How to Identify and Find a Good, Healthy Church
Using nine questions, we can identify what is a good church. These truths can help us better serve our church and help others find a new church.
Updated January 25, 2023
It is vital for us to commit to a good, healthy local church.
5 Steps to Finding a New Church
If you are already worshipping and serving at a healthy church, you are blessed. But some of you may be relocating to a new area, or you are not currently worshipping at a good church. Once you have clarified the qualities that you are looking for, pray that God will provide you a new church home and engage these five steps.
A. Ask other people
Look for trusted people who live in the area that you are conducting your church search. A good personal recommendation can be more valuable and reliable than a cursory initial Sunday visit.
B. Search the internet
Most churches should have a website, so search the internet and visit the church websites in your area. Many churches should summarize their philosophy of ministry and their beliefs (statements of faith). Some websites may also have a list of churches that align with your personal beliefs and convictions.
C. Evaluate the leadership
When you visit a church, be sure to evaluate to the church leaders. Try to get a sense by their conduct and reputation if they are humble, joyful, and loving.
D. Sample the teaching
Besides evaluating the Sunday sermon during your visit, look for previous audio recordings and video livestreams. Get a sense of what the overall teaching ministry is like at the church. Sample the preaching of the pulpit preacher, but try to sample the teaching of their lay teachers in the various aspects of the church ministry.
E. Look for love
Look for signs of love in the church leaders and its members and attendees. See if they are hospitable and loving strangers. Look for sincerity in their conduct who are different in ethnicity, social-economic scale, age, and cultural background.
How to Recognize a Good Church?
Although there are characteristics that might be missing, Mark Dever’s Nine Marks of a Healthy Church are a great starting point. By asking nine questions, we can know how to recognize a good, healthy church. These questions can also help us know how we can better support and serve the local church to which we commit.
1. Do the Church Pastors Preach Expositionally?
Expository preaching is the presentation of biblical truth, derived from and transmitted through a literal, historical, grammatical, theological, Spirit-guided study of a passage in its context, which the Holy Spirit applies first to the life of the preacher and then through him to his congregation.
Where is expository preaching in the Bible?
- According to Scripture, God accomplishes what he wants to accomplish through speaking (see Genesis 1:3, Isaiah 55:10-11, Acts 12:24). If preachers want their sermons to be filled with God’s power, they must preach what God says.
- The Bible has many examples of this kind of preaching and teaching: Levitical priests taught the law (Deuteronomy 33:10), Ezra and the Levites read from the law and gave the sense of it (Nehemiah 8:8), and Peter and the apostles expounded Scripture and urged their hearers to respond with repentance and faith (Acts 2:14-41, 13:16-47).
- On the other hand, God condemns those who “speak of their own imagination, not from the mouth of the Lord” (Jeremiah 23:16-22).
Why is expository preaching important?
Expository preaching is important because God’s Word is what convicts, converts, builds up, and sanctifies God’s people (Hebrews 4:12; 1 Peter 1:23; 1 Thessalonians 2:13; John 17:17). Preaching that makes the main point of the text the main point of the sermon makes God’s agenda rule the church, not the preacher’s.
Further Study: Expository Preaching
2. Does the Church Teach Sound Doctrine?
Sound doctrine refers to the essential Christian beliefs that are taught in Scripture. We arrive at sound Christian doctrine through the discipline of systematic theology. Systematic theology is any study that answers the question, “What does the whole Bible teach us today?” about any given topic. It involves collecting and understanding all the relevant passages in the Bible on various topics and then summarizing their teachings clearly so that we know what to believe about each topic.
Where is sound doctrine in the Bible?
- The entire Bible teaches sound doctrine.
- Many New Testament books, such as Paul’s epistles to the Romans and Ephesians, are filled with rich doctrinal teaching (see Romans 1-11 and Ephesians 1-3).
- The authors of the New Testament frequently argue that sound doctrine is essential for healthy Christians and healthy churches (see 1 Timothy 1:5, 2 John 1-6, and Titus 2:1-10).
Why is sound doctrine important?
Sound Christian doctrine is essential for
- Evangelism. The gospel is doctrine. Therefore, sound doctrine is necessary for evangelism.
- Discipleship. Jesus prayed, “Sanctify them in the truth. Your word is truth” (John 17:17). Christians grow by learning and living in light of the truth (i.e. sound doctrine).
- Unity. According to the New Testament, the only true unity is unity in the truth (1 John 1:1-4; 2 John 10-11).
- Worship. To worship God is to declare his excellencies (1 Peter 2:9-10) and to exalt him because of who he is (Psalm 29:2). True worship is a response to sound doctrine.
Further Study: Systematic Theology
3. Does the Church Preach and Practice the Gospel?
Gospel means “good news.” The good news is this:
- God. The Bible explains that God created everything including us. He has the right to tell us how to live. Sin is the rejection of God’s authority over us. God is loving, and He is righteous. He will not ignore sin and leave the guilty unpunished.
- Man. We rejected God and are guilty of sin. Sin has corrupted every part of our human existence. Our entire being is under sin’s power. The penalty of sin is both physical and spiritual death. Our final destiny is eternal active judgment in hell.
- Christ. Jesus is fully God and fully man. He came to die on the cross as a substitute for His people and to pay sin’s penalty. Jesus rose from the dead, assuring us that God’s wrath was satisfied. Sinners can be freed from sin’s power and reconciled with God.
- Response. We must turn away from our sin and trust in Jesus and nothing else to save us from sin and the coming judgment. When we repent and believe in Jesus, all our sin is placed on Jesus, and the perfect life Jesus lived is credited to us.
Where is the gospel found in the Bible?
Romans 1-4 contains one of the fullest expositions of the gospel in all of Scripture, and 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 contains a succinct summary of the gospel.
Why is the gospel important?
- A biblical understanding of the gospel is important because the gospel is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes, and it is the only way for sinful people to be reconciled to a holy God.
- Everything in a church flows from its understanding of the gospel: preaching, counseling, discipleship, music, evangelism, and missions.
Further Study: Gospel
- The Gospel of Jesus Christ
- What Is the Gospel
- The Gospel: How the Church Portrays the Beauty of Christ
4. Does the Church Affirm God’s Sovereignty in Conversion?
Biblical Understanding of Conversion
A biblical understanding of conversion recognizes both what God does and what people do in salvation. In conversion, God
- gives life to the dead (Ephesians 2:5)
- gives sight to the blind (2 Corinthians 4:3-6)
- and gives the gifts of faith and repentance (Philemon 1:29; Acts 11:18).
And in conversion, people
- repent of sin (Mark 1:15; Acts 3:19)
- and believe in Jesus (John 3:16; Romans 3:21-26).
A biblical understanding of conversion recognizes that only God can save, and that he saves individuals by enabling them to respond to the gospel message through repenting of sin and trusting in Christ.
- Church members’ lives should be marked by the fruit of conversion.
- Churches should admit to baptism and the Lord’s Supper only those who show evidence of conversion.
- Churches should evangelize and teach about the Christian life in such a way that the radical nature of conversion is continually emphasized.
Where are the doctrines of grace found in the Bible?
- Jesus called people to repent and believe in him (Mark 1:15). He said that unless someone is born again he cannot enter the kingdom of heaven (John 3:1-8).
- Throughout the book of Acts, the apostles call people to turn from their sin and trust in Christ (Acts 2:38, 3:19-20, 10:43, 13:38-39, 16:31, 17:30).
- Many of the epistles describe both our need to repent and believe in Christ and God’s supernatural work to accomplish this (Romans 6:1-23; 1 Corinthians 2:14-15; 2 Corinthians 4:3-6; Ephesians 2:1-10; 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10; 2 Timothy 2:25-26).
Why are the doctrines of grace important?
A biblical understanding of conversion is important for churches because
- It clarifies how churches should exhort non-Christians. They should call non-Christians to repent of sin and trust in Christ.
- It reminds churches that they must rely upon God in all of their evangelistic efforts; only he can give new spiritual life.
- It teaches churches to maintain a sharp distinction between themselves and the world.
Further Study: Reformed Theology
5. Does the Church Evangelize?
Evangelism is simply telling non-Christians the good news about what Jesus Christ has done to save sinners and urging them to repent and believe. In order to biblically evangelize you must:
- Preach the whole gospel, even the hard news about God’s wrath against our sin.
- Call people to repent of their sins and trust in Christ.
- Make it clear that believing in Christ is costly, but worth it.
Where is evangelism in the Bible?
Scripture contains both teaching on evangelism (Matthew 28:19-20; Romans 10:14-17; 1 Peter 3:15-16) and examples of evangelistic preaching (see Acts 2:14-41, 3:12-26, 13:16-49, 17:22-31). Moreover, any time Scripture speaks of the gospel, it is teaching us what we are to share in evangelism (Romans 1-4 and 1 Corinthians 15:1-4).
Why is evangelism important?
- When a church has an unbiblical understanding of the gospel, they don’t evangelize, they evangelize in misleading or manipulative ways, or they share a message that’s not the gospel.
- On the other hand, a biblical understanding of evangelism clarifies our role in the mission God has given to the church: we are to preach the good news about what Christ has done and pray that God would bring people to believe it.
Further Study: Evangelism
- What Is Christian Evangelism?
- Evangelism: How the Whole Church Speaks of Jesus
- Evangelism: How to Share the Gospel Faithfully
6. Does the Church Know Its Members?
Church membership is a commitment every Christian should make to attend, love, serve, and submit to a local church.
Where is church membership in the Bible?
- Throughout Old Testament history, God made a clear distinction between his people and the world (see Leviticus 13:46, Numbers 5:3, Deuteronomy 7:3).
- Christ says that entering the kingdom of God means being bound to the church “on earth” (Matthew 16:16-19; 18:17-19). Where do we see the church on earth? The local church.
- The New Testament explicitly refers to some people being inside the church and some people being outside (1 Corinthians 5:12-13). This is much more than a casual association.
- The church in Corinth consisted of a definite number of believers, such that Paul could speak of a punishment inflicted by the majority (2 Corinthians 2:6).
- Not only does the New Testament speak of the reality of church membership, but its dozens of “one anothers” are written to local churches, which fill out our understanding of what church membership should practically look like.
Why is church membership important?
Biblical church membership is important because the church presents God’s witness to himself in the world. It displays his glory. In the church’s membership, then, non-Christians should see in the lives of God’s changed people that God is holy and gracious and that his gospel is powerful for saving and transforming sinners.
Further Study: Church Membership
7. Does the Church Nurture Discipleship and Growth?
Scripture teaches that a live Christian is a growing Christian (2 Peter 1:8-10). Scripture also teaches that we grow not only by instruction, but by imitation (1 Corinthians 4:16; 11:1). Therefore churches should exhort their members to both grow in holiness and help others do the same.
Where is discipleship in the Bible?
- Peter exhorted his readers to grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18)
- Paul exhorted the Ephesians to grow by speaking the truth in love to one another (Ephesians 4:15).
- Many passages in Scripture instruct us to imitate godly leaders (Philemon 4:9; Hebrews 13:7).
According to Scripture, all Christians should grow in Christ, imitate other godly Christians, and encourage others in their growth in Christlikeness.
Why is discipleship important?
- Promoting biblical discipleship and growth is important because none of us are finished products. Until we die, all Christians will struggle against sin, and we need all the help we can get in this fight.
- If a church neglects discipleship and growth, or teaches a skewed, unbiblical version of it, it will discourage genuine Christians and wrongly assure false Christians. On the other hand, if a church fosters a culture of Christian discipleship and growth, it will multiply believers’ efforts to grow in holiness.
- A church that is not growing in the faith will ultimately yield an unhealthy witness to the world.
Further Study: Discipleship and Growth
8. Is the Church Led by Qualified Elders?
The Bible teaches that each local church should be led by a plurality of godly, qualified men called elders.
Where are qualified elders in the Bible?
Paul lays out the qualifications for elders in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9. Passages that evidence a plurality of elders in one local church include Acts 14:23, Acts 20:17, 1 Timothy 4:14, 1 Timothy 5:17, and James 5:14.
Why are qualified elders important?
God gifts churches with elders to
- feed God’s sheep God’s word (John 21:15-17),
- guide the sheep (1 Timothy 4:16; 1 Peter 5:3, Hebrews 13:7),
- and protect the sheep from attackers (Acts 20:27-29; 2 Timothy 4:3-4; Titus 1:9),
- while protecting both themselves and the church through the wisdom of their plurality (Proverbs 11:14; 24:6).
The bottom line? Biblical church leadership is important because without it, God’s people are like sheep without shepherds.
Further Study: Church Leadership
- Church Elders: How to Shepherd God’s People Like Jesus
- Biblical Eldership: An Urgent Call to Restore Biblical Church Leadership
9. Does the Church Practice Church Discipline?
- In the broad sense, church discipline is everything the church does to help its members pursue holiness and fight sin. Preaching, teaching, prayer, corporate worship, accountability relationships, and godly oversight by pastors and elders are all forms of discipline.
- In a narrow sense, church discipline is the act of correcting sin in the life of the body, including the possible final step of excluding a professing Christian from membership in the church and participation in the Lord’s Supper because of serious unrepentant sin (Matthew 18:15-20, 1 Corinthians 5:1-13).
Where is church discipline in the Bible?
- The New Testament commands corrective discipline (excluding unrepentant sinners from the fellowship of the church) in passages like Matthew 18:15-17, 1 Corinthians 5:1-13, 2 Corinthians 2:6, and 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15.
- The New Testament speaks about formative discipline (our efforts to grow in holiness together) in countless passages about pursuing holiness and building one another up in the faith, such as Ephesians 4:11-32 and Philippians 2:1-18.
Why is church discipline important?
Think of discipline as the stake that helps the tree grow upright, the extra set of wheels on the bicycle, or the musician’s endless hours of practice. Without discipline, we won’t grow as God wants us to. With discipline by God’s grace, we will bear peaceful fruit of righteousness (Hebrews 12:5-11).