January 21, 2015 / Issue Volume 27, Number 1, Winter 2015 / Thought to Action

5 Questions to Ask When Choosing a Church

By Daniel Louie

Daniel Louie

Daniel Louie (DPCS '04, MDIV '04) is the pastor and church planter of Urban Village Church in his hometown of Vancouver, where he lives with his wife Karen and their three children. Much joy and challenge rings through their journey in ministry and life in this city and beyond.

As a pastor and church planter, I’ve had many a conversation with those looking for a place to call their spiritual home. Along the way, some have joined us, and some have found other church communities; but I’ve always found it important to help people ask the right questions in their search. If you’re looking for a church, here are five questions I would encourage you to ask. Not just to help you meet individual preferences, which we often bemoan as a consumeristic attitude, but to help you determine that a church you’re considering might really be a great Christian community to be a part of!

1. Do the neighbours around the church like having this church in their community?

Most churches have outreach into their community out of their desire to love their neighbours and share the gospel. But what makes a church really authentic in its charity is when the neighbours, regardless of religious background, say, “We’re really glad this church is here!” It means there is more to that church than just an evangelistic program or event—there is a growing relationship between the congregation and its wider community. Churches like this see their neighbours not as a project or an enemy, but as a partner.

The opposite end of the spectrum is when a neighbourhood wishes a church to disappear because all it does is take all the parking spaces on Sundays and disrupt the quiet weekends people are looking forward to. Of course churches don’t exist to please everyone, but in general, is the church seen as a valuable part of a community that would be worse off if it did not exist?

2. Are the pastors and leaders accessible and accountable?

Often in a large church, it will be more difficult to get a personal appointment with the lead pastor, but as you observe the pastors and leaders of a church on a Sunday morning, do they immerse themselves in the congregation, intentionally taking the time to meet, greet, and pray with members and guests? Are they more concerned about running their show or connecting with people? Are they more of a celebrity or are they a shepherd who gets to know the sheep?

Pastors and leaders, like all people, come in different leadership styles, personality types, and have different strengths in communicating, and we all have our preferences. But do you see them embody Christ-like humility and the willingness to be held accountable through a team of multiple levels of leaders?

3. Is the Bible taught like a grand love story between God and humanity?

How is the Bible viewed and used in the shaping of people’s lives at this church? I’m not talking about whether or not the church has a superstar preacher with book deals and conference appearances. Frankly, most churches have a faithful, loving, hardworking pastor who flies under the radar, and that’s okay. Rather, I’m talking about how the word of God is actually preached.

Treating the Bible like a flat and lifeless rule book reduces our relationship with God to whether we get it right or not in life, and as the true story of Scripture goes, we don’t get it right. But if the Bible is a grand love story between God and humanity, then it’s full of body, aroma, and messes—of real lives that need help. The heroes are not us but God, who had the plan to save us figured out all along, and brought it to fullness through his son Jesus. When the Bible is a full-bodied story, there’s room for hard questions, difficult life situations, and redemption from mistakes.

4. Is this a church that helps you connect your spiritually searching friends and family to the gospel?

There are many things about a church that may help connect someone to the gospel, from a particular sense of community, to an emphasis on justice and social issues, to a particular style of worship. An important question might be not whether a church is happening for you, but whether a church can help you reach out to those whose lives you care deeply about. Is the church you’re considering a place you can invite others to? Is it a place where they can explore the deeper questions of life and its meaning?

Think about the relationships you’re investing in with your neighbours, coworkers, family, and friends. Perhaps the “right” church for you needs to be a church that’s “right” for the people you love—those whom you hope will come to Jesus.

5. What is the pace of programming at this church?

Most people will look at the ministries and programming at a church to determine if they meet their needs. One church might have an amazing lineup of ministries and programs to reach every permutation of person and interest. Another church might have just one home group and a worship gathering.

But no matter how vast or simple the programming, if you can’t get plugged in somehow, it doesn’t really matter. It’s important not to be a spectator on the sidelines, but to be a part of the body of Christ, giving and receiving from one another. It’s also important to recognize that at different seasons of our lives, we might have different abilities and ways to connect to a church for community and service. Some people can give multiple evenings a week to a church, while other people can’t. Some people prefer more formal and organized ways of connecting, while others prefer more organic and simple ways of being part of a community. Both ends of the spectrum can be done effectively and be incredibly life-giving ways to experience a church community. But does the church operate its ministries in such a way that you can make a meaningful connection and contribution?

That’s my list of five things I might look for in a church; now it’s your turn. What questions would you ask if you were searching for a church community to make your spiritual home?

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