A few weeks ago a gentleman came to our Sunday service and afterward shared his desire to know Jesus, follow in believer's baptism and become a member of our fellowship. These moments are always exciting and remind us that God is working at all times.
We talked about baptism and the membership class and covenant to come, but that's not what this posting is about.
Yesterday, I talked with him again. He shared that he has a brother-in-law who has done mission work in East Asia and now is attending seminary. He (the new church member) shared how God had radically changed his family members' lives. He has seen it first-hand.
When God began to work on our new friend and the Holy Spirit's draw became stronger, our friend knew he needed to be in a local church. He did a search online and found our church website. He noticed our Orange Park campus is near where he lives. Online, it looked good. The commute was workable. Everything seemed okay, but he needed to ask his brother-in-law.
This is not uncommon. I get emails and phone calls from friends and former church members who now live in different communities throughout the US, and even outside the US. The question I'm asked is the one this new member asked - "Is this a good church?" referring to the one that is in their neighborhood.
Despite what some believe, all pastors do not know all other pastors. Yet, there are connections. Even when a personal friendship is absent, sometimes a cursory overview of a website and pastoral biographies can help answer this question.
So, our church and I were presented to the brother-in-law (whom I do not know.) After some searching and reading online, the brother-in-law gave us the okay.
Our new church members stated "I just needed to know you guys were the kind of church that I should be part of."
And that's a great question and a great reason!
There are many churches in our community. There are really good, solidly biblical, gospel-centric churches. Any of those would be good for this brother to join.
Yet, there are some that...well, let's just say have a different take on doctrine and church polity that may not be the best fit.
When the brother-in-law checked out our site, he did what I do. He checked that which was presented (knowing that sometimes churches look much different online than in person.) Here are some of the things I would research when asked this question about which church to join:
- Is the doctrine of the church clearly available online?
- In the doctrinal statement, what is revealed regarding belief about God, the Trinity, nature of man, salvation, baptism mode, gifts, family, etc. In our case, we have an abbreviated list as delineated in the Baptist Faith & Message (2000) which is the doctrinal confession we affirm. We link the full document as well. Read here.
- Who is the Lead Pastor?
- What is known about the pastor and his family? Did he go to seminary? Where did he go? What are some interests he may have? While these are not make or break details, education and seminary training often reveals the doctrinal leaning of church leadership. In my case, I'm a graduate of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. I am attending the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary now. We have pastors on staff who have graduated from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. We have almost all SBC seminaries represented (just need someone from Gateway.)
- Is the church complementarian or egalitarian when it comes to pastoral leadership?
- What does the church believe and teach regarding biblical inerrancy?
- What are the affiliations of the church? This could be denominational, associational, network, etc.
- What are some of the ministries offered by and through the church? This will reveal much about priorities.
- Does the church site show a centeredness on the gospel or some other focus, like politics, patriotic Christianity, social gospel only, etc.?
- Is there a focus on prosperity or poverty gospels?
- Will my family and I be welcomed? This question was asked by a brother who was being very clear and focused. He is an African-American and said "My wife is white. Will the church welcome us?" With race relations in our nation prominent, the church must be clear that racism in any form is not only unacceptable, but abhorrent to the gospel.
- Are sermons available online? It helps to listen or watch a sermon by the pastor to get a feel regarding doctrinal soundness.
This is not a complete list, and discernment is needed in all cases. Some things are deal breakers for church recommendations. Others are not. Things that are not are items such as worship style, preferred Bible translation, dress code, etc.? Those elements are preferential at best, though Bible translations used should be considered, the fact there are numerous good English translations available should be understood.
Nevertheless, I was encouraged when our newest church member joined, as led by God, with affirmation from a pastor he trusted.
It's never wrong to ask "Is this the church I should join?" Membership matters and the wise would make this inquiry.