I have been a Christian for around 8 years and in that time I have visited countless amounts of: churches, Bible studies, ministries and all kinds of Christian fellowship groups. After I made a decision for Jesus Christ I left my job and started visiting almost every church and Christian group in my area, I was eager to get an understanding about the Christian faith and discover what was out there in the Christian world. After visiting hundreds of churches and Christian fellowships, I believe I can offer readers some good advice on finding the right church or Christian fellowship for you.
At present I am attending a mission and charity based church that is fairly well known around the world. Many people don’t even associate this organization with Christianity as they are known as a volunteer charity group. I am not going to name this Christian organization for privacy reasons and to ensure that you realize I’m writing this piece objectively. I am not writing this article to promote any church or Christian group, but I am writing it to help you find a suitable fellowship. The church I belong to is mission focused and I would say all its members serve the community in a variety of ways. This church operates: soup kitchens for the homeless, homeless accommodation, they offer support services for people with mental illness, they help and allow drug addicts to attend their church and they also provide tea and coffee for fire-fighter’s when there are serious emergencies and fires affecting the community. The focus of this church is on serving the community and reaching out to the poor. They also preach a salvation by faith in Jesus message and anyone is welcome at their services. People under the influence of heroin often come to this church, severely mentally ill people come to the church and often they disrupt the preaching but they are never asked to leave. Many homeless people and drug addicts come to the Sunday preaching just to get free tea and coffee, but they are as welcome as anyone else. The church has a non-judgemental and forgiveness policy and if you made a scene in the church, argued with a church leader or even got violent, you would be welcome back to the church with open arms the next week. I have rarely seen this type of conduct in churches. Very often at a church, if you have an argument or disagreement with someone you can find yourself excommunicated for life, even though Jesus says to forgive your brother 7 times 70. It’s very rare to find a church that actually practices that type of forgiveness. I think if you discover that the leadership of a church has this type of forgiveness and humility, then that is a good sign that the church has Holy Spirit inspired and humble leaders.
I also believe that opportunities to serve and volunteer are an important aspect of a church. I have noticed that there are many people in churches today that are suffering from depression; I think this is largely because sitting on a pew week after week is not healthy. If you’re just sitting on your bum every Sunday and focusing on a preacher and yourself, you are going to become depressed, because you are going to become self-focused. Constantly focusing on yourself does cause mental health problems and this is what happens if all you do every week is attend church lectures. Many church lectures are now also adding bells and whistles (rock bands, Ministers wearing trendy clothing, flashing lights etc) to their lectures but they are still church lectures. Nothing has changed, just the decorations. At one stage in my life all I was doing was attending church lectures and I literally fell into depression. I was seriously depressed and it was difficult to function during the week. However when I got involved with a mission based church, and started serving food at a soup kitchen and washing dishes, my life really changed for the best. I also discovered that because this church allowed drug addicts and mentally ill people at their church services, I could actually engage these people and offer them encouragement. Instead of sitting on my ass every week and talking to the choir at the end of a service, I actually had an opportunity to be a Christian in action on Sunday, and during the week I was serving the homeless at a soup kitchen. When you are involved in a loving, forgiving and accepting church that serves the community, it really turns you into a disciple rather than a pew warmer.
At one stage I started attending an inner city mission church that helped the homeless five days per week; this church also had a soup kitchen and welcomed anyone. People would regularly overdose on drugs at this church as they allowed anyone to attend even if it was just to get free coffee. I started volunteering at this churches missions a few days per week. Sometimes I would be serving meals to homeless people and other times I would be washing the dishes, I remember one day a homeless man came to the kitchen and said, “thank you so much, that was the best meal I ever had.” I remember reflecting on this and thinking, “Wow, God really used me to help someone today. Thankyou Jesus!” Helping people really gave me a sense of self worth and uplifted my self-esteem as I felt great that I was able to make a difference in the world. When you take the focus off yourself and help others, it really gets rid of any depression you may have, as you start focusing on others instead of yourself, and you realize that you have the power to make a difference in the world. As I look back on the last couple of years of my life I thank God that I stepped out and volunteered at a soup kitchen for the homeless, and I thank God I was able to serve and do things for the Lord. I have also found the preachers at these kinds of churches are very humble and down to earth, because they are so focused on helping others that they don’t have much of an ego if any. If you attend a church that revolves around a regular speaker and lectures, you will find that the leaders of these churches are very ego and celebrity orientated. The focus is on the person on stage and building up their reputation, so that more books and products can be sold in this person’s name. You will also discover at these churches that if you get into an argument or make a mistake they often do not forgive. Jesus teaching of forgiving a brother 7 times 70 is rarely practiced at these kinds of churches, as the ego’s of the church leaders often exceed the size of the church building. If you even look like you might be a threat to one of these celebrity focused religious entertainment clubs, you will be shown very quickly you’re not welcome. Avoid churches that do not engage in serving those in need and charity work, the Bible even says that without charity we are nothing. “Though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:2) You basically want to attend a church or fellowship where you have an opportunity to be a Christian in action. If there’s no opportunity for you to make a difference in the lives of others, then you are not in a church, you are in a religious club.
Also avoid trying to find a church with perfect doctrine. You will never find it. No church or Christian group has it all correct. If they preach a Biblical salvation through faith in Jesus Christ message, and if they preach that Jesus Christ was the Son of God who died on the cross and rose from the dead then this is fine. If you start looking for a church who are perfect in every aspect of doctrine, you will be searching until the day you die. Nobody has absolute perfect doctrine on every topic in the Bible. The salvation message is simple, if you believe that Jesus Christ died on the cross and rose from the dead then you are going to Heaven. If they believe this simple truth then this is a church that could be for you. If the church passes this test then find out if they serve the poor and less fortunate. Also make sure it’s not a church that wants you to just sit on your ass for an hour every week and listen to music and a lecture, this is not a healthy or productive church. You will also not grow at these churches as they are just religious clubs, who spend their time gossiping and talking about how they are better than everyone else. I used to be one of these people, and all I would do after the church lectures finished would be having coffee and bragging about myself and putting others down. I used to have a major problem with gossip and a lot of it has to do with the culture at these types of churches. If your busy serving others and doing exploits for the Lord, then you don’t have time to gossip. The old saying, “idle hands gives place to the devil” has certainly been proven to be true in my book. If you’re not attending a church that allows you to be an active disciple or Christian in action who does exploits, then you’re not going to grow as a Christian and you will become a gossiping devil. Many people who attend these churches come out of them upset and hating Christianity, because of the backstabbing and gossip that goes on. This is because these places are not churches, they are religious clubs.
One preacher who I really admire and who preaches a lot against gossip is Joel Osteen. I think one of the main reasons Joel Osteen’s church is successful is that he preaches against gossip. In my opinion many churches have major problems with gossip and this sin is rarely addressed, even though gossip can be a major cause of suicide and destroying other people’s lives. Joel regularly preaches against gossip and giving everyone an opportunity by not judging them, and this does promote a healthy atmosphere where people can be accepted.
In conclusion you are looking for a body of believers with a leadership and you are not necessarily looking for a church building. If you think you know enough about the Bible and can’t find a fellowship that suits you, why not start up your own fellowship in your home with friends and family? After all, why would you trust a stranger with the spiritual welfare of your loves ones? If you have been hurt by a fellowship/church in the past, why not start up your own fellowship and treat people how you want to be treated? If you have read the Bible and believe you’re going to Heaven based on your faith in Jesus then you are qualified to preach God’s word. Most importantly you want to be in a fellowship that serves the community and who help the poor, Jesus Himself collected money that was used to assist the poor. You also need to make sure the fellowship doesn’t revolve around lectures and music, it should revolve around: volunteering, helping others and giving believers opportunities to serve and help the community. These opportunities give you the ability to be a doer of the word and not a hearer only. God bless you and I pray the Lord guides you to the fellowship that’s right for you.