“Church shopping” is pretty common today. People visit different churches, looking for something they like, before finally settling on a place to attend regularly. Churches notice this practice and try to cater to as many preferences as possible so as to keep these “shoppers” from looking elsewhere for what they want.
I don’t mean to criticize all aspects of this phenomenon. In fact, it would be wrong to pick a spiritual family on a whim. The spiritual food we ingest and the people with whom we take our journey of faith is a life-defining choice, and careful scrutiny of potential groups is to be encouraged.
The key question is: what are we looking for? This was the question Jesus posed to would-be followers of his day (John 1:38). Unfortunately, people often seek traits that are simply personally appealing, without taking the time to consider qualities that God finds important.
What People Look For
• Good music. “A band that rocks,” advertised one church. Here we must pause and examine our hearts: are we going to concerts, or going to humbly worship God from the heart? New Testament Christians managed to “be filled with the Spirit” — not by guitars and amps and light shows and famous musicians — but by simple worship, “addressing one another” in congregational singing (Ephesians 5:18-19). Is God as impressed by human spectacles as by the melody of a thankful heart?
• Big crowds. It’s human nature to feel like being a member of a big congregation means “we got it right.” But people giving such stock to the majority opinion would certainly miss out on salvation in Noah’s day (1 Peter 3:20), Joshua’s day (Numbers 14:6-10), or even Jesus’ day (John 6:65-66). The churches of the first-century were no exception to the Biblical pattern of the faithful being few (Revelation 3:8).
• A pastor/priest with a great personality. Whether it is personality, delivery, pleasing message, or something else, sometimes we find ourselves attracted to a group simply because of its leader. Unfortunately, this inclination makes us vulnerable to false teachers, who know how to look and how to come across in order to bring the untaught and unstable in (Matthew 7:15; 2 Corinthians 11:13-14; 2 Timothy 4:3-4).
These are just a few characteristics people look for. There may be more, and we would do well to reflect on what attracts us to our group. As we do, consider most of all, what does God look for?
What God Looks For
• Truth. Jesus declared, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples” (John 8:31). The church is to be the “pillar and buttress of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). Where many seek preachers that spout opinions popular in a given generation, Scripture gives a simple test: “Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son” (2 John 9). Demand book, chapter, and verse for all beliefs and practices, or else you will find yourself building on sand, not the rock of Christ’s teaching (Matthew 7:24-27).
• Love. Since the law of God is summed up in the word “love” (Romans 13:9), palpable love between Christians is a sure sign that Christ’s teaching is being put into practice. Jesus affirmed, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). The love Jesus promoted, of course, is far less about hugs and smiley faces than about service and sacrifice (1 John 3:18).
• Fruit. Jesus told his disciples, “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples” (John 15:8). He was not speaking about “results” as defined by the world or by statistics, but faithfulness. Do we see the impact of the Spirit in our church (Galatians 5:22-24)?
So many groups that have the appearance of strength would find a very different valuation if assessed by Jesus and not by men (Revelation 3:17-19). We must care more about what God looks for in a church, and less about what pleases us personally!