How do I find a good local church?

Shaun Stotyn
Group of college students sit at colorful Mexican restaurant for dinner with fellow church members

First, do you believe it’s necessary to be a member of a local church? Check out this 3-minute video: https://youtu.be/QL48dnkYO5c 

Second, here are some thoughts that hopefully make finding a good local church less of a mystery.  Be sure to check out this questionnaire, which can help you organize your observations about a church. 

Top 3 things to consider:

1. Bible (2 Timothy 3:16) 

The Bible is God’s word, it is necessary and sufficient. Do they preach it? Teach it? Refer to it? Follow it? Obey it? If they don’t, they’re not really a Christian church, they’re just a secular humanist gathering. Be careful of the church that says “Hey, come next Sunday to hear five ways to have a better marriage!” – that’s usually just self-help pop psychology, not necessarily Biblical. Look for the words they say and write like: Jesus, grace, repentance, sin, wrath, forgiveness. Look for a church that will help you understand God’s Word even better, and point you back to it. Look for a church that holds the Scriptures as their foundation and core. 

2. Gospel (Titus 3:3-7) 

The Gospel is the core message of the Bible: we are sinners but Christ has paid our debt and saved us from the wrath of God. This is the core of pretty much every other doctrine like God’s sovereignty, character, glory, our sin, mission, sanctification. Does this church speak explicitly about our sin and need of a Savior? Do they relentlessly present Jesus as the Treasure and necessary Savior? Or is it mostly moralism, i.e. be a better person, be a good guy, follow these generally accepted American moral rules? Does this church fall off the horse on the side of legalism (your work is what makes God like you) or cheap grace (God doesn’t care how you live)? The gospel says paradoxically that God does care how you live, but you can’t please him with living a good life. Rather, God is pleased with you if you are united with Christ, and then empowers you to live a holy life for Him. 

3. Mission/disciple-making (Matthew 28:18-20)

The mission of the church is to make disciples. If a church isn’t doing this, they’re failing at their primary PURPOSE, and they’re probably unhealthy and dying.  Are they reaching out to non-Christians? Are they helping the Christians grow in maturity? Are they hosting Bible studies for folks? Are they training folks in leadership? Are they engaging in other ministries like helping the poor? Are they sending missionaries locally and globally? Are they multiplying?  One significant fruit to look for is if they are planting other new local churches. That’s a good sign that mission & disciple-making is part of their DNA.  

Church is like an aircraft carrier, not a cruise ship.  Find a community of folks who are on mission together for Christ’s kingdom, and you will find the most exciting and biblical adventure in the world! 

Other secondary things to keep in mind:


Are these leaders men that you are willing to follow? Are they worthy of respect? Are they godly and following Christ? How do they lead their families? Consider the Scriptural requirements of leaders in 1 Timothy 3:1-7. Meeting with them one-on-one to get to know them is a great practical way to discern their character. 

Secondary theological issues

There are many issues that Christians have disagreed with over the years like baptism, end-times, worship style, spiritual gifts, Bible translation, church leadership style. If you care deeply about any of these, then research what this church believes about that issue. If you’re a cessationist, you might find it difficult being in an Assembly of God church. If you’re into believers baptism only, you might not enjoy Presbyterians as much. Remember to cling to humility in this process. Have you always believed the same thing your whole life? Maybe this church, though different, has something to teach you. Don’t cling to your secondary issues too closely. 

Worship and cultural style 

Do you like the church? Is it a worship style that you enjoy, or does it put you on edge? There are a great variety of styles, from rock-concert type churches to stoic and formal liturgies. Are these people that you want to hang around, or do they weird you out? Would you want to bring your unsaved friends here?


How close is this church to you? How close are the other members? Are you a short enough driving distance to actually be involved in the community? Are their small groups meeting on a day that you can make it? You have to be available so that you can be involved. Are there churches that you drive past that meet the essentials (Bible, Gospel, & Mission) but you write them off because of a secondary or tertiary issue? Better to go to a church that’s five minutes away that meets the primary issues, then have to drive forty minutes to your “perfect” church. 

Consider your attitude:

Figure out what your top priorities are, and let the rest of your preferences die 

We’ve all got preferences, but it’s hard if not impossible to find a church where ALL your preferences are gonna be there. So figure out the TOP things you’re looking for and then commit to focus on those top things and rejoice in them, and pray that you don’t get bitter or angry about the secondary things that aren’t your preference. Don’t treat church like a make-your-own burrito at Chipotle.

Make a decision quickly and commit clearly 

The benefits of a local church come from deep commitment, and it takes time to go deep. So the earlier you can commit and just say “okay, here’s where I’m putting roots down and investing” the faster you’re going to feel like it’s your “home” and feel connected to folks. And by “commit” I mean become a formal member of the church, which could mean membership classes or an application or interview process with your pastor or elders. 

Practically that means going to church events, saying yes when church members invite you to things (coffee, parties, etc.). I think the temptation for many folks is to do the phase of “church shopping” for a long long time trying to find the right church. Instead I challenge you: Commit. Become a member of a local church. (Waiting a long time to commit is often part of FOBO, “fear of better options.” Check out the Paradox of Choice TED talk about FOBO. 

Walk in the door saying, “How can I serve?” 

I find it so easy in a new church to walk in and say, “Okay, I’m the new guy… start serving me!!” Instead, God calls us to serve even as the new guy (Philippians 2). Certainly we join a church to be poured INTO. But we also are called to pour OUT. You are called to produce, not just consume. And if you’ve received training during college in Bible study, leadership, evangelism, and discipleship, then the local church NEEDS your giftings and ministry! You’ve been invested into so that you can invest in others. Don’t be a cul-de-sac, be a conduit for God. Ask the pastors how you can best serve the church, and then do so joyfully!

Practical tips to make the most of your Church visit:

  • Generally it takes four Sunday morning visits to a church to get a reliable baseline of what the service and culture is like.
  • Visit some non-Sunday-morning events to get a broad sense of the church. Small groups, Sunday schools, outreach events, etc. 
  • Keep your eyes open and make observations. How do they respond to visitors? How do they treat non-Christians? What do they emphasize? 
  • Meet the pastor and other leaders. Get to know them and their character. 
  • Keep the above categories in mind as you are getting to know the church. 

If you want to dig deeper in learning:

Shaun Stotyn is the Director of The Vine Campus Ministry in Vermont, The Campus Ministry at The University of Vermont, and Worship Pastor at Daybreak Community Church where he attends with his wife, Monica, and two wonderful children, Cadence and Ransom. He can be reached at shaun@trumpetkid.com.

Sign up for our Newsletter

Get news about events, promotions, and new opportunities – right to your inbox!