Finding a New Church
I am in the process of helping someone find a new church. It is one of those little tasks I do that I tend to despise, not because I am losing someone from our Body but because of the lack of decent churches in the land. I have various key words I use in my search to try to winnow out all but the promising ones. And over time I have learned a few things.
First, if they use the word “relevant” in their website, especially to those who are “new to the site” I am already predisposed to dismiss them. If the word is in bold then they are dismissed. I dismiss them even more quickly if they add the words “practical” and “purpose” to the qualities of the church. Why? Because they are marketing themselves in a way that is designed to appeal to the consumer mind set that is so destructive in our nation and churches. Because “relevant” almost always means a focus on felt needs rather than a clear exposition of the Word of God into the souls of man.
Second, if they are targeting a certain demographic I immediately close their website as well. Came across one where the target audience was 25-40 year olds. At that website they were committed to making your first time experience “exciting, life-changing, and enjoyable.” Again, a leadership who are consumer driven (they are wanting only a certain type of person to show up) and a church service designed around experience.
So how do I go about suggesting a church?
- If I know of a solid church where they are going I suggest that one. There is nothing better than firsthand knowledge.
- I go to various sites that have churches listed: Mark Dever’s ministry of Nine Marks has both the nine marks of a proper church and churches listed that follow those marks. There is The Master’s Seminary site that has all the graduates from my seminary listed by state. Then you have the Gospel Coalition who maintain a list of church, though far broader than I would like personally. Over at the Founders site, which is a Southern Baptist site devoted to returning the SBC to its conservative, reformed roots you will find good churches. But you will also find church more committed to the five points of Calvinism than anything else.
- By this time I should have a few churches to suggest, maybe even to recommend. But then comes the hard part, visiting those churches and seeing what really goes on. With some it is a success right away, but other times it is the beginning of a very dark time for that person or family as they realize how dark the land really is and how quickly they become starved of the solid food of the Word.
As I look over websites I am not looking for a slick site (though I like the). I am looking for actual content on what are the core convictions that drive the church. Convictions of being exciting, fun, relevant, uplifting, and such do not impress me for they are impossible to truly achieve in a lasting manner. Convictions about the centrality of the Gospel, the preaching of the Word, the relationship toward the world are much more important. I look for the sense of grace that should accompany any church as they remember that they were all sinners without hope once.
And finally I look for online sermons so that I can listen to one. I look for churches that are not doing series all the time but rather, they are doing expositional preaching through books of the bible. I always try to find a sermon on a difficult passage to listen. I want to hear how the man handles hard passages. Does he evade the points of difficulty? Does he soften what God made hard and pointed? Does he ruthlessly jab the people with it? All of these tell me much.