will be a priority? Does this church have real pastors/elders who see their primary task to be the spiritual care and oversight of the souls of the members? In other words, just because they have powerful, biblical preaching, does not mean your individual soul will be tended to on a regular basis. Ask the pastors. Ask other church members. It will not take much investigation on whether this is a priority of the leadership of the church.
Is this a church where my family will experience meaningful Christian fellowship and accountability? To know this, it will require a bit of a commitment to one church for a time to build relationships, attend some church fellowship events, and get to know some of the pastors and leadership. Yet, you must have a realistic expectation as you are not yet a member, so do not expect to be treated as one.
Is this a church where I can serve God’s people and use my gifts for its benefit? It will help to know where you are gifted and what some of the needs of the church are, but often times there are many needs that you can fill by simply your presence and commitment. Also, do not assume you know what those areas of need are by your limited observations. Look to see what ministries exist and where you see yourself and your family fitting.
It will be different for everyone depending on the choice of churches and the efforts you make, but you should be able to know the answers to these questions within a few months of attending one church if you give yourself to the process. If you can answer in the affirmative to all 4 of these questions, it is a good possibility you have found your next church. If you find yourself in that place I would encourage you not to delay, but to pursue membership.
Finally, there is one essential element that must exist in this process. It is the key to possessing the zeal required in this search. That is, a constant feeling of uneasiness that should exist in you knowing you and your family are not in covenant fellowship with a local church and are not under the authority of undershepherds caring for your souls. The freedom and absence of accountability many experience in the search for a new church can cause a sinful complacency. In other words, you do not ever want to become comfortable being one of God’s sheep who has wandered away from the fellowship of the flock and the accountability of shepherds to care for you, even if that journey at the time feels fun and exciting.