“Criticism is something we can avoid easily by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.”
Thom Rainer recently posted a blog called, "The Painful Reality of Church Shoppers." In it he references a pastor who talked, perhaps even vented a little, about the the reality that June seems to be "National Church Shopping Month." Grace Fellowship in Lakewood, where I serve as Lead Pastor, has certainly experienced that. In fact, I am the pastor who posted that lament in the Church Answers community. We've experienced this phenomena on both ends, we have had people from our church go shopping as well as people shopping our church who had been at another church. I called that post a lament because it is certainly that in a variety of ways. To be clear, there are good reasons to go "church shopping." That said, there are a lot of bad ones, probably more bad than good. I'm not going to address the good reasons to go church shopping.
The title of this post is a little misleading. There are a number of blog posts written about what you should look for in a church and I don't think we need another one, so I am going to take a different approach. I will give you one thing to look for in a church, but more important than that are some things not to do.
First, I want to tell you about a couple in our church who has been there since 1964...yep, you read that right. They started attending 55 years ago. This isn't a rural community with limited options, Lakewood is the 5th largest city in Colorado and borders Denver. In fact, my home address comes up on Google maps as Denver. There are mega-churches, big churches, and small churches not far from us (a lot of them). The options are plenty. Why are they still at Grace Fellowship? I promise it isn't because they agreed with every decision, because the worship was the best available, or because the preaching was amazing (I hope its good though). It wasn't because Grace had better programs than anyone else. While I have often gotten somewhat veiled answers when I have asked I think I can safely infer that they believe a biblical community isn't one you leave because something didn't go your way, because someone didn't give you enough attention, because you disagreed with someone in leadership, or because there was minor difference of opinion related to a peripheral theological issue. I think I can safely say that they believed growing together in a community of believers where people knew the hurts, sorrows, and even sins of one another was part of remaining faithful to God and to the bride of Christ (the church). Perseverance is an essential part of spiritual growth (Hebrews 10:32-39). This couple isn't the only long time couple at Grace, but they have been there the longest. Several other people have been there for 10, 15, 20, and even 30 years. Don't get the wrong idea, we have many who have been there 6 months, a year, or a few years as well.
They have been around through several pastors, two of them were 20+ years each. They have seen the church move, remodel, acquire debt, pay off debt, and much more. They have watched as others have left because the pastor was "too Calvinistic" (this wasn't me by the way), because the pastor didn't call, because the church didn't take my ideas about remodeling, because the children's ministry had a slightly different philosophy, because they didn't like the pastor's social media posts, because, because, because. Yet they found reasons to stay and it has been good for them and for the church!
So, what do you look for in a church? You look for one thing, you look for a church where you can stay. Sure, they should have orthodox theology. The preacher should be faithful to the text. The worship should be God honoring (that doesn't mean it is great, there is a difference). However, the preacher doesn't need to be Matt Chandler, John Piper, Charles Swindoll, or the one of the 11 disciples of Jesus (leaving Judas out). The worship doesn't have to be Elevation, Hill Song, or a bunch of hired guns/guitars. They don't need to have a fog machine or not have a fog machine or whatever. Your kids don't need to love it, they need to learn to be faithful to a community of believers, just like you do.
Our little church in Lakewood will never put on a show like Red Rocks (just down the street) or have a climbing wall in the kids area (like Red Rocks). I don't begrudge them, good for them, I hope they preach the gospel!! What we do have is a church that works hard to live up to its 3 core values of having a Gospel Impact (we preach Jesus), Generosity (we work hard to be generous with what God has given us), and Growth in Community (we work hard to love people well and spur one another on toward love and good deeds).
Before you go church shopping, don't ask if there is something better, ask if you can stay where you are and contribute to the church you're in. Sit down with the pastor and try to find a way to stay rather than finding a reason to leave. It will be better for you and the church.
John Byrne is a pastor who has been spouting off his opinions his entire life (just ask his mom). This little blog is his venue for continuing in this tradition.