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Priorities in Choosing a Church

When I was in my mid-30s, I moved to a new city and set out to find a church to join. Within my denomination, there were three or four within reasonable driving range, with a couple more within city limits. I decided to visit them all. I had an idea in mind going in: If the most important things were roughly equal, I’d have preferred a larger church simply because that’s where I was most likely to find single women. (It’s honesty time: How many of the rest of you hunt for prospective mates by checking the photos in a church’s membership directory first chance you get? Let’s see a show of hands. Ah, just as I thought.)

But I soon found that the most important things weren’t roughly equal. The largest church turned out to be the weakest on matters of teaching and doctrine, focusing more on emotionalism and sentimentality. The pastor’s entire sermon was 10 minutes on how he felt when he was a kid and his dog died. It was very moving, but it wasn’t remotely scriptural. Then, at the very end, he tacked on a couple sentences where he said that Jesus would dry all our tears in heaven. That was it. And I thought: Where’s the Gospel? Where’s the Law? Where’s anything biblical at all?

The smallest church, by contrast, turned out to be the strongest in its teachings, and its pastor was the boldest in his preaching, showing a willingness to speak biblical truths that many people would shun as “divisive.” There were less than 100 active members and virtually no single women in my age range, but after my first visit, I pretty much knew I’d found home. Though I visited a couple other churches after that, it was no contest. I never regretted joining that little church for all the years I lived there. I came away with a much deeper understanding of — and love for — God’s Word than I’d had going in.

Whenever you’re looking for a church, the No. 1 consideration by far is this: Is Christ preached and taught rightly, in all of His truth? That may seem obvious, but it’s so easy to slip into giving other things priority. Whether I like the pastor’s personality or find his preaching style dynamic enough. Whether the people are the sort I’d like to know — the right age range, the right education level, the right professional status. Whether they have programs tailored to people like me — say, a singles group. Whether I have friends there. Whether there’s someone there I find attractive. Like, really, really attractive.

And then the voices in your head start up. OK, the scriptural teaching in this church has problems. But hey, I already know my Bible the main parts, anyway. I don’t really need the church to keep telling me what it says; I don’t need the church to guide me. I can read on my own. I’ll do fine. Meanwhile, there are these other things I really like about this church. And I’m sorry, but I just can’t find those things in that other church with the strong, solid biblical teaching. So right now, at this time in my life …

If you find yourself going there — well, just don’t go there.

That’s not to say that nothing besides the church’s Christ-focus can factor into your decision. If you’re a parent, for example, it’s OK to consider what the church has to offer children. And if you’re single, it’s OK to consider whether you might find a mate there. Just make sure that the most important things are there first. And step one is to keep them first in your own mind, too.

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About the Author

Matt Kaufman

Matt Kaufman has been a columnist for Boundless since the site’s founding in 1998, and did a stint as editor in 2002-2003. He’s also a former staffer and current contributing editor for Focus on the Family Citizen magazine. Matt is a freelance writer/editor who spent some years in Colorado, but gave up the mountains for the cornfields: He now lives in his hometown of Urbana, home of the University of Illinois. His house is a five minute drive from the one where he grew up, and he enjoys daily walks around the park where he used to play baseball.

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