How to Choose a Church – Part 1

It’s almost Easter, and you may be looking for a church to visit for the holiday. With so many churches in the US, and so much publicity highlighting…ahem…”unacceptable behavior” going on in some churches, choosing a church to fulfill this beloved Easter tradition can feel disheartening.

Or maybe you’re reading this at another time, and you’ve been burned a time or two (or more) by taking a church at face value, only to find they could not be safely trusted. Don’t give up. You deserve a safe, loving community of faith.

I’m here for you. I’ve been blessed and I’ve been burned, and I’ve come up with a list of some things to look for to help you and your family find a good fit and a safe church home. There’s lots to consider, so this will be part one of two.

Whether you’re watching a livestream service, or checking out a church website or in person, ask God to guide you, and look for the following.

DOCTRINE A doctrinal statement is a written declaration of what a church believes and teaches. Also called a Statement of Faith or simply What We Believe. In any group, you’ll find people who have differing viewpoints, but the doctrinal statement covers the basics of what the church teaches and most of the congregation believes. They will expect you not to undermine their doctrinal statement during services and church-sponsored classes, though a good church will welcome questions during discussion times, and will have answers for why they believe what they believe—whether or not you agree with those answers.

Before you join a church, it is a good idea to think about what you believe, what you are open to considering, and whether your faith lines up with the doctrinal statement of the church you’re looking into. Do you believe that the Bible in its original form is the inspired and inerrant word of God? Some churches do and some don’t. This should be covered in the church’s doctrinal statement.

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Most churches post their doctrinal statement on their website. If not, you can call a church and ask them to send you one, via e-mail or snail mail. If they won’t, if they don’t have one, or if they want a “donation” for it, that’s a red flag.

MISSION Just like a well-run business, a church will have a mission statement. Is it too vague? (For example, “outreach” could mean anything from providing meals for the hungry to standing on street corners asking for money.) Is it specific and doable? Does it line up with your personal values? Is the church involved in any political movements? If so, how do you feel about that?

PROXIMITY Though some people travel for a special Easter or Christmas program, it will probably work better if you first look into churches near your home. If you decide you want to go regularly, you don’t want the distance to be prohibitive. Some churches that have the budget offer bus service for both adults and children. Ask about that, if you need it. Ask about the driver’s credentials. They should have a CDL (commercial driver’s license) to drive vehicles with air breaks, and a clean driving record. The church should carry insurance in case of accidents.

ACCOUNTABILITY Don’t fall for the common misconception that all large churches are corrupt, and all small churches are sincere. It’s not true. Large, small, or in-between, in any group of people—sports teams, social clubs, schools, and churches—someone will do something wrong. It’s inevitable. Accountability is what helps prevent bad things from happening, and, if something bad does happen, accountability can stop it from continuing. Make absolutely sure that the church you consider has multiple layers of accountability—financial, spiritual, and physical.

Financial accountability   Under US law, churches don’t have to report how much money they receive or how that money is spent. Look for one that does anyway.  A church that is transparent with their finances and has nothing to hide will generally have a printed statement of the previous year available for you to inspect. For an added layer of accountability, check to see if the church you’re interested in is a member of the Evangelical Council of Financial Accountability, a US-based organization that oversees the finances of nonprofits and ensures they’re handling money responsibly.

  • Spiritual accountability In the Bible, the expression laying on of hands refers to the practice of bestowing spiritual authority to another.

1st Timothy 5:21 instructs churches “Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, and do not share in the sins of others.” 

“Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, and do not share in the sins of others.” 

1st Timothy 5:21

If you walk into a church building for the first time, and, without knowing you, someone in charge asks you to teach, that’s a red flag that the leadership bestows spiritual authority without getting to know the character or faith of the teacher. A panel of leaders is more accountable than a single makes-all-the-decisions pastor or elder. And, of course, all leadership should be well versed in the doctrinal statement and follow it. When new spiritual leaders are being appointed, there should be a time, either during installation or before, for church members to ask questions and bring up concerns. If not, that’s a red flag.

  • Physical accountability Of course you want to watch for mold, bugs, unsafe playground equipment, exposed wires, or other physical dangers, but that’s not what I’m talking about. Those are things that may have been accidentally overlooked and can be easily fixed. What I mean is sexual predators and cruel control freaks.
  • It’s a sickening thought, but we know that wherever vulnerable people gather, predators do their best to get in. Church is no exception. But, again, accountability is key to keeping ourselves and our loved ones safe. Try asking a hypothetical question to someone in leadership: What would they do if they found out that one of their teachers deliberately assaulted a vulnerable person in their care? If the answer is to keep it quiet, or any response that does not involve transparency and swift, serious action, move on. That is a sign that the leadership is violating 1st Timothy 5:21, “Do not share in the sins of others.”
  • Other signs of accountability:
  • Look for windows on every single classroom, library, nursery or pretty much any other door (except the restrooms), so that passersby may peek in unannounced. If that window is covered with signs or pictures, it’s not a real window.
  • Look for more than one unrelated adult per room, so they can keep an eye on one another.
  • Ask to see proof of background checks on people who work with children or those who have disabilities.
  • If your child doesn’t like Sunday School, pay attention. Keep your child with you in the adult service and see how that goes. If your child is not disruptive, no one should have a problem with it. Some churches have “cry rooms” in which families can participate in the service behind a soundproof glass in the back of the sanctuary with audio piped in, so crying, playing, or talking children can stay with their parents without disrupting the service. This can be a good place for shy nursing mothers who don’t want to leave the sanctuary, too.
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Follow up with Part 2, and scroll to the top of the post to leave a comment. We’re in this together. Have a blessed holy season.

Hugs,

Kathy

One Comment on “How to Choose a Church – Part 1

  1. Pingback: HOW TO CHOOSE A CHURCH – PART 2 – Kathryn A. Frazier

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