Wow. One post on this won’t even be a thumbnail sketch of the work I wish I was doing with you all on this issue.
It is a hard question and requires personal application. Despite what some people might tell you, I don’t believe that there is a clear cut response for every believer about church and fit, but I think we can address some principles to consider prayerfully. I’ll tell you a bit about my own story, but I’m not telling you as though it is the Christian paradigm. It isn’t. Maybe God will lead you down a very different path about what kind of church is the fit for you.
But first, let us recall what we’re doing in the church:
Worship, prayer, fellowship, accountability, teaching, preaching, evangelism, missions, discipline, sacraments…and then some…
So, what should you look for in a church?
Doctrine: oftentimes this is available on the church website or readily available from the church office. Doctrine lets you know what views the church leadership (and membership) on core faith issues. Ideally, the church’s actions should flow from and be a reflection of its proclaimed doctrinal view. Usually, the doctrinal statement includes scripture references in support of this view. I would strongly encourage you to check this out, look up the information, and ask questions. Know what your church believes and know what you believe…and why.
Biblical foundation and preaching: what happens at the church should be based on the Bible. This means that church goers are responsible for reading the Bible for themselves and examining whether or not the church is handling things Biblically. Sermons in particular should be grounded in what the Bible teaches. This may not always be popular and lots of churches don’t place the Bible first in their teaching. Watch out.
Community: Do people meet to study the word and do life together? Do you see evidence of godliness in the staff, elders, and members? Are there ministries within the church that reach out the the broader community?
Style is not easy to prescribe. For some people, this is really important. They want contemporary music or only hymns. They want a liturgical style or a three point sermon. There is so many variables in a church and plenty of churches that handle these variables differently. With style, I would say that it should complement the message preached and that it should be God-honoring and not man-centered. I’ve been to some church events that were visually appealing but did not point me to the Lord. Likewise, maybe if the music seems too dry, you’d be too distracted to pay attention to the rich theology in the lyrics!
As for me, my church didn’t fit for awhile (years, in fact), but I do believe it was God’s plan for me to stay there anyway. That’s why I mentioned earlier that I’m not trying to say that everyone needs to respond as I did. Sometimes if you are uncomfortable, it’s right to keep looking. In my case, I needed to walk with my church for awhile and in time, the fit came…but it was not what I expected…nor what I originally demanded of God.
Initially, I came at the church with a desire to get my wants and needs met. So, I was flustered when I didn’t encounter people who were interested in the same things that I was or offering a ministry that met me right where I was at individually. I chaffed and grumbled and complained for a long time. God had a considerable amount of work to do in my heart to bring me to a place of humility and openness and acceptance. Until then, I remained discontent with the fact that the ministry targeted at my age group didn’t fit me. Eventually, I prayed that this time around (for there had been a few go arounds), God would help my heart not to be so proud and so irritated by the circumstances. Overall, I appreciated the doctrine and the community at my church and I believed in its’ vision and mission. Despite the awkwardness, I began to want to make it work…to want to fit.
Finally, the time was ripe to usher me into a place where I did ‘fit’ enough to be glad and to thrive. God has provided my niche in the women’s ministry which runs across age groups, marital status, interests, and personalities. I still feel out of place sometimes because of my age, my interests, my personality, and my season of life, but time and again, I sensed the Lord calling me to a church where I would not be surrounded by others that were just like me. I knew that His plan was to bring me to a place that could benefit some of my odd traits and that I needed to be complemented and rounded out by people with contrasting strengths. This is all part of what it means to be a family.