Here are several factors I have in my mind when seeking a church home. I group these in three categories: essential, high priority, and nice-to-have. These factors are subject to change, refinement, and reordering as additional thought and prayer are applied. I recognize few churches, perhaps none within 15 miles of home, meet all of these preferences. Compromise is required. These preferences are unique to me. Most Christians will have different priorities. This explains why there are thousands of different Christian denominations – fortunately or unfortunately.
Bible-believing, i.e. “conservative”: Not only promote the Bible as the Word of God, but teach that moral commands and prohibitions must be literally applied to our lives today and not treated as artifacts of an old culture (e.g. homosexuality); understand history and recorded miracles are historic fact, not symbolic fiction; and parables and symbolism are taken seriously and applied as essential spiritual lessons, not options for the prudishly devout. Recognize that these are all high ideals, we all fall short, and require forgiveness.
Relevance to current problems, events and issues: Church culture/teaching/sermons should not focus on the academic, i.e., do not merely interpret the Bible as if we are living 2,000 years ago and trying to define Hebrew and Greek words and culture. More importantly, presentations should draw specific analogies to what is going on in our lives and nation today, including reference to unGodly cultural temptations, over-indulgences, wrong priorities, government lapses, threats from other religions (Islam), and Biblical guidance and mandates on how to overcome. Recognize that a major portion of scripture discusses governance, politics, and their influence on the people. Throw in some eschatology.
Church leadership: The church or denomination follows the Biblical, first century pattern for church leadership concerning moral purity and gender.
Preaching/sermons: Dynamic, compelling, engaging style integrating current events, situations and behaviors as examples for lessons being taught.
Enthusiastic congregation: Participants don’t come to church to primarily socialize, but come to primarily worship, learn and encourage others. Presence of a sense of excitement and urgency.
Friendly/welcoming: Seek an intangible feeling of being a part of the group and proceedings. Natural unscripted greeting by members is preferred over someone being “assigned” to greet. Be offered opportunities in subsequent meetings to discuss or discern spiritual gifts and interests and counseled about opportunities to serve.
Respect and reverence: Prefer a pastor who goes by his last name (Rev. Smith or Dr. Smith), not his first (Rev. Bill); who wears a suit, if not vestments, and not merely a shirt with open collar. Expect reverence and prayer within the sanctuary, with areas for socializing in ample facilities outside of the sanctuary.
Traditional service: Traditional hymns with choir and organ; no amplified instruments, or music with a heavy beat or mimicking pop music of our decadent culture.
Nice to have:
Ministry opportunities: Wide variety of ministry opportunities and openness to consideration of new ones.
Good music program: Professional sounding presentations; potential opportunities to participate in instrumental ensemble.
Congregational singing: Two, occasionally three songs, max. except for special occasions.
Physical building: Churchy, reverent feel, clean and well maintained buildings and grounds. Good acoustics; clear sound amplification.
Children: Not allowed to run around in the church building. Younger children go to another activity during the bulk of the service, perhaps after an early children’s sermon.