As most of you probably know, September is the month when we see an influx of visitors more than any other month of the year. Easter service is the day we see the most new faces but September is the greatest month. Part of the reason lies in the fact that our city is a college town and Ren has always been a church college students have chosen. So we will see college students streaming in. September is also a month when people get back into routines and into the habit of attending church. It’s also a time when people move to the city to start jobs. For all these reasons we will see a beautiful influx of new people at our gatherings in the coming weeks. This is always exciting!
Why do new people come to the church? Well, in most cases, it’s because someone invited them or they found our website and are interested. Many people are trying to find the church that feels like home for them. This challenge of finding the right church can be a little overwhelming. Some approach it very theologically and with careful research. Others are more intuitive and go with what seems to feel right. The reasons that cause people to settle into a church are many.
I’m partly writing this today for those who are in that place of trying to find the perfect church. I could be funny and tell you all the reasons why Ren is the best church but I want to genuinely help you to figure this out by offering some qualities to look for in a church and perhaps some things to not be fooled by.
Churches can be a little like businesses in that they package their product with excellent branding and an interesting space design. I’m a big fan of this and I joke with my daughters that we buy certain food products that cost more sometimes just because the packaging is attractive. Pathetic! At Ren Church we work hard to make both our space and branding excellent. But these things do not mean a church is healthy. Many churches have nice buildings and beautiful websites and printed literature but are hollow spiritually. So don’t be fooled by externals.
Closely related is the aspect of music. Many people choose a church because they like the music style. This isn’t necessarily bad but we have to be careful. Again, great musicianship is not the same as worship. I’m not at all advocating for bad musicianship or that you should settle for a worship style that you just don’t like. If you encounter God through hymns then look for a hymn singing church. If you like quieter acoustic worship then look for that. If you like big band, blow-the-roof-off worship then find that. I know there are excellent churches with all these different styles out there. But beyond style, look for heart. Are the worship leaders living a lifestyle of worship? Is the worship an expression of genuine longing for Christ?
One of the most important aspects to look for in a church is the Word. Sadly, many churches have fallen away from preaching the Word and have given the people an imbalanced diet of shallow, positive messages. Life is hard and I think it’s easy for us to prefer just hearing a soft message that makes us feel warm and fuzzy. But this doesn’t help us grow. Choose a church that has the courage to preach the whole Word of God. Choose a church that tends to go through books of the Bible. Beware of fluffy preaching that tastes good in the moment but will leave you malnourished in the end. I could list in 20 seconds 20 awesome pastors in the Providence area that preach the Word well. Choices are abundant!
Along with the brave accurate handling of the Word, I think compassion is important. Some preachers preach strong but don’t weep for the people. They don’t really pray much for the people. Usually we can tell pretty quick whether or not truth is being spoken in love. So choose a church with pastors and elders with a big heart.
Going a little deeper, I would say that a good church has a strong prayer emphasis and an array of outreach opportunities and plenty of ways to grow spiritually through small groups. Some churches have a great Sunday gathering but that’s about it. I believe we need more than a once-a-week thing. So search for a place with a balance of opportunities that make it easy to grow spiritually.
It goes without saying that people often choose a particular church because of the love they feel. Maybe the atmosphere is warm and friendly. Maybe the people just seem genuine and caring. If I was looking for a church I would definitely look for this. However, it’s important to remember that churches are open to the public and often include people at all stages of spiritual life. A good church gathering will include skeptics and practicing sinners and addicts, as well as people who are mature in love. It’s one big beautiful mix. So don’t look for heaven on earth. Every church includes broken people.
There are other important qualities that people look for such as kids programming and youth ministries and, well, good coffee. Life is too short to attend a church that serves bad coffee. Kidding. :)
One mistake I think people looking for churches make is that they look for their “people”. In other words, older people want a church with older people. College students want a church filled with college students. Young educated professionals want to fellowship with people just like them. This even extends to color of skin. People often want to fellowship with people who share the same color of skin. I suppose some of this is normal. We all enjoy being with people we have stuff in common with. I believe the church should be different though. The local church is at her best when she is as diverse as the neighborhood around her. So don’t look for a church full of people just like you. Be part of a diverse family. It will be uncomfortable at times and relationships will be more challenging, but you’ll grow in ways you never dreamed of.
That’s all I can think of and I pray this will help some of you reading this in your search. At the end of the day you will not find a perfect church. Go with the one that seems to be a good fit and pour yourself into it. I’m confident that if you choose a church and then devote yourself to serve and give and pray for the community, you will flourish.
Some of you reading this may be committed to Ren or another local church. Great! Stay with it. And maybe use this content to help one of your brothers or sisters struggling to find the right church. The good news for anyone living in Rhode Island is that there are many, many amazing Gospel churches. I am friends with many pastors throughout the region and have heard their hearts and have seen them weeping for people. It gives me great hope for the days ahead when we see a mighty revival that causes tens of thousands of people to stream into churches everywhere. Oh yeah, it’s coming!