It’s well known in my family that I do not enjoy shopping. Perhaps it’s because of my gender (men = hunters?). It might explain why my wife loves this type of exercise (women = gatherers?). I suppose it’s the lines, the crowds, the abundance of options, buyer’s remorse and too many poor customer service experiences that have scarred me. I’ll leave my official diagnosis to the prognosticators.
After 15+ years in ministry, I have discovered that there is one type of shopping that almost no one likes: church shopping. Over the years and all over the country I have met countless individuals that have visited churches where I pastored with the weary face that goes with church shopping. It seems that the lines, the crowds, the abundance of options and negative shopping experiences have scarred them as well. I have also been asked countless times:
“Pastor, how do I know if this is the right church for me?” And “How do I know when I should leave my current church?”
Both are excellent questions.
After vetting the doctrine of the church, its reputation in town, ministry offerings, etc.; many I have counseled on this issue over the years have found it helpful to narrow the field of remaining good options by honestly asking the following 5 questions.
At your current church or the one you are considering….
1. Can you embrace the vision enthusiastically? (Pr. 29:18)
Does the church have a vision for ministry? If it does, is the vision clear, compelling and communicated regularly? Vision or the lack thereof drives everything that a church does. Church research has shown there is a strong correlation between church health and a clearly defined vision that stirs the hearts of the people to sacrifice, serve and remain faithful.
2. Can you trust the leadership implicitly? (Pr. 16:12; 20:28; 29:14)
In his book The Habits of Highly Effective Churches, author George Barna states that he discovered this undeniable fact after studying hundreds of healthy, vibrant churches: “You can overcome many deficiencies in a church’s ministry and organization, but you cannot compensate for the lack of good leadership. Nothing will cripple or even destroy a church more completely than the absence of effective leadership.”If the church you are currently attending or considering has a vision, are you confident in the leadership’s ability to move the church towards what God has called it to do?
3. Can you grow there spiritually? (1Th. 4:3; 1Jn. 2:6)
The Scriptures are very clear that Christ-followers are supposed to progress in their spiritual maturity. This process is called sanctification. Have the preaching and teaching ministries at your current church made you become more like Jesus Christ today than you were a year ago? Has the teaching helped deepen your knowledge of Scripture and enhanced your walk with the Lord?
4. Can you serve in a ministry fervently? (Ro. 12:11)
The New Testament tells us that Christ-followers are supposed to be ministers. The Lord has provided every Christ-follower with spiritual gifts and talents that are to be used for building up His church (1Cor. 14:12). Are you able in your current church or the church you are considering to use your gifts to serve the Lord?
5. Can you invite unbelievers comfortably? (Jn. 1:40-42)
You’d be surprised to know the number of church members I have met over the years that have told me they are too embarrassed to invite anyone to their church because they were not confident their friend would have a positive experience (the worship is subpar, the preaching is dry, the members are not friendly, etc.). This saddens me because God’s Word teaches that we should all be sharing our faith in Christ with others and feel confident bringing them to church with us.
I believe that if you can answer ‘yes’ to all five of these questions you are most likely in a healthy church and a good fit. However, if you cannot say ‘yes’ to all five then I want to encourage you to ask the Lord if you are where He wants you to be. I believe that, according to God’s Word, the Lord wants every Christ-follower in a church where they can answer all five questions with a resounding ‘YES!’
So, should you stay or should you go? The answer to your question--lies in these five questions.