Do you ever think you should be going to church more? Have you thought that it's possibly a waste of time, filled with a bunch of hypocrites, and that you won't get much from it anyway? Do you feel confused when you go, and feel like you aren't learning anything? Does the preaching go way over your head, or does it seem too basic? Do you like the music? Do you have the attitude that they just want your money? Are you afraid people might be weird and invade your personal bubble as they welcome you? Do you get caught up in the way the church looks on the inside or out, and demand it meet your expectations?
Church. What has it become today? Are all churches alike? No, they are not. So how do you know what is a good church or a bad church? Can you just look up in the yellow pages under a certain denomination and pick that one, and you'll be fine? No, they're not all the same, even if under the same name or denomination. Which Bible do they use, and is it a "version confusion" when you go there? What type of music do they use to worship? Are they honest? You hope they are! Is it important to even go? Why can't I go to the beach or stay in bed all morning - it's my day off, after all. Can't I worship God in my heart anywhere I am?
Well, first of all, the church is very important to Jesus Christ and is not to be made a mockery of, as demonstrated by the events and activities that occur during a worship service.
1 Corinthians 14:40: "Let all things be done decently and in order."
Ephesians 5:25: "Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it." Jesus loves the church. Hebrews 10:25 above shows how important it is for us to assemble together and encourage each other in the Lord, especially as the world becomes more and more evil and the coming of the Lord draws near.
In my opinion and experience, these are the basic things that make up a winning church. You should go to a church for at least 4 services before you can get an honest impression of the church.
A FAMILY-FRIENDLY CHURCH: As you search for a good church, you should be made to feel welcome when you arrive. There should be plenty of smiling faces and warm handshakes. Your children should be treated with respect, have Sunday School, there should be a clean, safe nursery, and Sunday evening services should be a service when the whole family worships together in the sanctuary. It should be an inviting place, full of peace so you can hear God's still small voice speaking to you. It doesn't have to be pretentious and stuffy, but reverent. Activities are great, but that is not what makes a winning church. Your purpose for going to church is to learn from God's Word and worship God together. Search for a Savior-sensitive church, which focuses on GOD. A Seeker-sensitive church is all about entertaining YOU. You have all week to find entertainment. That is not the purpose of church, but rather it is a place for spiritual growth, an educational experience that will help you as you live your daily life for God and serve others.
PREACHING THAT CHANGES YOUR LIFE: A good church will have a congregation opening their Bibles and following along with the preaching. The messages should dig into the Scriptures so you learn and grow, and have a practical application. There should be an opportunity to hear the plan of salvation, and an altar call at the end so that you can do personal business with God at the altar. Yes, many people say they can do just as well from their seats, but I believe there is something extra special that says to God you mean serious business when you step out of your seat and pray at the front of the church. Matthew 10:32-33: "Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven." Pick a side - are you following the Lord or not? Don't be ashamed to seek the help you need, any more than you would seek a health care professional for your medical needs. God can take care of any need, including medical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual, relational, circumstantial and physical needs - just ask Him...with some respect and patience. He may need to do a work in you first.
MUSIC THAT UPLIFTS YOUR SOUL: Does the music cause you to reflect on God? Does it prepare your heart for the preaching? Can you listen to it without needing earplugs or else your ears will be ringing all week? Do you feel edified and drawn closer to the Lord by the words of the music? Can you even hear the words, or is it drowned out by the instruments or background accompaniment track? Do you get an opportunity to sing with the others in the congregation, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord? Ephesians 5:19: "Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord."
SUPPORTING MISSIONARIES: Does the church focus on missionaries and outreach? Does it go out and tell others about Christ, or just lay stagnant, waiting for people to darken the doorways of the church? Do they have a heart for souls? Do they have regular missionaries and church planters that they support around the world? Matthew 28:19-20: "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen." See, it says "all" nations! It doesn't matter what race, religion, color, language, ethnicity, location, gender, job status, wealth, age, health condition - we are all in the same boat, all sinners in need of a Savior, who is available to wondrously and gloriously save us and use us as precious vessels for Him - what an honor, what a relief that He wants to use you and me! I'm so glad!
OPPORTUNITY TO SERVE: Does the church give you ample opportunities to serve? Whether it is singing in the choir, working in the nursery, helping out in Sunday School or Jr. Church, being an usher, cleaning the church, mowing the lawn, painting, decorating, going on visitation to visit people who have visited the church or giving out literature, you should be able to do something to serve the Lord in the church. Even praying for others is a great ministry! Are you good at cooking or writing out cards to people who are sick? Another way you serve and worship the Lord is in your giving of tithes and offerings. 1 Corinthians 16:2: "Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come ."
That's a good start. Listen - church is where we need to be on the Lord's Day (Sunday). Together, let's commit to make God a priority on His special day. Go with a tender heart and an open mind to hear what God would teach you, and allow His Holy Spirit to indwell you as you worship Him and praise His precious name!