We live in a mobile, global society. I am reminded of this as a pastor, with people who constantly move into our city for school or work, and simultaneously others who move away for the same reasons. Yet, as a pastor, I feel an obligation to help those who are leaving our church in Ohio to find a healthy home for their soul in whatever new place they may be landing.
Just in the past year, I have tried to help people transition to Japan, California, China, Florida, Texas, Germany, and South Korea. The individuals were themselves diverse, including veteran Christians and new believers, U.S. citizens and internationals. Clearly, the kinds of churches—and the particular, personal needs—differ greatly in such varied situations. However, over the years I have sought to communicate some clear and prioritized principles to help Christians who leave our church to find a new, healthy body of believers, even in an unknown and unfamiliar territory. Here are what I see as important issues to consider:
It should first be recognized that no church is perfect because every church is full of sinners. Secondly, no two churches are the same because they are made up of people who are unique in their backgrounds, perspectives, gifts, and personalities.
So whether you are moving across the state or to the other side of the globe, don’t just look for a church that is like the churches you have already been acquainted with—for preachers with the same personality or gifts, for practices that are alike in every way, or for similar size or economic status or ethnic makeup. But of course do feel free to contact godly pastors, counselors, and friends you have been blessed by in the past, as a resource for decision-making and discernment in the future.
Having said that, here are some similarities that all healthy, sound churches will have in common. Look for these things when you are looking for a new church:
1) Genuineness toward God’s Word
Are they consciously, publicly, explicitly submitted to the authority of God’s Word?
The Bible should be seen as infallible and should, therefore, be the centerpiece of teaching, of discipleship, and of evangelism. (2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21)
2) Genuineness toward Jesus
Do they believe in Jesus? This first means an orthodox, Christian view of Jesus as he is revealed in Scripture. Jesus is not seen as just a good teacher or example, but as the God-man who is God’s only way of salvation. (John 14:6; 1 John 4:2-3; 1 Corinthians 16:22)
But this also requires an intimate and personal relationship with Jesus. Jesus is not just a means to personal happiness or wealth, but is the goal of salvation itself. (Genesis 15:1; Matthew 11:28; John 7:37)
Are you being encouraged to constantly grow in relationship with, and knowledge of, Jesus? (2 Peter 3:18; Ephesians 4:14-15)
The gospel must the focus of the church. Not political activism, or feel-good stories, or “health and wealth” promises. The gospel—including our sin, the person and work of Jesus, the necessity of faith in him—must be the focus.
3) Genuineness toward other Christians
Do they see themselves as connected to other Christians around them and with the historic Christian faith?
If they separate themselves from other Christians or see themselves as having “new light” that Christians have not historically embraced, this is a bad sign. (John 13:34-35; 17:20-21; Galatians 1:8; 1 Timothy 3:15-16)
4) Genuineness toward each other
Do they love each other as a body of believers?
Every church will have its problems—tests to unity and the need for longsuffering. But do the members of the body display a sincere interest in each other’s emotional, physical, and spiritual welfare? (Ephesians 4:16; Romans 12:4-8)
This should include humble, godly, loving church leadership. (1 Timothy 4:16; Hebrews 13:7)
5) Genuineness toward others
Do they serve others for the glory of Christ?
The particular outlets of evangelism, or of efforts to help in the community, will be different for every church; but every church ought to be engaged in some way that shares the gospel with unbelievers and cares for the needy. (Matthew 5:14-16; 28:19-20; Galatians 6:10; James 1:27)