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Checklist for Choosing a Church
By Gary F. Zeolla
This article is continued from Checklist for Choosing a Church - Part One.
Part One of this article looked at the importance of finding a church that believed and taught the essentials doctrines of the Christian faith. It then began looking at important but non-essential doctrines and how they affect one's choice of a church. This second part will continue this discussion.
The Role of Women in the Church:
This is a very controversial subject. Some believe that the Bible forbids women from being church leaders of any sort and from teaching men in the church. Others believe there are no restrictions on what positions women can hold in a church. And some others hold somewhat of an in-between position, believing there are some restrictions, such as from being the head pastor, but allow some other positions, like a church deacon or elder.
If you hold strongly one way or the other, then you will be uncomfortable in a church that believes otherwise. So if you are a man who believes that a woman should not be allowed to teach men, and go into a church and a woman is preaching the sermon, you might not even feel like staying.
Conversely, if you are a woman who believes there are no restrictions on women, you will not be happy in a church that restricts what kind of ministry you can engage in.
A middle-of-the road position would satisfy some on either side, but not all. If you believe a woman is restricted from any leadership role, then you might be able to "tolerate" a deaconess or female elder, but even this might be too much for you. And conversely, if you believe that there should be no restrictions on a woman, then you might be satisfied with a church that allows most activities, but only forbids the head pastor role. But then again, even this restriction might irritate you too much.
So this is another issue that is hard to compromise on. But it all depends on how strongly you hold to your position. And it should be noted that this is not a "men versus women" issue. There are men who believe there are no restrictions on women and women who believer there are restrictions.
It shouldn't be too difficult to determine where a church stands on this issue. Again, if you enter a church and a woman is preaching the sermon, that pretty much settles it right there. If a man is preaching, you might have to ask around some to find out if a woman would be allowed to do so.
As for myself, I have not publicly given my opinion on this issue. And given the controversial nature and difficulty of this subject, I will withhold from doing so until I am able to write more fully on the topic.
The Second Coming of Christ is an essential doctrine of the Christian faith. Statements in confession of faiths in regards to the Second Coming can be seen as far back as the Apostle Creed. However, most historic confessions simply state the belief in very general terms (e.g., "He is coming again to judge the living and the dead.") No specifics are given in regards to the circumstances surrounding His return.
But through the centuries, many Christians have developed very detailed accounts of what they believe will be the exact order of events and of the surrounding circumstances. And some churches have even included such beliefs in their confessions of faiths.
These varying beliefs include: pre-millennialism, amillennialism, post- millennialism, pre-tribulation, mid-tribulation, post-tribulation, and dispensationalism. The differences between these positions are discussed with the pros and cons thereof in my Scripture Workbook. So I won't go into details here. But what is important here is how these varying beliefs factor into one's choice of a church.
The first step, as always, would be for the reader to decide where you stand on these issues. Again, my Scripture Workbook would be an aid in this regard. But once you decide, should this influence your church choice of a church?
Given the wide diversity of believes on this subject and that good Christians hold to each of them, this most definitely is not an essential doctrine. So it really should not be a major factor in one's choice of a church.
However, there are some exceptions to this. Most obviously would be if the person looking for a church very strongly holds to a particular position. You most likely would only be comfortable in a church that believes the same.
Next would be if a church strongly believes and promotes a particular position. Some churches will even include its position in their confession of faith. If you disagree with this position, then you would most likely will be unhappy with the church. And you might even be uncomfortable even if you agree with the church's position for the simple reason that you feel this is not an issue on which a church should take an "official" stance and that this is not an issue in which a particular viewpoint should be promoted.
So, as with a lot of issues, how this subject factors into your choice of a church will depend on how strongly you feel about it and how strongly the prospective church does.
As for myself, this is actually an issue on which I have never be able to come to a settled conclusion on. And in fact, a lot of Christians are probably in the same boat. We simply choose to take a "wait and see" attitude, feeling this is not an issue that is important enough to spend a lot of time studying or debating over.
So for me, the only way I would be uncomfortable with a church over this issue is if it is one that strongly promotes a particular viewpoint, no matter which one it is. I also believe a church should not include a stance on this issue in its confession of faith. So one that does would make me a little uncomfortable.
There are additional doctrines that could be addressed. But the ones covered so far are the ones most likely to cause contention for the church-seeker. But doctrinal issues are only one area that needs to be considered in choosing a church. So now I will turn to other potentially important issues for the church-seeker to consider.
Bible Version Used
What Bible version is used in a potential church? For some, this is a non-issue. But if it is, then most likely you have never studied the differences between Bible versions. If you did, then you would realize that are there are important differences.
Basically, Bible versions can differ in two ways. The first is how literally the original Hebrew and Greek are translated. Going from most to least literal, the translation principles are: literal, formal equivalence (FE), dynamic equivalence (DE), and paraphrase.
The second issue is which Greek text is used to translate the New Testament from. There are three different basic texts which can be used: the Textus Receptus (TR), the Majority Text (MT), and the Critical Text (CT).
I won't go into details here in regards to these different translation methods and Greek text types as I do so in my Differences Between Bible Versions book. But I will say that I do think this is important enough of an issue to be considered in choosing a church.
Actually, this is a hard issue to ignore. If you are using a Bible version that is different than the one the pastor is reading out of, then you will immediately notice some differences, and in at times, some important differences. And questions do arise at times in churches as for the reasons for these differences.
Probably, the most dramatic time where this will be an issue is with "KJV-only" churches, i.e. churches that believe the King James Version is the only "true" Bible, while all other Bible versions are "perversions." Most likely, only people with similar beliefs would be comfortable in such a church. In fact, a KJV-only person would probably only be comfortable in a KJV-only church.
But beyond this extreme, there are those who believe that a version like the KJV is the best kind to be used, i.e. one that uses a literal or FE translation method and that is based on the TR or MT. Usually, this would mean the KJV, but the New King James Version (NKJV) and a few other versions would also be included here. So someone with such a belief would be comfortable in a church that uses the KJV, provided it is not promoted as being the "only" true Bible."
But what if the church uses a version like the New American Standard Bible (NASB) or the newer English Standard Version (ESV)? These versions follows a FE translation method but are based on the CT. In this case, FE/ TR people may or may not be satisfied with such a church. They would have to decide how important the text type issue is. They might decide that the translation principle is most important and would be willing to compromise on the text type.
But such persons would probably not be happy with a church that uses a much less literal version like the New Living Translation (NLT). The severe differences between it and the more literal translation they are most likely using would grate on them. However, the New International Version (NIV) might present somewhat of a dilemma. It is somewhat of a cross between a FE and DE version. It would be a matter of how much they are willing to compromise.
A similar situation would apply to those who prefer the various other possible combinations of translation principle and text type. You will need to decide if you are willing to compromise on one or both of these issues. If not, then you will only be able to attend a church that only uses versions of the type you prefer.
As for myself, I fall into the first category mentioned above, in preferring a literal or FE version that is based on the TR or MT. And I would prefer a church that uses a version that falls into this category
However, of the two issues, I believe the issue of translation method is much more important than the Greek text issue. The reason for this is the translation method affects basically every verse of the Bible while the Greek text issue only affects those verses in which there is a significant textual variant. And even then, these are generally footnoted in CT Bibles.
So basically, I would have no problems attending a church that uses the NASB or ESV. Both are very reliable versions translation-wise. But I most definitely would not attend a church that uses the NLT. It is way too far from a literal translation for my tastes. The NIV, however, would be a bit troublesome. I might attend such a church, but it would require more of a compromise than I would prefer to make.
Churches can have widely diverse styles of worship. Some churches sing only traditional hymns. Some sing more modern "choruses." Some will utilize "Contemporary Christian Music" (CCM, i.e. Christian rock music), and a few will even play "white metal" (i.e. heavy metal Christian music).
Which style of worship you prefer will affect how meaningful a particular church's worship will be to you. If you prefer the traditional hymns, then you probably will not be happy with a church that uses choruses or CCM. Conversely, if you find the traditional hymns to be boring, then you will be bored with a worship style that uses exclusively hymns.
And then there are those who believe that any form of rock music, including Christian rock, is "of the devil." This is not the place to get into that debate, but I will say that such a person most definitely would not be happy with a church that uses CCM and especially any that use white metal.
Beyond the style of music, there is also the question of how much of the service is devoted to worship. Some churches will sing a couple of hymns or choruses and that will be the extent of their worship. Others will sing for up to an hour.
If you consider the sermon to be the most important part of a service, then you might prefer a church in which most of the service time is spent on the sermon with only a small portion spent on the worship. But if you find the worship to be the most meaningful part, then you would prefer a church that spends a good bit of time in worship.
It should also be noted that the style of music played might also affect what type of people who attend a church. Churches that play only traditional hymns tend to have older congregations while those that play more modern music tend to draw younger congregants.
Also, some churches might use one style of music in one service and another style for a different service. Very common is for a church to use traditional hymns in its Sunday morning service but then to use more modern music for its Sunday evening service or a service on another evening during the week.
As for myself, I prefer more modern styles of music. I simply get too bored with traditional hymns to get much out of singing them. I also prefer a church that devotes a significant amount of time to worship, though an hour would be too much for me. I would prefer about 15-30 minutes of worship.
The mention of the age of the congregants above brings us to the next issue, the demographics of a congregation. If you are a senior citizen, then you might prefer a church with a significant number of senior members. But if you are say 20-something, then you'll probably feel out of place in a church is composed of mostly seniors. So how the average age of the congregants compares to your age could have an important bearing on your choice of a church.
Similarly, if you are married with children, then you would probably get the most out of a church that has a significant number of families in it. You might also find it best to seek out a church that directs many of its sermons towards issues relating to marriage and child raising, that has classes dealing with these subject, and maybe most importantly, has programs for your age of children.
If you have young children, you will probably want a church that has an extensive children's program. If you have teenagers, then you will want a church with an active and vibrant youth group.
On the other hand, if you are single without children, then all of these sermons and activates directed towards families could be a turn-off. You might consider sermons talking about marriage and parenthood to be a waste of time, especially if you doubt that you will be getting married any time soon. And most of all, you might feel out of place sitting in church alone in the midst of a bunch of families. Instead, you would fit in most in a church with other singles and maybe even an active singles group.
As for myself, I am 40-something, single, with no children. And frankly, yes I feel out of place in sitting in the midst of a bunch of families. And I am really tired of hearing sermons about marriage and parenthood. So yes, a church with other singles and an active singles groups would be most preferred.
Specialized Groups and Ministry Opportunities
In addition to the church service itself, most churches have other ongoing programs that one could get involved in. These would include the aforementioned youth groups, singles groups, and "marriage encounter " types of groups.
Most churches also offer either Sunday school or weekday small group Bible studies. The latter might meet at the church or in someone's home. Personally, I have always gotten more out of the give and take possible in a small group than from sitting and listening to sermon. And if you feel the same, then you might want to be sure that a prospective church offers Sunday school classes or weekday Bible studies.
Also important to consider is if the church will support you in whatever type of ministry you believe God has called you to. If you believe you are called to an evangelistic ministry, then does the church have an out-reach program? If you believe you are called to a "helps" ministry, does the church operate programs for the poor and disadvantaged that you could get involved with?
Of course, there are many other types of potential ministries. But the important question is, does the church already have in existence or would it be open to your starting a ministry of the type that you feel God has called you to? If not, then it would probably be best for you to find a church that will support you in ministry.
Before concluding this article, a quick mention will be made of much less "spiritual" issues. How far away is the church from your home? Is there a parking lot with adequate parking? Does the church building have adequate heating and air conditioning? Are services offered at a convenient time for your schedule?
I know; such issues shouldn't matter to the "dedicated" Christian. But the fact remains they will affect how likely you are to attend church on say a cold snowy day in January or a blistering hot day in July. So be honest, will you really drive thirty miles through a snowstorm, park on a snow-filled street, and walk ten blocks in the freezing cold, just to sit in a freezing church? If not, then you have many potential "excuses" not to attend church during the winter. So it might be best to find a more conveniently located church with adequate parking and a good heating system.
Similarly, if you are often out late on Saturday nights, then you might not be able to drag yourself out of bed in time to attend services at a church that only offers services early Sunday morning. You might want to look for a church that offers late morning services or even evenings services.
Don't ignore such issues. They will affect how likely you are to attend church on a regular basis.
There are many issues to consider when choosing a church. I've tried to outline many of the more important ones to consider. But only the reader can decide how much "weight" to attach to each of these issues. Just don't let the lack of a "perfect" church keep you from attending church. It is better to attend a less than perfect church than no church at all.
And let us be considering one another for [the] stimulation of
love and of good works,
not abandoning [or, neglecting] the assembling together of ourselves, as [is the] habit of some,
_but_ encouraging [one another], and so much more as you* see the Day approaching.
(Hebrew 10:24-25; Analytical Literal Translation)
>Subject: Checklist for Choosing a Church
Thanks for your work on the site. I have read many of the pages (about a year ago) and have popped back now to get some assistance in some decision making.
I have recently moved and am trying to find a new church. There are many good churches in my area, but I have narrowed it down to two.
One is a larger church with more programs. We have a 14 month old, so the kids programs and greater number of families will make church 'more enjoyable' and 'easier'.
Then the other church is a smaller one. It was very welcoming, but with less programs (since it has less people). There would probably be more things we could help out with there.
The problem is should I go to the former - where I will 'get' more, or the latter where I can 'give' more (i.e., there is a greater need)?
My wife prefers the former church since it is good for her to have more women friends at church, and for our son to have more church friends when he is at school (few years down the track). But I wonder whether this is a good motive?
Neither option seems ungodly or evil—but I wondered whether you had any quick thoughts on the subject. If you are busy, no worries.
Thanks again for your site.
I'd say it depends on where you feel most comfortable, in a large group or a small group? Personally, I actually find it harder to meet people at large church. I get "lost in the crowd" and end up not talking to people. Or, I meet a lot of people, but have a hard time remembering their names let alone make friends with them. But in a smaller, more intimate setting, I find it easier to actually get to know people.
But that's just me. Some are the exact opposite. But my point is, a larger church doesn't necessarily mean it will be easier for your wife and son to make friends there. It depends on their personality. That's hard to determine right now for your son, but your wife needs to think in such terms.
Checklist for Choosing a Church. Copyright © 2003 by Gary F. Zeolla of Darkness to Light ministry (www.dtl.org).
For Personal Bible Study and Teaching the Bible
By Gary F. Zeolla
The above article first appeared in the Free Darkness to Light
It was posted on this site November 8, 2003.
The email follow-up was added June 2, 2007.
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