What Makes a Good Church?
It seems that most people decide on a church to attend and join the same way they shop for a car or a home. The primary consideration is "What do I like?" or "What makes me comfortable?" or "What advances my goals?" And many a church panders to this incllnation. The mission of the church becomes to assemble a mix of spiritual, intellectual and social experiences that will attract the most people. Consumerism at its best! The problem with this approach is that it totally misses God's intention for the church.
How does God define the church?
God looks at the church from three points of view.
1. He sees the church in its final glory. Some call this the invisible church; invisible to us, not to God. It's that vast assemblage of people whom God has called to be his own; who one day will gather in the new heavens and the new earth to worship and serve God free of sin and its consequences.
2. God also recognizes all who at any point in time professed faith in Jesus Christ as the visible church today. From this point of view, the church is all those who have expressed outwardly their inward heart allegiance to Christ. They humbly confess their sin, gratefully embrace Christ as their Redeemer and zealously serve Him as their Lord. In this way the church becomes visible to the world.
3. Thirdly, there's the church at work. God has entrusted to his people an array of tasks. We are to worship him, proclaim the gospel to those who are yet to believe, encourage faithfulness among those who believe and bring comfort to those who are struggling. That's just a few of the items with which God's people are tasked. The moment two or more believers attempt to serve God together, you have the organized church.
So how would you choose a church?
First, hang around a particular church long enough to get to know both its teachings and its people. Does what comes from the pulpit expound God's Word fairly and understandably? Do the people (especially the leadership) demonstrate over time a humble desire to practice what is taught? You want to find an atmosphere that understands your weaknesses, encourages your growth, stimulates you honest investigation of truth and invites you to walk closely with Savior.
Secondly, notice how the people organize themselves to accomplish their mission. This is where many Christians betray a lack of humility. Is the organization simply a self-serving maintenance operation? Or is it geared toward extending mercy outward? Is there a clear pathway for you to follow into service? Or must you be a card-carrying whatever before your gifts and energies will be used?
Yep! you noticed that? I didn't mention or recommend any label. Wherever Christ is exalted in word and life you have a true church. I was raised and ministered as a Presbyterian, went to a Lutheran grade school and, later, a Baptist boarding school, lived for a while with Christian and Missionary Alliance people, worked with Pentecostals in Uganda and currently worship at a Brethren congregation. Christ was exalted in all. On the other hand, you can find churches that wear these labels where Christ takes a back seat to social agendas and pet projects and consumerism.