Every Christian needs to be involved in a local church. This can be a bigger challenge than it might seem. Perhaps you have struggled to find the right local church for yourself and your family after you have moved to a different area, you were discouraged by a bad experience with a church in the past, or you just simply dropped out of church. Now you have made the decision that you want to find a church to attend. Possibly you have become concerned that the church you attend falls short or doesn't meet your needs or the needs of your family, or even that the church you attend has drifted from a proper foundation. A new pastor has come who is taking the church in a direction you do not want to go. Often what passes for "church" in twenty-first century America isn't what the New Testament presents to us. In most American communities, there are several churches. How does one find the "right" congregation? What makes for a healthy church?
As a conservative, Bible-believing evangelical, I am committed to the necessity of believers being involved with a community of like-minded followers of Christ in a church. I have been an active, committed member of local churches all of my life. Often, I've struggled with mediocrity, failure, and error and in those churches. Family, tradition, friends, and long-term relationships make it difficult to consider leaving, and the process of visiting and evaluating another church can be an intimidating task. My hope is that if you find yourself in such a situation that you will find this writing helpful.
It is also my hope to challenge churches to evaluate their ministries. Church leaders need to ask themselves not only why someone would want to attend their church but why should someone attend. What effect does your church have on the people who attend the church? Are people being discipled and are people growing in their faith? Does your church truly serve and worship the Lord? Is there a manifestation of the New Testament gifts of the Spirit in ministry? Are people coming to faith through the ministry of the church and its members? What impact does the church have on people in the surrounding community in which its members live? Or, is your church just going through the motions? Does the church just drift along while decline and erosion happens? Why do you do what you do, and why do you do things the way you do? Above all, does your church stand committed to the truth of Scripture? A church which is not consciously and continuously evaluated may not be worth attending or supporting.
I will focus attention on two central areas of teaching not because they are the only important doctrines but because they are the absolute foundational essentials and I think are the most telling teachings in the evaluation of a local church. If a church gets it right in these two areas, they will likely be solid in other essential beliefs as well. Further, I will discuss the leadership of the church and the impact the church seeks to have on the lives of its members. Finally, I will discuss other characteristics that are not essential beliefs but nevertheless will be necessary considerations.