A few times a month, I get questions like these:
My sister is in a church whose doctrine is not in line with God’s word and I’m trying to research online for a church for her to call home. I am having a difficult time and I am asking if you could recommend a church you may know of in Tulsa that she could attend?
My son was accepted to the University of Osh-Kosh-B’Gosh and will be attending there this fall. We’re having a hard time finding a church for him to plug into there. Can you help us?
So I thought that I’d peel back the curtain and let you know how it is that I come up with recommendations. Armed with this knowledge, you’ll be able to help your friends and family the next time that they need a good church.
Step 1 – Make Sure to Leave Well
If they’re moving out of town, this usually isn’t a big deal. But if you’re changing churches in the same town, then be sure to read How to Leave Your Old Church by Kevin DeYoung.
Step 2 – Always Use a Map
If someone tells you that they live in Winnetka, CA and you simply search for churches in Winnetka, then you have very low odds of finding a good church for them. Always open up a map (I like Google Maps) and see what cities are nearby. If you see Winnetka on a map, then you’d know that its in the middle of the San Fernando valley, north of Los Angeles. To look in cities nearby will open up the options quite a bit.
Step 3 – Check Websites You Trust
I typically visit The Master’s Seminary and 9Marks websites as a starting point for possible churches. TMS lists where most of its graduates are serving and 9Marks lists churches that affirm their core values. Use these as a starting point.
Step 4 – Investigate the Options
Visit each church’s website. (If they don’t have one, they might still be solid but you should probably assume that they’re a pretty small church.) Look at:
- (a) their doctrine – does it tell you anything specifically on doctrines of grace, spiritual gifts, end times, mission of the church, etc.?
- (b) their sermon archive – is it expositional or topical?
- (c) their pastoral staff bios – what are they into and where did they come from?
- (d) their events and ministries – what does the church focus its attention on?
From these things, you can typically tell a fair bit about a church. If they’re still an option, hit play on a sermon or two. You don’t have to listen to all of it, but listen to a few minutes of the intro, then skip ahead to the 2/3 mark. Can you listen to them? Live preaching ia almost ALWAYS better than a recording, so if you like the online audio, you’ll probably like the weekly preaching.
Step 5 – Visit Some, Choose One
By this time, you should have a short list of options. Aim for 2-4 churches that are possibilities. Know that driving 20 extra minutes for a good church is totally worth it. Then visit those churches. Designate a month and go visit them. Consider whether:
- Do people come to church with their Bibles? If the preacher points people towards it, they typically do.
- Does the preacher talk down to the church or on-level with them? This reveals a great deal about his view of his role and of leadership within the church.
- Does the gospel have more than a mention in the sermon? Is the sermon a simple call to morality, or does it push you to consider and love the person and work of Christ?
- Do you understand what’s being preached? Lack of clarity on your part does not mean that the speaker is too smart for you. It’s his fault, not yours.
- Do you think that you’ll grow & mature here? The question is not whether its good for your kids, but is it good for you? If you’re growing more in love with Christ, your kids will be fine.
- Do they practice church discipline? A church that pursues people in sin is what you want. Lack of accountability and ongoing public sin will be increasingly evident in churches that neglect biblical church discipline and restoration.
Step 6 – Get Plugged in at the New Church
Once you’ve settled on the church you want to call home, then you need to do more than simply attend on Sunday mornings. Mere attendance will leave you feeling disconnected. Make sure to read How to Start at Your New Church for more help on this.