A View from the Pew: What to Look for When Visiting A New Church

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Finding a church can be frustrating, especially if you don’t know what you’re looking for.

My favorite Christian comedian, John Crist, produced several hilarious send-ups of church searching in the mode of HGTV’s “House Hunters” in a series of videos for a satirical show called “Church Hunters.” Crist’s point is that people often make their church membership decision for shallow reasons. He skewers a Christian culture that focuses on flash over substance.

Instead of focusing on the color of the carpet or the wardrobe of the pastor, here are nine clues to help you find your local church home:

1. Do members talk? When people visit a church they often feel singled out and maybe even targeted by well-meaning members who are eager for them to join their church. Rather than just paying attention to when and if they greet you as a visitor, watch their interactions with each other. Do they genuinely connect with each other? Do they care about each other? Do they talk with each other? Do they share warm handshakes or hugs?

2. Do they sing? No matter what style of worship a church has adopted, notice whether or not the congregation is an active participant in the music or just passive bystanders. A lack of strong participation in worship is symptomatic of deeper issues. If church doesn’t worship God with vigor and passion, what does it do with zeal?

3. Are there any children and youth? This is a no-brainer for families with children, but it’s a really good indicator of outreach and vitality for all ages. If you don’t have kids at home, you might still be interested in plugging into ministries with youth and children. You’ll be filling a need and also finding a way to connect with others.

4. Are there any senior adults? Beware of a church without more experienced saints. If a church is too youthful it can indicate a lack of wisdom when serving others or too great a focus on new and shiny rather than meaningful pursuits. What you’re really looking for is a healthy mix of generations, preferably a place where the ages mix well, complement each other’s roles in the church, and are involved in each other’s lives. See point No. 1 above.

5. What’s on their calendar? A quick glance at the monthly calendar will clearly demonstrate the nature and character of a congregation. Do they have a good mix of fellowship and service or do they neglect missions and focus solely on recreation? No matter what they say, how they truly plan will be in black and white.

6. What’s in the annual budget? A thriving community of faith doesn’t have to have a huge budget, but how a church divvies up its resources will prove its priorities. Similar to the activities analysis above, if the amount spent on events or ministries that are inwardly focused greatly exceeds initiatives aimed at outreach or missions, the church has communicated volumes about is priorities.

7. How are the facilities? The buildings and grounds don’t have to be shiny and new to indicate love and care. It’s how well they are kept up. Are they clean? Are they cluttered with the detritus of old Vacation Bible Schools? If the facilities aren’t cared for, it raises questions.

8. Who’s on staff? I’ve never been one to focus on the preacher’s personality, but church staffs matter. Not only the people in the ministry roles but which ministry roles constitute the staff will be dead giveaways on what the church values. And by all means doing a little reference checking on a pastor’s previous stops. You don’t want to walk into a church that’s currently experiencing or about to experience strife over the senior pastor.

9. What does the Spirit tell you? I saved the most important for last. When visiting, commit to more than just a Sunday morning worship. Attend mid-week services or special activities. Definitely plan to attend Bible study on Sunday morning. And with each interaction pray and ask for guidance. Fully participate, then seriously pray. Your decision may not be easier, but your choice will be clearer and your church life more enriched in the long run.

Lance Wallace_for_webLance Wallace is a Baptist layperson and member of Parkway Baptist Church in Johns Creek, GA, does media relations and issues management at his day job, and blogs at newsouthessays.com.

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