What to Look for in a Church
Since our recent move to Seattle, we were faced with a new challenge of finding a church community totally on our own without the help of Mom and Dad, friends and mentors.
Woah. The overwhelm.
We already hate car shopping, house shopping, insurance shopping; but church shopping?
The levels of first-timer awkwardness, ickiness of judgement (on our part), fear of rejection or opposite-knowing we could offer a lot-all of it feels strangely earthly and opposite of what matters when you’re in pursuit of a group of people that are supposed to help you develop spiritually and vice versa.
So how do you judge all the right spiritual elements of a church from within your earthly mind and body full of worries, pride, careless distractions, etc.?
Prayer. Yeah, that’s the DUH answer but there’s more to it.
What’s the non-negotiables, areas where you can compromise, and then “would be nice” things?
And just a little caveat-there’s no perfect church. We knew that going into it and would never hold that unfair standard for any church, so let’s not go there.
- What does the church believe in?
- Is the Gospel the foundation of their beliefs, teaching, love for the congregation, and basically all that they do?
- Are there any other main themes that run through their church that sounds like a good thing but is not supported biblically? Or contradicts the Gospel?
- What are their views on some of the more controversial topics like same-sex marriage, abortion, race, and immigration?
Theology is numero uno. And it can get gritty when you really dig deep into your own beliefs about the Bible, God, sin, and so on. Because both Brad and I have a non-denominational background it gave us a clean slate to consider if we want to continue down that path of something a little more “casual” or actually commit to a denomination. We both had a hunger for the same things in a church but didn’t know what to call it at the time. Turns out it was the Presbyterian (PCA) denomination.
As we attended lots of different churches like a Calvary Chapel, old Mars Hills churches, non-denominational, and Presbyterian, our ears were tuned to verify the Gospel in the worship, sermons, at the newcomers lunches and with our interactions with the community. And that’s ALL we heard at Grace Church Seattle. This is where we’ve landed and we feel incredibly blessed and humbled that God would lead us here. When attending a service and their newcomer’s lunch we heard statements like:
- “We care about your relationship with Jesus first.”
- “We want to make disciples of Jesus Christ.”
- “We are a congregation full of flawed people, but it’s because of the Gospel that we can share in community and live a redeemed life being daily sanctified.”
Amen and all the praise hands!
- Is the church a part of a bigger denomination?
- If so, what does that denomination believe in and value?
- If not, who keeps the leadership team accountable?
- How is the church’s leadership structured? Pastors? Elders? Deacons?
- Is membership required or expected to be a part of this church?
- How does the church communicate on important topics such as finance, leadership restructure, program planning, etc?
I have very little knowledge on how a church should be run apart from some key scripture (1 Timothy 3:1-13, 1 Peter 5, 1 Timothy 5:17-21). We weren’t set out in hopes of finding a church running their leadership in a very specific way and I think a lot of Christians wouldn’t even know what to expect or have a standard for this. But it always go back to the Bible, some common sense, and of course the leading of the Holy Spirit. That might sound cheesy, but the Holy Spirit is completely true and reliable. As we got to know the Pastors of each church Brad and I usually found ourselves on the same page at the end of the day sensing this or that and simply waiting upon God to show us where our hunger for Him and godly community would be satisfied.
+ Church Service Elements
- What is their music worship style?
- Is it appropriate or does it make me feel uncomfortable?
- How long is the service?
- How are the sermons structured?
- Topical or Expository (studying a book of the Bible)?
- How often do they take communion in their services?
- Are children included in the service or not?
- How big of a church community are we looking for? Megachurch or a congregation of 200?
This is where I got the most judgy. I found myself filtering every word from the Pastor, every greeter interaction, every worship song with a “what’s the catch?” lens. I desperately wanted to make the right choice knowing this is a big commitment. At most churches we visited, we found ourselves eagerly greeted by sweet people excited to welcome us into their community. It’s very humbling and a little overwhelming because you don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings by not coming back or holding yourself back in the conversation as you navigate the level of trust you can reach with this stranger who is also supposedly your brother or sister in Christ. And you know simultaneously they are trying to figure you out and maybe even recruit you to fill a need they have at their church. Which I gotta say-that’s a big red flag. At least in our case anyway. We encountered one church specifically that wanted Brad up front leading worship within weeks of attending! They didn’t even know who we were, where we stood theologically on key issues and this honestly scared us away. It made us question the health and state of the church and we felt confident in continuing in our search and I’m so glad we did.
Here are some factors we deemed priority in a church service:
- Communion every Sunday
- Simple, musical worship (not showy or entertaining but pure and Gospel centered in all of the lyrics)
- Children in the service
- Expository teaching of God’s Word
+ Community/Spiritual Development
- Does this church have community groups?
- What do they study in their groups?
- What is the structure of their community groups and how do I sign up?
- How are disciples being made?
- What classes and resources are being offered to grow in spiritual development?
- What is offered for children?
Being a part of a community group has always been a priority so this element of the church hunt was consistently in the forefront of my mind. At Grace, they have community groups that meet in the Fall and Spring, take a break for Summer and also have Parishes which are organized groups based on the physical location of where you live. Your Parish is your people-those that live nearby to help you and make for easy hang out dates. This is a year round thing. We are totally new to the parish structure but are excited to have this support as well as the support and friendship of a community group.
At our church they also have this hour of Spiritual Formation every Sunday in between services and this is where the adults, kids, babies-all walks of life attend their class to study God’s word and grow. HUGE sigh of relief and excitement when we heard about this! This is something I’ve been feeling a growing void in my spiritual life, leaving church still hungry and shallow. It’s so important to spend quality time in God’s word not only daily but as part of your church community and to drink up quality teaching that challenges you and propels you closer to Christ.
One quote we also heard at Grace’s newcomer’s lunch:
“We don’t want to clutter your week with programs, but focus on your spiritual development as individuals, as a family and in community.”
Ummmmm. Heck. Yes. Thank you forever and a day. Church programs can ironically suck the life out of you and at Grace, that’s the last thing they want to do. They instead focus on the more intimate, spiritual needs of the body of Christ by keeping things simple with less pressure-we’ve already got plenty of stress and programming going on in our lives outside of church.
- Where is the church currently serving?
- What organizations are they partnering with in the community to serve?
- What opportunities are there to get involved in serving inside and outside of the church?
Serving is the last important element to consider. Brad and I were raised to serve in some way on Sunday mornings or during the week and also in some capacity outside of the church in the local community or on an international scale. It became clear from the start that Grace is all about serving Seattle. In such a bustling, growing city the needs are endless. With homelessness skyrocketing, mental illness and poverty robbing people’s lives, and sex trafficking alive and well, there’s lots to be done and we see our church’s heart broken over this city’s brokenness and their involvement in being a light to the city.
They also encourage you to serve on a Sunday morning AFTER attending their church for at least a few months. They want us to get to know them more and they need to get to know us better. We were SO relieved to hear this and thought it was absolutely reasonable and a load off our backs to not feel this pressure to serve right away as we build trust both ways with the church.
It took Brad and I a good 3 months to find the right church. And while the hunting isn’t so fun, it’s necessary. As we remained faithful, so was God as He led us to the very church that embodies everything our hearts are yearning for in this season of our lives. God is a good Father who gives to his children what they need.