Many times, I get the question of ‘what should I look for in a church’ ?
My first answer is always check what they believe.
Programs, activities (ministries) and other things are all secondary. A church can have a lot of ‘nice things and nice people’ and be very unbiblical in what they teach. Big numbers and lots of programs are not the marks of a good church. I hope to provide here, a small resource for both old believers who want to take a deeper look into what their church actually teaches as well as for new believers who simply want to get to a good church. Click on the link below that best describes where you are.
Mark Dever of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in DC runs a ministry to pastors and churches called Nine Marks Ministires. The ‘Nine Marks’ are more specifically, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church (a book has also been written on the subject).
1. Expositional Preaching
This is preaching which expounds what Scripture says in a particular passage, carefully explaining its meaning and applying it to the congregation. It is a commitment to hearing Godâ€™s Word and to recovering the centrality of it in our worship.
2. Biblical Theology
Paul charges Titus to “teach what is in accord with sound doctrineâ€ (Titus 2:1). Our concern should be not only with how we are taught, but with what we are taught. Biblical theology is a commitment to know the God of the Bible as He has revealed Himself in Scripture.
3. Biblical Understanding of the Good News
The gospel is the heart of Christianity. But the good news is not that God wants to meet people’s felt needs or help them develop a healthier self-image. We have sinfully rebelled against our Creator and Judge. Yet He has graciously sent His Son to die the death we deserved for our sin, and He has credited Christ’s acquittal to those who repent of their sins and believe in Jesus’ death and resurrection. That is the good news.
4. Biblical Understanding of Conversion
The spiritual change each person needs is so radical, so near the root of us, that only God can do it. We need God to convert us. Conversion need not be an emotionally heated experience, but it must evidence itself in godly fruit if it is to be what the Bible regards as a true conversion.
5. Biblical Understanding of Evangelism
How someone shares the gospel is closely related to how he understands the gospel. To present it as an additive that gives non-Christians something they naturally want (i.e. joy or peace) is to present a half-truth, which elicits false conversions. The whole truth is that our deepest need is spiritual life, and that new life only comes by repenting of our sins and believing in Jesus. We present the gospel openly, and leave the converting to God.
6. Biblical Understanding of Membership
Membership should reflect a living commitment to a local church in attendance, giving, prayer and service; otherwise it is meaningless, worthless, and even dangerous. We should not allow people to keep their membership in our churches for sentimental reasons or lack of attention. To be a member is knowingly to be traveling together as aliens and strangers in this world as we head to our heavenly home.
7. Biblical Church Discipline
Church discipline gives parameters to church membership. The idea seems negative to people today â€“ â€œdidnâ€™t our Lord forbid judging?â€ But if we cannot say how a Christian should not live, how can we say how he or she should live? Each local church actually has a biblical responsibility to judge the life and teaching of its leaders, and even of its members, particularly insofar as either could compromise the churchâ€™s witness to the gospel.
8. Promotion of Christian Discipleship and Growth
A pervasive concern with church growth exists today â€“ not simply with growing numbers, but with growing members. Though many Christians measure other things, the only certain observable sign of growth is a life of increasing holiness, rooted in Christian self-denial. These concepts are nearly extinct in the modern church. Recovering true discipleship for today would build the church and promote a clearer witness to the world.
9. Biblical Understanding of Leadership
What eighteenth-century Baptists and Presbyterians often agreed upon was that there should be a plurality of elders in each local church. This plurality of elders is not only biblical, but practical â€” it has the immense benefit of rounding out the pastorâ€™s gifts to ensure the proper shepherding of Godâ€™s church.
Each title listed above has a link to a lesson on the topic. In your spare time, head there and go through them.
Dever’s site and approach are good, but to someone who is a new Christian, it might seem much. So if you’re a new Christian or a person simply looking for a good church, I the following will serve you well.
FIRST: What Do They Believe ?
Have your notebook or notepad ready and take notes on the place. The sermon and its’ content, as well as the general demeanor of the place. At the end of service, ask the pastor for a copy of their statement of faith (unless it’s on their website). A healthy church SHOULD believe at LEAST the following:
- Full Diety and Humanity of Christ as taught by the scriptures (John 5:18, 8:58; Phil. 2:5-11).
- Full Diety and Personality of the Holy Spirit as taught by the scriptures (Acts 5:3-4)
- The Triune nature of God as taught by the scriptures (Isaiah 48:12-16, Matt. 28:19) That is, God is one in essence and nature and simultaneously three in Person (not ‘manifestation’) – God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit.
- Man is born with a fallen nature which separates him from God and puts him in need of a Savior (Ps. 58:3)
- Man is a sinner by choice for which he is rightly condemned to hell (Isaiah 59:1-2)
- Salvation is a GIFT of God given by His grace ALONE (God’s unearned, unmerited favor) by means of faith ALONE (faith apart from works – Romans 3:28) in Christ ALONE (Acts 4:10-12) and in no other.
- The 66 Books of the Bible are the FINAL infallible, authority for the believer – God-Breathed (verbal-plenary inspiration) and fully capable of COMPLETELY equipping the man of God for EVERY good work (2 Tim. 3:14-17).
- The life, ministry, death, burial and PHYSICAL, VISIBLE, BODILY resurrection of Christ according to the scriptures (1 Cor. 15:1-8).
- Christ completed the atonment for the sins of men on the cross, signifying it was DONE with the words ‘IT IS FINISHED’ (John 19:30)
- The physical resurrection and final judgement of all humanity to eternal life or eternal punishment(John 5:24-29)
- The PHYSICAL and VISIBLE second coming of Christ according to the scriptures (Acts 1:11, Rev. 19:11-21, Matt. 24:27-30)
- That the God of the Universe has COMPLETE and EXHAUSTIVE knowledge of ALL events in time, past, present and future (Isaiah 41, 42:8,9; 44:6,7; 46:9-10).
- The absolute and complete Sovereignty of God in all human affairs and ‘freedom’ to do as He pleases according to His good pleasure and will (Daniel 4:35)
- The regular administration of the sacraments. Some churches may call them ‘ordinances’, but regardless of what you call them, Christ commanded them. He commanded His followers to practice what we call baptism (Matthew 28:19) and to partake in what we call communion or the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11:23-32).
Much popular preaching today has caused church numbers to swell. Unfortunately, as with the human body, when something is swelling, that’s usually a sign of bad health and sickness rather than growth. Many churches and popular teachers appeal to men’s desire for more and for monetary and physical comfort today by catering their preaching to do so. So what happens is this: you’ll hear biblical-sounding terms like ‘authority’, ‘prosperity’, ‘season’, ‘sow a seed’ and such get thrown around quite frequently.
Is the sermon actually based off of the preacher going through the text for the morning (and there should be a text for the morning) verse by verse, explaining what the text says, what it means and how that applies to you or is the preacher simply quoting one or two verses to what seems like an ‘already prepared sermon’ ?
I hope this helps you. Feel free to copy and print this page and use it as a guide. If you have any questions or suggestions, drop me an e-mail through the contact page.