As a youth pastor, I meet a lot of families who are concerned about finding the right church, especially for the good of their teenagers. This is a big decision, and the number of churches to choose from, particularly if you live in the south, can be paralyzing. So, how are families supposed to decide where to go?
The first question I would consider if you’re already at a church is: What’s wrong with where you are now? There are certainly good reasons to leave a church, but, too often, our children learn some bad reasons for leaving a church from us. Before moving on, you might want to ask yourself questions like: Have I tried my best to engage with the people in this church? If I have legitimate, biblical concerns about this church, have I voiced them to the leadership? Have I confessed and repented of sins that I’ve committed against others at this church? If I feel that someone has sinned against me, have I gone to that person as a brother or sister in Christ and talked with them about it?
It could be that the best thing for your family to do is to stay right where you are. But, if you’ve answered all of these questions and still feel it’s time to leave, or if you’re not currently involved in a good church, how should you decide where to go? Although I’m a youth pastor, I wouldn’t recommend a big youth ministry as the first factor in deciding. Instead, the following are some of the most important elements to consider when finding a place to worship:
1. Commitment to God’s word
Does the church have a commitment to the word of God? Does it hold to the Bible as inspired and infallible? You can usually see this on the statement of faith or website before you arrive.
Your child will be directly affected by your church’s view of God’s word.
Secondly, is the Bible central to this church? It’s one thing to say you believe in the Bible; it’s another thing to act like you believe that. Is the Bible read in the church service? Does the pastor, when he preaches, let the Bible be the truth-giver in his sermons? Does the text of scripture give the points, or is scripture just pulled out of context to serve whatever the pastor wants to talk about that day? To be clear, this doesn’t mean only going verse-by-verse through a book. You can be faithful to scripture without preaching through a whole book, but the Bible has to be where the truth is coming from.
Your child will be directly affected by your church’s view of God’s word. Their understanding of the importance of the Bible will be heavily influenced by the church they attend. The church can have hundreds of teenagers, and great activities, but if the church is not built around the truth of God’s word, you’re wasting your time. Every other aspect of church life will be impacted by how a congregation treats the Bible.
2. Commitment to worship
The church gathers each week for the worship of God. How do we worship God? We listen to his word, pray and sing praises. (Col. 3:16) So, does the church you’re considering pray? How much time do they spend in prayer? What are they praying about? Is the congregation invited to be involved in times of prayer, or are the prayers simply a transition time for the band to get off the stage?
Another element of worship is singing, not just music. Do the people in this church sing? Or is it just a band performance you get to enjoy before the sermon? Do they sing meaningful songs that communicate the truth of God’s word? The involvement of the congregation in singing and prayer is important, and it teaches us (and our teenagers) about what it means to be a part of the church, what are lives and souls are to be directed toward and, ultimately, the One the church is about.
3. Commitment to community
In the early church, community was a vital aspect of church life (Acts 2:42-47). They were intimately involved in one another’s lives. They didn’t file in and out like we do when we go to a movie or amusement park. They knew and were invested in each other. They shared their possessions and encouraged one another in the faith. Does this church seek to foster that kind of community element?
Another part of community is service and the use of our gifts (1 Cor. 12). Does this church offer opportunities for you to use your God-given gifts for the service of others? Are there expectations for people to use their gifts for the good of the body of Christ, or is it primarily a spectator sport? The opportunity to be involved in service will teach you and your child that to follow Christ is to do more than identify with him by name, but to serve actively among his people. It will teach the truth that faith without works is dead (James 2).
Once your family finds a church that meet this criteria, then you can think about other elements that will be best for your family. I would encourage you to explain what the important things are to your kids as you search and involve them in helping you identify whether these elements are present in the churches you visit. I would also encourage you not to drag the church search out for too long. Once you’ve found a healthy church that will help your family flourish, plug in. Worship, love and serve, for the sake of your family’s spiritual health, the good of the church and the glory of God.
Parenting is hard. But it is even more difficult for Christian parents to raise kids in today's changing culture Join us for the fourth annual ERLC National Conference on "Parenting: Christ-Centered Parenting in a Complex World" on August 24-26, 2017 in Nashville, TN, this event will welcome key speakers including Russell Moore, Jim Daly, Sally Lloyd-Jones, Todd Wagner, and Jen Wilkin. Register by May 12th and receive a FREE Austin Stone Kids Worship Album.