Now that I’ve been a full-time pastor for a while, I’ve sort of forgotten what I look for in a church. It’s sort of like, because I’m married, I’ve shut off the portion of my brain that was in charge of ideal-mate-checklist-making. However, I think the “what-kind-of-church-would-you-pick” question is actually a good diagnostic because it reveals my own personal biases and passions in ministry. Some of those, admittedly, have changed as my wife and I have experienced different types of church environments, denominations, etc. So I put some thought into this. If I were suddenly in a position where I was a church “free agent”, here’s what I’d look for, in order of importance:
1. Relational Discipleship
I have to say, now that we’ve been a part of missional community, I would trade virtually anything for it. I don’t know that I could go to a church anymore that didn’t have small groups, missional communities, triads, huddles, whatever. I’m ruined for attractional models, even though I know it works for some. Sorry.
2. Community Impact
Bottom line, the church would have to MATTER to the community/city. I don’t know that I could tithe to an internally-focused church.
3. Diverse Community
I think the only way I would ever consider joining a heterogeneous (like 90%+ of one racial group) church is if the city itself was that heterogeneous. Otherwise, no, sorry.
4. Secure Leadership
Insecure leaders – whether it’s the pastor or the council or whoever – are just upsetting to me – like human wrecking balls. This is especially important to me since I’d like to volunteer without the pastor feeling threatened.
5. Theological Affinity
I know you think this should be higher, but it just isn’t for me. I’ve been a part of and pastored in Reformed and Arminian environments. I think I would be fine in either – anywhere where I sensed fakeness would probably be a no-go. And you know, believe in the Trinity.
6. Not-Terrible Music
As a musician, you probably thought music would be higher on my list, didn’t you? It’s not. I’m cool with lots of styles – of course I have preferences for modern band setups – but as long as it doesn’t pain me to listen to, I think I’d be okay. Plus, I’d probably end up playing anyway if I were a volunteer.
7. Honest Storytelling
I can perceive pretty quickly if a community is good at telling the truth or not – so that’s important, but I also really value testimonies – I need to be reminded that God is working, right here and right now. I’m forgetful.
8. Anti-Consumer Mindset
I guess this fits with community impact, but it’s deeper than that. I don’t want my kids to learn to hide from the world or to learn to be consumers of religious goods & services. I want there to be risk involved in our faith practice. Safety is over-rated.
9. Not-Terrible Preaching
If you know me, you know preaching drives me crazy probably 80% of the time, including my own. I’d almost prefer a church without it. But that’s not likely to happen, so please just don’t proof-text, take yourself too seriously, talk in a not-your-normal voice, or talk more pretentiously than the situation allows for and we’ll be fine. Also, I like Seinfeld clips, dislike sermon readers, dislike 3-piece suits and dislike hiding behind large pulpits. Okay, stopping now.
10. In a Neighborhood
This is kind of a weird one, but I don’t think I would like going to church in the country, in an industrial park or on a lake. Even if I can’t walk to your church, someone should be able to.