John Crist is one of my favorite Christian comedians. I love his bit called “Church Hunters.” He riffs off the show House Hunters, exposing how Christians often church shop.
In this parody, a couple goes from church to church asking selfish, superficial questions about the ministry. They want to know: “Is the church casual, but not too casual.” “Is the pastor funny, but not too funny?” “Is the music contemporary, but not too contemporary?”
The video wouldn’t be so funny if it wasn’t so true. Unfortunately, we (myself included) are tempted to attend or join a church purely from a consumer perspective. We talk about our favorite church like we talk about our favorite cinema. We evaluate our church like we evaluate our kids’ sports programs.
In this kind of culture, many pastors and churches are burned out and frustrated because they can’t live up to society’s expectations. At the same time, when the church becomes just another product for consumption, Christians quickly become bored and apathetic, waiting for the next craze.
But when I read the description of the first Christian church, I see a much different picture. In Acts chapter 2, Jesus has just ascended into heaven, the Holy Spirit has been poured out on the disciples, a bunch of people become Christians, and they start a church.
And this is what it looks like:
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved (verses 42-47).
Don’t you want to join this kind of church?
The first Christians weren’t so concerned about what they “got out of church.”
They were more concerned about who they were becoming because of Jesus.
They weren’t so concerned about how the church served them.
They were more concerned about how much they could serve and love each other.
The first church got it right. At least, as well as they could. They still had problems. Not even the apostles could create the perfect church. And neither can we.
So don’t expect to find the perfect church when you go church shopping.
You will never find the perfect church. It doesn’t exist.
That doesn’t mean you should just settle for any church. It’s not wrong to “church shop.” So here are three questions you should ask yourself when searching for a church.
1. Can I see myself being devoted to this church’s teaching?
You want to join a church that preaches the truth of the Bible. That’s a given.
But the more important question is do you trust the pastor and leadership? If you can’t trust the pastor, you will not be open to his preaching, and there will be no hope for change.
So when you church shop you should ask: Are you ready to listen when the pastor exposes your sin? Are you open to receiving the good news of God’s acceptance in Jesus? Are you devoted to living a new life by the power of the Holy Spirit?
Most pastors I know are striving for excellence in preaching. But sometimes the sermon will be a dud, and sometimes the music will be off-key. That’s out of your control. But maybe God is calling you to that church to encourage the pastor. Maybe God is calling you to dive in deeper to God’s Word on your own.
2. Can I see myself being devoted to these people?
The early church didn’t just show up to a building; they showed up in each other’s lives. They loved each other, not just with words, but with action.
When you church shop, ask yourself, are there opportunities that I can connect with other Christians? Are there fellowship activities like small groups or mentoring programs? If not, maybe God wants you to join that church to start them.
3. Can I see myself serving in this church?
Jesus said, “They will know you are my disciples by your love.” The reason the early church grew was not their programs or their pyrotechnics (not that there’s anything wrong with either), but people were drawn by their acts of love.
When you church shop, find the church where you can get involved and serve. Do they have a ministry to the poor? If not, maybe God is calling you to that church to start one. Does the church have a ministry to children and teens? If not, maybe God is calling you to create it.
Just remember, there are no perfect churches because the church isn’t a building. The church is a community of people. And all people are broken. That’s why the focus of every church needs to be on Jesus.
Don’t get sucked into the consumer mentality when you look for a church. The church is not just some place you go. It’s not just a place where you get entertained by a sermon and a song. It’s a place where you grow, love, and serve one another as Jesus has done for you.
Pastor Ben Sadler has served as a full-time pastor since 2010. He began his ministry serving a Spanish-speaking congregation in Florida. Since March 2014, he has served at Goodview Trinity Church in Minnesota. He is married to Emily, and they have three children. Ben loves to spend time with his family, ride his road bike, read, write, and preach.
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