Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed

On Picking a Church

posted by Scot McKnight

Let’s say you move into a new community, one in which you know no one other than a person or two with whom you will be working your day job, and you are left to your own devices to pick a church. 

What criteria would you use?
Hunter.jpgIn reading Todd Hunter, Giving Church Another Chance: Finding New Meaning in Spiritual Practices I got to thinking about that very question. Todd has moved from Vineyard to house church and now into the high church, Anglican Church.
What criteria would I use? What ranking would I give the criteria? What would be first? Or is there such a “first”? Would it come down to one or to a constellation?
In reading Todd’s book, which focuses on formative practices of a church and which therefore focuses on ecclesial formation, I wondered how many would choose the formative power of ecclesial practices. 
Like going to church, the doxology, reading Scripture aloud in public, sermons, following liturgy, offering, eucharist and receiving the blessing. 
If I were to choose a new church in a new community, I’d consider at least the following items:

1. The significance of fellowship and community to the people already there.

2. Respect for the Great Tradition in the church, made manifest in how much attention to such elements in the church services.
3. Eucharist — how often? I prefer this weekly.
4. Worship.
5. Teaching ministries: what’s important to the teaching?
6. Missional presence.
7. Sermons.
8. Public reading of Scripture.
9. Growing church — via evangelism and catechesis.
10. How many 20somethings and 30somethings are present?
How about you? What’s on your list?

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posted March 21, 2010 at 1:43 pm

I like your list, but I would alter #10 to read; “Is there a balance in ages attending? Young and old in worship and fellowship together, learning from each other?”

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Ken Stoll

posted March 21, 2010 at 1:52 pm

does the leadership value and have a good handle on what the gospel is? Do they hold the Cross as central, is the Resurrection being proclaimed in the preaching and teaching, week in and week out? I think this is paramount. Without the gospel as the heartbeat of the church you are considering, I’d say it’s a church to cross off your list.

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Bryan Cross

posted March 21, 2010 at 2:09 pm

It needs to be the Church that Christ founded.
St. Cyril of Jerusalem already answered your question, writing:
“And if ever you are sojourning in cities, inquire not simply where the Lord?s House is (for the other sects of the profane also attempt to call their own dens houses of the Lord), nor merely where the Church is, but where is the Catholic Church. For this is the peculiar name of this Holy Church, the mother of us all.” (Catechesis 17:14)
In the peace of Christ,
– Bryan

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posted March 21, 2010 at 2:23 pm

I would also consider location. Am I uniting with the believers who live around me?

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posted March 21, 2010 at 2:33 pm

Doctrine has always been in important to me, so I would probably look to that first, but then look to see how it gets fleshed out. A church can talk a good game about the various doctrines of the church, but are they living them? I guess another consideration would be how welcoming and warm the church is. After my current experience in a predominantly white, suburban, evangelical church, it’s become even more important to me how those from other cultures are received and treated. Those are tops for me and then after that would come other considerations like communion, music, etc.

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Kansas Bob

posted March 21, 2010 at 2:48 pm

Interesting that care for the poor is not mentioned in the list. I would not be interested in a church that did not care for the poor in some way. Sad that so many churches have closed their hearts to the poor and instead used their finances to support religious buildings and salaries.

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posted March 21, 2010 at 2:57 pm


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Scot McKnight

posted March 21, 2010 at 3:04 pm

Kansas Bob,
I did not try to give everything, but only a few that would generate conversation … but “missional” clearly has the sense of care for the poor for me.

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posted March 21, 2010 at 3:10 pm

Great list, Scot.
I’d also want a church that is open to regular activity of the Holy Spirit, allowing for the practice of such verses like 1 Cor 14:26 with room being given the body to build each other up, not just the person at the front.

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posted March 21, 2010 at 3:10 pm

Bob (6), that probably falls under missional presence.
Bryan (3), I’m not feeling a whole lot of peace from what appears to be a thinly veiled charge of heresy and separation from God for all those who don’t tow the HRC line..
Anyway, I like Scot’s list. I’d add a strong desire to seperate political ideology and nationalism from our understanding of the faith. I would also expand the point of Eucharist to be communal as I grew up in a church where it was an on-your-own-if-you-want-to sort of thing, which seems peculiar in light of its historical significance.
I’ll also hazard that I personally prefer a church that’s light on liturgy. Some is great, but I find heavily liturgical services drop me into a mechanical daze and the absolute spiritual wasteland I’ve found in the few I’ve attended has put me off. (CAVEAT: I realize this is purely restricted to my own experience and that many liturgical churches have a vibrant spiritual presence. I’ve had bad experiences that have put me off.)

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posted March 21, 2010 at 3:37 pm

I don’t disagree with your list, but am interested in how you see certain portions of the list (specifically #2 and #3) match with churches such as Willow Creek.

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Travis Greene

posted March 21, 2010 at 3:45 pm

In no particular order
-weekly Eucharist
-some level of dialogical teaching
-orthodox (little o)
-diverse (bearing in mind there are many kinds of diversity)
-genuinely communal

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Jeff Stewart

posted March 21, 2010 at 3:53 pm

“*A* church” (the noun) “Prefer” “List” – Sounds consumerist to me.

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Dan C

posted March 21, 2010 at 3:55 pm

It seems that we continue to look at church as what’s in it for me? Or we can PC this whole thing and say that it is how you see it and how you chose to practice “spirituality”. In that case you are religous and imposing on the church of Christ. Please find something else to call yourself and your practice.
Getting back to the center of it all is who is Jesus and what he has done for us. At the end of the day I don’t want to answer for my standards, perceptions and behavior. I would rather answer for my relationship to Christ and if I was obedient to what the Spirirt of God within me.

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Kansas Bob

posted March 21, 2010 at 3:58 pm

I think missional means many things to many people Scot. Hopefully it would not be an after-thought in the mission of a church but by-in-large I believe it is – at least in the churches that I have been associated with. I mean really.. just look at difference between religious salaries and building maintenance fees compared to the amount budgeted for the poor.. it would be hard to find a church that is truly missional in the sense that missional is predominant in their budget. Just a thought.

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The Charismanglican

posted March 21, 2010 at 4:14 pm

When I was excommunicated from the church that brought me to Christ, I just couldn’t bring myself to choose a church at all. The whole concept made me feel sick…how do you choose a family?
Thanks be to God a church chose me. After wandering for a long time, a very humble friend of mine invited me to St. Alban’s.
So, while I could give you a long list of why I’m so glad that God brought me to St. Alban’s, I’m not sure I want to even entertain the thought of choosing a church. The whole thing is just too painful, wrapped as it is in schism, consumerism, etc.

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posted March 21, 2010 at 4:17 pm

The top of my list would be whether is it walking distance from my home and do most of the people attending also live within walking distance.
I am more than done with the extractional model of church … where we extract people from their various environments and gather them together and create a church environment — one that insulates them from their home environment. Missional means, among other things, going out and dwelling in the neighborhoods with God — and joining his work there.
I realize that this is part of the distinct journey I am on with God at the moment, but I believe it is important to see the brothers and sisters one fellowships with at school, in the park, at the grocery store, in the library … you get the drift. Otherwise, we cannot be in each others lives in any kind of meaningful way and it makes it more difficult for us to impact our neighborhoods with God’s love.
If no, then it’s home church for us….

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Bob Smietana

posted March 21, 2010 at 4:26 pm

We’ve been through the find a church process in Nashville, and it’s been an interesting experience.
1) A pastor who’s not crazy.
2) A pastor who doesn’t get up and say, “I have no idea what this passage means”
3) Christian educators who value my kids.
4) A church which realizes that it doesn’t have a corner on the God market –and knows that other denominations/theological points of view aren’t the enemy.

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posted March 21, 2010 at 4:33 pm

When looking for a new church, I want one that is first and foremost devoted to serving God. One where they make God the center, not the building and not the pastoral leadership, and I want one that believes that accepting Jesus is the only way to heaven, and that doesn’t preach that you can get to heaven just by doing “good works”. After that, the other things I am looking for is a church that care about its people such as encouraging them to take care of each other when they are sick or have become destitute through circumstances out of their control, and I want a church that after loving its membership, loves it community.

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Scot McKnight

posted March 21, 2010 at 4:35 pm

I appreciate those comments at 18 and 19, folks who really do see the question as I’ve asked it. You move into a new town: how do you go about finding a church?

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Liz Driscoll

posted March 21, 2010 at 5:04 pm

We just went through this process in Cincinnati. We moved from Willow Creek, where we had been for almost 20 years and where I serve on staff (long distance now). We landed in a mid-sized (about 800 person) Methodist Church. Coming from a non-denomoninational megachurch, this was a surprise to us! We looked at numerous churches – but landed here for the following reasons:
1) Solid Evangelical Theology/ Missional Focus. I grew up in a church that preached a social gospel to the detriment of the salvation message. I grilled our pastors on matters of theology. At the same time, I made sure that this was a church that had a solid commitment to social justice, people in poverty and missions.
2) The Church is a presence in our community: We see people from church in school, soccer games, and around town. Additionally, this church is known in our community as being active in service projects that benefit the residents and beyond.
3) Solid Childrens Program – which focuses on teaching our kids about God in a serious but fun, nurturing and developmentally appropriate way. This was a non-negotiable for us. We needed a church that could come alongside us and nourish our kids spiritually.
4) Openness to women in spiritual leadership. I had not thought this one would be so important to me, willing to acknowledge that well-meaning Christ-followers could differ. But as a woman in ministry myself – we tried a church for a while that did not allow women to serve as elders/ deacons/ etc – and although I wasn’t even sure I wanted those positions, I felt stifled.
5) Character of the pastor: In my view, the pastor has to have a solid and genuine relationship with God, not ambitious for a big church, genuine. The pastor’s relationship with God often sets the tone for the whole church.
6) A broad tent perspective – evangelical but humble. Not a “we’ll be the only people in heaven” or a “we’re more spiritual than other churches in town” philosophy.
After coming from a megachurch – there are things that we miss. But we actually love being a part of a smaller church where we can know the pastors. At this phase in our lives, we are extremely happy to serve God in this church for this season.

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Chad Hall

posted March 21, 2010 at 5:25 pm

Very timely for me. My wife and I were just talking through these issues yesterday as we prepare to move to Portland, OR in a few months. Thanks.

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posted March 21, 2010 at 5:26 pm

Ack! That “this captcha has expired” thing makes me crazy. It should say “your comment WILL be lost”.
27 years of marriage, eight moves. Each time to a new country, state or city. With one exception where there was not one anywhere near by, we have always chosen within our current denomination. Because we know the doctrine and communion policies, that has been a non-issue. We have generally chosen based on location, family/friend connections, family recommendations or the fact it was the only one available.
I don’t know that a perfect church exists this side of heaven. Perhaps looking for one is folly? (With the understanding that there have to be a couple of minimum things that are vital.) Seems like being somewhere and doing what you can to make the church more Christlike is the main thing.

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posted March 21, 2010 at 5:28 pm

(I know you said “if you don’t know anyone” but even when we have moved somewhere that we don’t know anyone we have known someone who knows someone.)

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posted March 21, 2010 at 5:30 pm

This may be a real exercise for me in the near term. I would first check out churches within my denomination–because I’ve already vetted it for many reasons and I know that as a women I have a voice there. THEN–I look for 1. is the Gospel preached? 2. Is the Jesus Creed understood and lived? and 3. how welcoming are they to all ages, ethnic backgrounds and other demographics? The location I’m considering has many churches within my denomination–so there may be a range of choices. I’m with Peggy–I will find my house and my church together–maybe not “walking” distance–but certainly I don’t want to be clear across town from those I worship beside.
Liz–I smile when you say that 800 is “smaller”–to me it’s huge.

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posted March 21, 2010 at 5:39 pm

I just try to stay in step with where The Spirit leads me. Pretty exciting! -peace

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Chris Boucher

posted March 21, 2010 at 6:31 pm

So, why do you prefer the Eucharist weekly? Do you think it looses its significance if done so often?”
Professor, Capital Bible Seminary
Pastor, Chinese Bible Church College Park, Md.

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Scot McKnight

posted March 21, 2010 at 6:42 pm

Chris, thanks. I believe it is the central act of affirming our faith and the center of our worship.

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posted March 21, 2010 at 6:51 pm

In addition to the solid commitment to God’s Word and authentic humility in the leadership, I prefer to find manifest, to some degree or another, the fruit of God’s Spirit in God’s people.

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posted March 21, 2010 at 7:53 pm

We’re about to go through this process, again, and it has some added significance because of my own involvement in Christian ministry. I will say that the most difficult experiences we’ve had with churches have been due to unchecked gossiping and lying. At worst, the pastors participated in the manipulation and maneuvering. Bringing these worldly tactics into a building with “church” on the sign deceives the unwary. Furthermore, it teaches that it’s acceptable to take these practices from that building back into one’s office, family & neighborhood, and still wear the t-shirt, “Christian.”
So, we look for a church humbly committed to reconciliation “in Christ” (Pauline definition) among all its members, everywhere, at all times – recognizing that we’re all called to mature spiritually, and that comes through repentance and commitment to unity in Christ. This could be a combination of your #1 and #9 (catechesis), but it often goes unsaid.
I appreciated Stanley Hauerwas’ response to the question of how he counseled seminary students interested in church leadership: “Don?t lie. It?s just very simple. Don?t lie to me. You may oftentimes not know what the truth is. Tell me that. Just don?t lie to me. It kills you, it kills me and it kills the community.
“Just don?t lie to me. There is nothing more important than that. We want to be the kind of community that doesn?t want to be lied to.”

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Gary Holman

posted March 21, 2010 at 8:59 pm

I first sang in church at age 3. I have been in the middle of nearly every Christian movement of the past 5 decades. After surving years of abuse both as a congregant and then as a Pastor, I have realized the answer is not the institutional church as it operates at all. Religion, even christian religion will always dissappoint; the letter of the law kills, but the Spirit gives life.
We have looked back to the first church and found most of what is practiced today as “church” has nothing to do at all with the Church God has called us to be. We have surrendered our most cherished traditions to walk as honestly as we know how in order to walk with God. Relationship; loving God with all we are and loving our neighbors as ourselves has little to do with superstar clergy, billions of dollars in buildings and looking at the back of another believer’s head once, twice or three times a week, it has everything to do with using all that we have and all that we are to invest in those who are hurting and those who have not yet experianced God’s love.

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Gary Holman

posted March 21, 2010 at 9:01 pm


posted March 21, 2010 at 9:20 pm

1) Core doctrines – because they determine what God we worship and what Jesus we teach about. These doctrines also will shape what the church does and focuses on.
2) If the organizing principle for the church is passionately around the mission of God and all decisions are based on that.
If these 2 things are in place, then what kind of music, the leadership strucutre, what ages there are, the life and vibrancy of a church, the depth and need for community, what and how teaching occurs, its involvement with justice and compassion – will all then fall into place.

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posted March 21, 2010 at 9:38 pm

Peggy and Barb,
It is decidedly not within walking distance of our home – about a 30 minute drive – but one of the things I wanted was a church in the vicinity of and with a student population from the school I teach at. It has meant being willing to drive our kids around quite a bit over the years to keep them involved.
If we were to move I would try to do the same.
On other counts – the kinds of things mentioned about, especially core doctrines and many of the things in Scot’s list would help choose between churches.

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Josh M

posted March 21, 2010 at 9:56 pm

If I was looking for a church to attend (rather than a new church to pastor), I would look most of all for these elements, knowing of course that no church is perfect:
1. Is it genuinely Christ centered?
2. Do I sense that there is a spiritual aliveness, joyfulness and genuine love?
3. Is the preaching and teaching solid and challenging enough to help me and my family grow?
4. Is it focussed on the goodness of the good news and passionate about helping people being healed and transformed by the gospel?
5. Is it a good fit for my own giftedness – can I contribute something here that the congregation may be missing?
6. Is this the kind of church I would have no problems taking an unchurched friend to?
7. Do I also have an inner confirmation from the Holy Spirit that this is the place for this point in time?

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Travis Greene

posted March 22, 2010 at 9:51 am

Chris @ 27,
I kiss my wife everyday. That act hasn’t lost it’s significance. The repetitiveness of it is part of it’s significance, actually.
If we aren’t concerned that preaching or music or fellowship will lose their significance if practiced every week, why fear that about communion?

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posted March 22, 2010 at 10:40 am

(I dislike that process, BTW!) For me it comes down to a sense of calling; and like everybody else, I’ve got a list of things I think would be true of a community God would call me to join, but I hold it pretty loosely. This whole conversation reminds me of the lists some single people have for their future spouse. I wonder how many of those lists work out!
Maybe this is one of the areas I’m most “missional”: I try to discern the mission(s) of the group and ask God if I’m supposed to join in that work with those specific people; I try to see how much our mutual sense of vocation matches. I guess that’s what most people would say their criteria is designed to do.
This, too, for me is the same process on leaving a particular community to join with another part of the Church: more a matter of God’s call than preference.

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posted March 22, 2010 at 5:13 pm

You move into a new town: how do you go about finding a church?
pray and ask God where he wants me to be. i’ve done this several times and God has clearly led me to the local gatherings that have been right for me.

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posted March 25, 2010 at 1:55 pm

Josh said it the best, you must have some criteria.

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