It seems that many believers are experiencing church homelessness. Church homelessness often occurs because of church hurt, spiritual abuse, the abuse of power, unfaithful leaders, and many other negative experiences in the church. Others find it challenging to find a safe place to worship when they move to other sites. It seems that church homelessness is becoming more and more pervasive.
I want to make sure I start this blog by saying that there are no perfect churches. There will always be imperfections in the ministries, the leadership, the culture, and the people. However, a church was created to be a community that is a safe place for people to be nurtured and discipled. It's where Christians gather to learn about God, affirm one another's gifts, and use those gifts to serve others. Imperfections in the church should not come in the form of bullying, intimidation, slander, secrecy, and abuse of power. I think these churches are places you should stay away from and leave. The purpose of the church is to transform you into Christ. However, there must be a Christlike culture. If the culture is not Christlike, eventually, you become like that culture. Beware.
Below you will find eight tips to guide you in choosing a church. This list is not exhaustive nor is it based on priority; it is just a few tips to consider.
Tip #1 - Pray
You cannot find a church without talking with the Lord. Jesus clearly said, "Apart from me, you can do nothing." (John 15:5). Pray daily about where God would lead you to grow as a disciple. Prayer is not just talking; spend time listening in silence and reading scripture. This will nurture your Spirit of discernment so that when you start visiting churches, you will be more sensitive to the Holy Spirit's guidance.
Tip #2 - Do Not Select a Church Based on the Sunday Morning Worship Service
I believe this is where many Christian disciples have made a mistake. They attend a church; the worship seems Spirit-filled, and the preaching is powerful and even biblical, so when the invitation to discipleship or membership is extended, a person joins the church without hesitation. A person should not join a church based on the Sunday Morning Worship Service. The Sunday morning worship services are just one of the components for selecting a church, but there are other vital components for choosing a church that is a safe place for you to grow into spiritual maturity.
Attending church is more than just listening to a sermon or singing songs. It should connect you with other people and be a community where you can grow into a spiritually mature disciple. Therefore, choosing a church cannot be solely based on the Sunday morning worship, you must see if you can connect with others and find out what their process is for growing disciples.
Tip #3 - Engage in the Ministry Activities
This is important. Take some time to attend the ministry activities where you can observe how ministry is carried out, who the leaders are of those activities, and how people engage with one another. Suppose you go to multiple ministry activities and see the same people leading various ministries. In that case, this is something to note; either the church does not have many people serving, or leadership could only be selecting certain people to serve. While engaging in ministry activities, be discerning and listen to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Tip #4 - Talk with The Members of the Church
I am a true introvert; I am not a person who is motivated to go to places where I will meet strangers and start a conversation. I do not like a superficial conversation, but I know that asking the deep things about life is not the best way to start a conversation with a stranger either, so when I am talking with someone at a church, I ask them to tell me their story about how they came to the church. I also ask them what they enjoy about the church and what things they would change or like to see done better. If people share what they enjoy, but no one shares what they would like to change, this could indicate an unwillingness to tell the truth or fear of telling the truth about the church. When you are talking with a person, don't just pay attention to the words that are being said; also pay attention to what is not being said, body language, etc.; these can all be queues that confirm it is the church where God is leading you, or that it is not the church where God is leading you.
Tip #5 - Talk with The Leaders of the Church
Read Tip # 4 for ideas on talking with the Deacons, Trustees, Elders, lay leaders, and staff. When talking with the leaders, you can ask about the leadership structure, how they would describe the church's culture, how leaders are selected, and whether or not there is regular leadership training. The church risks having spiritually immature leaders if leaders are not trained regularly. Spiritually immature leaders can fall prey to abuse of power. Remember to listen to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Tip #4 - What is the policy or protocol that protects membership and others from a leader who abuses their power?
This is very important. Talk with some Deacons, Trustees, Elders, and lay leaders. It is essential to ask questions about the accountability of leadership. Questions like, "Who does a person go to if they have a problem/conflict with leadership, such as the Pastor, Deacon, Trustee, Elder, etc.?" If there is no policy or protocol for protecting the membership and others from an abusive leader, then that church can fall prey to abuse of power from leadership or already has fallen prey to an abusive leader. Ask about the protocol or process for accountability of leadership.
Where there is no accountability, there is no protection for a person who has been harmed by a leader or someone in the congregation.
Continue to pray as you discern what is revealed when you ask these questions.
Tip #6 - Meet with The Pastor
We live in a time when some Pastors are treated like celebrities. They are unreachable. Ask for a meeting with the Pastor. If you cannot meet with the Pastor, this gives you insight into the church's culture. Jesus always made himself available. If you are attending a Mega Church and it seems unrealistic to ask for a meeting with the Pastor, find out if they offer a reception where people can meet the Pastor. This is an area where you would need to discern your level of comfort and acceptance. If you can meet with the Pastor, go back to utilize tips #5 & #4.
Tip #8 - Biblically Sound Preaching & Teaching
Make attending ministry activities where the Bible is preached and taught the priority. Always take your Bible and a journal or notepad. Take notes. Ask yourself what style of preaching inspires you to grow. What kind of teaching motivates you to learn more? Don't make the person preaching or teaching the final authority on what the scriptures are being taught mean. If you have a question about a text, pray and study it for yourself, discern for yourself what God is saying through the text, then ask questions about the text. That person will either confirm what you've learned or give you a new perspective. When a person only relies on a preacher or a teacher to explain and expound on what a scriptural text means, they put themselves in a position to be misled and risk being harmed by the abuse of power. People can use scripture to make it say whatever they want; without discernment and without knowing how to rightly divide the Word of God for yourself, you can become easily misled. Study the Word for yourself.
Tip #7 - How Would You Describe the Culture of the Church?
After following tips #1-#7, you have had the opportunity to experience the church's culture. How would you describe it? Is it open, truthful, warm, and loving, does there seems to be secrecy, fear, weariness, frustration, etc.? Listen to God's direction as you discern the church's culture.
Finding a church home can be difficult in some places; however, with these tips, my prayer is that God will lead you to a church that is a safe place for you to get connected in the community and grow into spiritual maturity.
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