May 28, 2017

A Checklist for Choosing a Good Local Church

by Jim Hollandsworth

How should one go about choosing a good local church? Apart from a recommendation by a trusted pastor or friend, the process can be daunting, especially in this age of apostasy and evangelical compromise. Churches that once adhered to the fundamentals of the faith have departed. Multitudes of ministries have gone the direction of New Evangelicalism and lack any type of separational stand. Sadly, the name Baptist no longer guarantees that a church adheres to the historic Baptist distinctives.

What criteria should be considered in evaluating a church for prospective membership? Often the decision is made because of the great programs or professional literature or beautiful facilities or polished preacher. Well-meaning Christians sometimes choose a church because of the outstanding music or convenient location or size. While these may be commendable qualities, they should not be the sole basis for selecting a church.

The following checklist provides a means for evaluating local churches. The checklist is not exhaustive, but representative. Scripture references are not provided due to space constraints. However, each question has a Biblical basis, and the reader is encouraged to use the checklist as a Bible study tool for either personal or group study. A negative answer to any of the questions could be an indication that a church does not take a proper Biblical stand.

Prayerfully ask for the guidance of the Holy Spirit while seeking answers to the questions. Most answers can be found by reading the church’s literature (constitution, doctrinal statement, brochures) and by observing the church in practice (services, messages, programs, activities, affiliations). If necessary, schedule a meeting with the pastor to gather additional information.

Fundamental Doctrine

If the church does not believe and teach the great doctrines of Scripture, it is not Bible-believing and, therefore, should not be considered by the believer, even if the ministry is seemingly dynamic and growing.

Does the church believe and teach …

  • that the Bible is God’s complete and authoritative revelation to man, inerrant and inspired in the original manuscripts?
  • the Genesis account of Creation and the Flood?
  • a triune Godhead, including the deity of Christ?
  • Christ’s virgin birth, death, burial, and resurrection?
  • that all are sinners and stand eternally condemned?
  • that heaven and hell are literal places?
  • that salvation occurs when a person, by faith, turns from sinful self-reliance (repentance) to Christ’s blood atonement for forgiveness and eternal life?
  • that believers are eternally secure?
  • the personal return of Christ at the close of the Tribulation to establish His literal 1000-year reign?
  • that abortion is murder, homosexuality is an abomination, and sexual activity outside of marriage is sin?
Separation

Separation from apostasy, ecumenism, and worldliness is a matter of obedience to the Word. History demonstrates that churches that are disobedient to the Lord in this area eventually become apostate themselves, often in a couple of generations.

Does the church believe and teach …

  • that Christians are to be holy, separate from sin and worldliness?
  • that church discipline is necessary for maintaining purity within?
  • that the church should separate from affiliation with other churches, denominations, or organizations (including colleges and mission boards) that are not obedient to the Scriptures?
  • that movements such as New Evangelicalism, ecumenism, and cooperative evangelism are in error and to be avoided (e.g., Billy Graham Crusades, Promise Keepers, and other inter-faith movements)?
  • that the Charismatic movement is in doctrinal error?
  • that contemporary Christian music and social drinking are contrary to Biblical principles?
Baptist Distinctives

Throughout history, many great men gave their lives in defense of Biblical convictions concerning the governance and structure of the church, the observance of ordinances, the position of the believer, and the relationship of church and state. But just because a church is called Baptist does not necessarily mean that it holds these convictions.

Does the church believe and teach …

  • that the Bible is the sole authority for faith and practice?
  • that governance is to be independent and autonomous?
  • that only two ordinances are to be observed—water baptism by immersion following salvation and the Lord’s Supper as a memorial of Christ’s death?
  • that the ordinances are not sacraments but simple acts of obedience?
  • that only Biblically qualified men (not women) are to hold the offices of pastor and deacon?
  • that the pastor is the loving overseer of the church?
  • that only those who have been saved and Scripturally baptized are admitted into membership?
Ministry

Ministry is the practical application of theological truth. It is the carrying out of the commands and principles of Scripture. A church’s philosophy of ministry will be evident in its practices.

Does the church believe and teach …

Evangelism

  • that all Christians are to be faithfully sharing the gospel?
  • that the primary mission of the church is to carry out the Great Commission?
  • that God is glorified by obedience and faithfulness rather than by pragmatic results?
  • that regular opportunities should be given in services and programs for the lost to receive Christ and be counseled Biblically?
  • that missionaries should be sent out from the church to take the gospel to the world? Edification •the importance of identification with a New Testament local church?
  • that regular attendance and fellowship with other Christians is vital to spiritual growth?
  • that worship methods and styles should not be driven by marketing studies but by the pattern established in the New Testament?
  • the Biblical principle of tithing?
  • that expository preaching and teaching of the Word are of primary importance?
  • that secular psychology has no place in Biblical counseling?
  • that the duty of the pastor is to equip the saints to do the work of the ministry?
  • that all members should be serving, using their spiritual gifts for the furtherance of the ministry?
  • that the members should be unified, loving, giving, friendly, and hospitable?
  • that the programs of the church should have as their ultimate purpose the salvation of souls and the edification of saints?
  • that all things should be done decently, orderly, and excellently?
Personality

Every church has a personality, which is largely an extension of the pastor’s individual personality, talents, gifts, goals, spiritual maturity level, and life experiences. Assuming the pastor is a godly man and the church is Biblically qualified, there are no right or wrong questions to ask about personality. This area is largely a matter of taste and preference. However, in this area, as well as each of those listed above, believers must prayerfully determine where God would have them unite for effective service.


This article first appeared in FrontLine • May/June 2000. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.

Jim Hollandsworth is pastor of First Baptist Church of Berwyn in Berwyn, Pennsylvania.


Although Proclaim & Defend is the blog of the FBFI, the articles we post are not an expression of the views of the FBFI as a whole, they are the views of the author under whose name they are published. The FBFI speaks either through position statements by its board or through its president. Here at Proclaim & Defend, we publish articles as matters of interest or edification to the wider world of fundamentalist Baptists and any others who might be interested.

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