If you have recently moved, started a family, or are just interested in finding a new church to attend regularly, before you just start going to any church, ask yourself the question "What is it I need from a church?" Do you need to pray more? Worship more? Praise more? Do you want to study the religious text more? Do you need emotional support or spiritual counseling? Do you need to be involved in a church that provides many social activities? Do you want to evangelize or be involved in community outreach services? Is it extremely important to you that the church is conveniently located close to where you live?
Once you've discovered what you need from a church, take out a pen and some paper and write down your needs. Then, prioritize them (write down your most important need first, the next one second, etc). After you've done this, review your list. The needs at the top of your list are your "non-negotiable" needs because they are the ones that are the most important to you. The needs that come after your first few needs are called "negotiable" needs because they are less important to you. The church you choose to attend should meet your number-one non-negotiable need, as many of your non-negotiable needs as possible, and some of your negotiable needs.
Keep in mind that your spouse or significant other may have different needs than you do. It may be extremely important to you that the church you attend offer many social activities, while your spouse might prefer that the church you attend offer more study groups or be located more closely to where you live.
Have a discussion with your significant other about each of your number-one non-negotiable needs and your negotiable needs. Be willing to negotiate and compromise in order to find a church that is right for both of you. Keep in mind, the church you choose to attend together should meet both of your number-one needs.
If you have children, it is important that you consider their needs as well. If they are old enough to realize what it is they need or want from a church, ask them! If they are too young to figure this out for themselves, then you can simply ask them if they liked attending the church that you visited after the service is over. Some good rules of thumb when choosing a church that is right for your children are:
- Make sure that the church has a children's program that is appropriate for the age of your children. Don't expect your teenager to get anything from a church that only offers adult services or grade school programs. Likewise, don't expect your grade school kids to enjoy a high school youth group program. They won't want to go!
- Make sure that the children's program is fun and full of social activities (outings, trips, camps, etc.). Your kids are in school five days a week and their religious training should be enjoyable as well as full of opportunities for them to make new friends with children their own age. It's extremely important for youth of all ages to meet new people and develop new social skills.
- Make sure that the children's program is focused on helping your kids to develop high moral judgment and effective coping skills. Children need to learn the difference between what is right and what is wrong for them and they need to learn how to effectively cope with social issues. If your children are younger than pre-teen, be sure that the program focuses on basic moral issues such as telling the truth, learning to forgive, having faith, etc. If your children are pre-teen and above, be sure that the children's program addresses relevant issues like the use of drugs, sex, peer pressure, etc., and how to cope with these issues effectively.
Once you and your family have agreed on what you are looking for in a church, look through your local Yellow Pages or ask friends and other family members to help you find churches in your neighborhood of that specific religion. For example, if you are Jewish, ask friends to help you look for a synagogue in your area. A synagogue is a place of worship in the Jewish community. If you are Islamic, ask friends to help you look for a mosque, which is a place of worship for Muslims. Also, you should choose three different places of worship to visit so you and your family will have plenty of options to choose from.
Keep in mind, not every church service is the same. Visiting a church just once really doesn't give you a good understanding of what the services or the congregation of that church is usually like. For this reason, I suggest that you visit each church (or place of worship) at least three different times before you decide whether or not it is the right place for you and your family. There are usually pamphlets or brochures available in the lobby of the place you are visiting that will describe the various services that particular place of worship has to offer. They are typically located by the front door in plain sight or are distributed by staff members at the front doors. If you do not see any brochures about the church you are attending, ask a staff member for assistance or call the church and ask them to send you some information in the mail.
Once you know your needs and the needs of your family, and you know what each of the three churches you've selected has to offer, you are then ready to choose a church that is right for all of you. Remember, the church you choose should meet everyone's first non-negotiable need and as many of the other needs as possible.
Congratulations, you're now ready to choose a church!