We all know the importance of first impressions in Church shopping. It’s no secret that the first thing you notice about a given situation, person, or place, will have a lasting impact on your opinion. But, relying solely on your first impression in the process of investigating a church can have some negative effects. Evaluating a church based on what you see first, or based on your subjective preferences, may cause you to pass over a quality church, or settle into a church that looks good on the surface but may only be that: good on the surface and nothing more. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you visit your potential new church home:
1) Don’t judge a book by its cover % beauty is only skin-deep (let’s face it, clichés exist for a reason: they contain some truth). I’m convinced I would not be married to my amazing wife had she evaluated me on my looks alone. In the same way, I’m convinced I would not be a member of my current church had I done likewise. Either push past the flash in order to get to the substance or, on the other hand, look past the cracks in order to find the beauty that might be underneath.
2) Put first things first. The Church exists to glorify God through His Son Jesus by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. Whatever else is present in worship is secondary to that main principle. The Church is about God. Is this principle obvious to you as a visitor during praise, during the sermon, and even during announcements or times of fellowship? You may consider keeping a tally during your visits to gauge how much Jesus is talked about compared to other things. Even if you aren’t church shopping at the moment, try this in your own church – you may be surprised.
3) Talk to people. I know this isn’t the most comfortable thing to do, but these are your brothers and sister in Christ, and, if you choose to become a member of this church, they will be your immediate church family. Ask questions about the church; get to know people (even just a little bit). You’ll find out quite a lot about what the church values based on the conversations you have with its members.
4) What you’re won with, you’re won to. Because the Church is about God, if He is the reason you decide to become a member of a church (because He is the key focus of that church’s efforts) then you will seldom be disappointed. If, however, you’re won by the great music, there will come a day when that music will change, or fail to live up to your expectations, and you will be tempted to leave. If you’re won by an amazing children’s program, there will come a day when that program will let you down or your children will grow up and you will again be tempted to leave. The church is not a concert venue, nor is it a daycare, nor is it a coffee shop, nor anything but a community dedicated to worshiping the God of the universe by its internal acts of praise and external efforts of outreach. This does not mean that good music, good child care, and good coffee are bad things… Let me say that again so I don’t infuriate tons of people – It’s okay for a church to have great music, great programs, great everything! But put principle 2 to practice here: does that good music talk more of God than other things? Does the children’s program teach children about God? Even the refreshments at a church provide an opportunity to talk about Jesus. This may require you to sacrifice some of your stylistic preferences, but is that really such a sacrifice considering Jesus’s command to His followers in Matthew 16:24 – “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”?
5) Give it a second, third, fourth chance. Everyone has a bad day once-in-a-while, and even the most put-together churches can be off every now and then, so in order to evaluate whether or not this really is the right fit for you, go back a few more times. Because you didn’t judge the book by its cover, it would be irrational not to finish reading it to the end.
I hope some of these tools help you to evaluate the Church you are looking at attending. Put them into practice and let us know how it goes by commenting below.