Why and how do we choose a church?
“And Jesus said unto them, ‘Come after me, and I will make you to become fishers of men’” (See Mark 1:9-20 , RSV).
Jesus spent time in prayer and fasting before choosing his disciples and beginning his public ministry. How do we go about “choosing a church?” Perhaps we have “inherited” a congregation from parents and grandparents and decided to keep it! Or maybe we have “felt led” to a particular community of faith. There are some deep, underlying personal factors which we may or may not consciously acknowledge when we consent to church membership.
We might choose a church, in part, for psychological reasons. Does it meet our needs? Does it make us feel good? Does it appeal to us? Do we like the music and programming? Is the style or worship pleasing to us? Is the location satisfactory (or worth the commute)? Will we be comfortable inviting family and friends to attend? Is the emotional tenor consistent with our own – do they stand up and shout or sit down and pray? These choices, obviously, are largely about us, and all this is understandable. It might even be a means of self-protection and survival! I’ve heard of those who have moved into a community and were never able to “find a church.” There was nothing compatible psychologically – and so they stopped attending altogether!
We might choose a church, in part, based upon sociological factors. That is, we pay primary attention to other people. We look for family and friends to be present. We expect people to be like us. Do we like the preacher? The song leader? The secretary? The custodian? The staff? The ushers? The choir? The teachers? The committee chairs? Do we like the other people in the pews – are they friendly, sincere, and helpful? I’ve heard of people who “used to go here but they got their feelings hurt.” Somehow the presence of Christ and the power of the Gospel was unable to overcome the impact of other people! Sure we consider other people when we choose a church. We might be crazy not to! Many congregations today are primarily social institutions – so much so that we think the church belongs to us and is all about us!
We might choose a church, in part, based upon theology. We consider our own understanding of God. We consider our beliefs about various Christian doctrines. We want our decision to be informed by the Bible and theology. We ask, “What is God like?” We ask, “Do I see Him faithfully portrayed in and by this congregation?” Whatever our basis for choosing a church, we would do well to remember the words of Peter, “Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of life.” Just remember, the Psalmist said that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made”, and the Body of Christ is big enough to encompass our psychological, sociological, and theological needs. Glory be to God!
Dr. Faught is Pastor of The LaFollette United Methodist Church.