How To Recognize a Good Church - 5 Attributes To Consider
In the past several years, I have had opportunities to attend and visit many churches due to my ministry work. Every church is different. It is always interesting how one can spot a good church and a not so good. 'Good' meaning a place of worship where people seem to be joyful and united from the congregation to the pastoral team. How does one recognize a good church?
I have been at churches where the pastor couldn't be seen anywhere before the church service, and would disappear just as mysteriously after the preaching. How can the members of the congregation or the visitors get to know him and he them, short of phoning to make an appointment between Sunday to Sunday just to exchange a few words? Even then, I have also experienced, a phone call is intercepted by a secretary and never returned anyway.
Traveling to various locations and attending different churches gives you the variety to gauge some analytical feelings. And I'm not talking here about feelings of carnal criticism. I'm not talking about a judgmental attitude. I'm talking about a mature spiritual discernment of how things are going within the body of Christ from one place to another.
One needs to allow for the culture and personality of people and leadership. Some churches may be more alive than others, some may be more conservative, etc. That's not what we're talking about here. There is an atmosphere, a Spirit if you will, that can be quickly sensed in the air, as to whether the church is genuinely joyful or distressed. It's something like the first three minutes of an interview, or the atmosphere within a low-morale organization.
But real joy or distressed cannot be faked. You can see it in the faces of the people. You can feel it in the voices and greetings of the folks milling around. You can observe it in the discipline and reverence in the sanctuary. You can hear it in the singing. You can experience it in the affection between the members and the pastors. You can sense it in your spirit. You can definitely receive it in the preaching of the preacher.
Let's examine these attributes more closely.
1) You can see it in the faces and joy of the people:
Reality cannot be faked nor hidden. The genuinely joyful greetings of an excited, Spirit-filled congregation can be sensed by even the most unbelievers. As a matter of fact, I have on many occasions abstained from inviting an unbeliever to church for the very reason that the feeling was never right for such an occasion. I've been at conservative churches that unexpectedly turned into 'heavy metal' concerts by youth pastors in the absence of the regular pastors. That's enough to turn any middle aged skeptic away. Different people fit in different styles or formats - all of which is determined by the satisfaction of the members of the congregation.
2) You can feel it in the voices and greetings of the folks milling around:
The genuineness of the people can only come from times spent together and caring for each other. Times really enjoying each other's company through fellowship, times talking and sharing before and after the Sunday services and in home cells during the week. Times praying together, crying and laughing together in appropriate moments of life. Times of singing and worshiping, helping, planning, suggesting, rebuking when necessary, and praising a lot. This transfers into the voices and greetings of the members, as opposed to a distraught and upset, disinterested or dissatisfied people.
3) You can observe it in the discipline and reverence of the Sanctuary:
There is nothing less irreverent then a congregation ignoring the service starting times and the quietness of the sanctuary. Or the lateness of members with the excuse of 'sleeping in' or being too busy to make it on time. In many churches, the chatter and noise going on in the Sanctuary is no different then in a casino or coffee shop. There has to be reverence in the House of God. The Sanctuary is just that: a Sanctified place to meet the Almighty God of the Universe. Of course He is with us even in our homes. But the Church is the official meeting place of the children of God. I've seen folks barefoot with coffee on hand walking up and down the isles as if it was an outdoor pic-nic.
In one church my husband and I attended, the pastor, who was on the music team, would scan through every member while singing worship songs, as if to see who was singing and who wasn't or how they were singing. One wants to see the music worship team 'into it', singing unto the Lord from his/her heart to God's - not worrying about the folks around them. Often, the music worship leader would try hard to rouse up the congregation because of their low response. Unfortunately, the 'rousing up' is done by the Holy Spirit, when He is in the worship - not by man. The same goes for the preaching.
One Sunday morning, the music worship leader announced that it was a tiring view to see the congregation members sitting at the same spot every Sunday; so he told them to get off their seats and move about to another location. Imagine that, treating people as if they were a bunch of kids. And we wonder why 65% of our communities (according to Rick Warren's book "The Purpose Driven Church") is made up of unchurched folks and roaming believers. This was the day I started to think that this was not the church for me.
People have reasons for picking the seats they do. I for one have to sit at a location where the visual angle to the screen hanging high from the ceiling is right because of a severe neck vertebrae problem that I have and also bifocals that I wear. As well, we have to sit near the entrance because of my husband's atrial fibrillation condition that can require him to leave the sanctuary at any time.
People have their own personal reasons, whether physical or psychological, for choosing a certain place to sit at in church or any other public auditorium. The important thing is that they are there in church, worshiping the Lord, comfortably. The job of the worship team is to lead the worship in a Spirit-filled manner. The church does not own people. It serves them.
4) You can hear it in the singing:
Healthy churches love to sing. They choose congregational songs that are appropriate for Sunday worship services. We're not talking here about styles of contemporary vs traditional, or large churches vs small or grand music programs and band performances. We are talking about 'anointed', Spirit-led music coming from real heart-felt worship in a well prepared and chosen mix of old and new melodies appropriate for congregational singing. Unfortunately, I see too many churches where the music is so new and contemporary that most of the members can't sing along because there is no place for heartfelt emotion or sentiment.
I am talking about music that is based on Christian doctrine and theology where the congregation and visitor alike cannot help but join in a chorus of worship and praise to God the Savior because it touches their hearts. It is obvious to the naked eye and ear whether the congregation is singing or not. If the singing is poor, preaching usually follows in the same vein - because all begins at the pulpit in the first place.
5) You can experience it in the affection between the members and the pastors:
A healthy church demonstrates a visible affectionate bond between the people and pastor. There is an expression of it before and after the service as the pastor speaks from the pulpit to within the foyer. Again, we're not talking about personality. We are talking about a genuineness, a humbleness, a love flowing from the heart. This too cannot be faked.
I have felt many a pastor's coldness and uncaring projection many a time. Some pastors have taken the word 'flock' literally. And I'm not talking about hugging either. Give me a good, genuine handshake when I come in to church rather than incessant, unsolicited hugging. Some people need hugs, others don't. Hugging has a place and time, but it is not necessary for every day meetings.
Speaking of hugs, I can't understand why people think that women have to be hugged all the time. There was a time in history when proper etiquette was taught. Nowadays, like so many other things, formalities and protocols and manners have been totally thrown out the window of our lives.
An affectionate bond between people and pastor happens over a time of trust-building through deep and anointed theology preached from the pulpit which is solidly based on Scripture and the Word of God, and which is received by anointed hearing ears.
No church is perfect. People make up a church from the leadership to the congregation through a reciprocal responsibility, maturity and appreciation from both sides. So look for a church that has this demonstrated flexibility./dmh
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