Church Shopping

Have you ever “shopped” for a church?

From the time I was a child, my mother and aunt dragged me from one end of my hometown’s main street to the other on “Dollar Day.” I quickly learned how to determine whether an item was a genuine value or merely something that pacified my childhood greed.

How does one “shop” for a church?

With clothing or household items, it is easy to establish criteria that allow the item to be objectively evaluated prior to purchase. Bigger purchases typically result in lengthy lists of specifications and comparisons.

A church, though, falls into a rather unique category: It is not a purchase so much as it is a commitment on multiple levels. Like a purchase, there is a financial commitment owed to those who minister faithfully and for the facilities in which the church congregates each Lord’s Day. There is, however, a broader—and deeper—commitment involved with one’s church affiliation.

Recently, a group of us studying the book of Romans readily generated a list of some really “important” qualities upon which some judge their church and their fellow congregants:

  • How do those in attendance dress?
  • What kind of cars do they drive?
  • What type of music complements the desire to draw us nearer to Him in worship?
  • Which translation of the Bible is used in the main teaching times?

Each of us generates criteria that enable us to evaluate whether or not we will commit to joining a particular fellowship. What might be our purpose in doing so?

  • If it is DRESS, it reflects the level of respect and honor the people demonstrate as they enter His house of worship.
  • If it is CARS, it provides some important financial rationale for us to use in our assessment of the congregation’s socio-economic status—without ever having to visit their homes.
  • If it is MUSIC, it tells us that the people know and understand the value of proper worship.
  • If it is the TRANSLATION of the Bible, it demonstrates their sincerity and reverence for God’s literal Word.

Most of our lists might actually include those types of criteria and any number of other equally superficial standards.

In Romans 14, Paul addresses the criteria that we should use to evaluate our church and the people in it. Criteria used in his Roman world included what people ate (meat or vegetables), how much they did or didn’t eat, the manner in which they judged their peers, the value they placed on Sundays and holidays, and what they were and were not to drink. Given the 2000 or so years since Paul’s day, it is easy to see how his directives in Romans 14 might be adapted to allow us to more rightly judge our churches and our fellow congregants in the 21st century.

How’s that working for you? It is possible that your criteria may have focused on nonessentials? Perhaps we ought to look at Romans 14 more closely to see some of the criteria Paul actually viewed as essential to the health of a church.

  • We shouldn’t judge what a person eats or doesn’t eat, because God has accepted him or her (v. 3).
  • Who are we to judge others? Doesn’t Romans 14:4 clearly remind us that we are all servants?
  • It shouldn’t make any difference if we rejoice in every day that the Lord has made or if we regard one day as more significant (see v. 5-6).
  • It doesn’t matter if we drink or don’t drink wine (vv. 17,21).

What genuinely mattered to Paul—and to our Lord—was that we “accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions” (v. 1). “Therefore let us not judge one another any more, but rather determine this—not to put an obstacle or a stumbling-block in a brother’s way” (v. 13).

Wouldn’t it be nice to know that our church meets God’s criteria and that we would “pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another” (v. 19)?

Churches aren’t merely commodities to be evaluated and “purchased”; they are the means to draw us together in fellowship to create and sustain relationships that build each other up in the Lord. When our churches attempt to reflect those qualities, we should strive all the more to demonstrate them each day. When our churches lack those qualities, we should endeavor to seek the Lord and how we should lovingly exhort others to join with us in meeting the challenge of His Word.

For more information about how you can “stay the course,” refer to The Wheel illustration at The Navigators’ website.

The Fellowship Spoke (see Matthew 18:20; Hebrews 10:24-25): Learning from and encouraging others creates a chemistry pleasing to God. God has directed Christians to build each other up through inter-dependence and loving relationships with each other.