Basic Training, Church

Throwback Thursday ~ Basic Training: 7 Reasons Church is Not Optional and Non-Negotiable for Christians

For more in the Basic Training series, click here.

It’s a disturbing trend that’s spreading like the plague, especially among women who claim to be believers:

“I’m a Christian but I refuse to attend church.”

These aren’t women who can’t attend church due to health reasons, caring for an ill or disabled loved one, who have no other choice but to work on Sundays, or who live in an area with no reasonably doctrinally sound church to attend. They’re women who could get plugged in to a decent local church, but intentionally shun the body of Christ.

Usually, the decision to opt out of church boils down to one of two scenarios: a) a believer who was hurt by a previous church and yet isn’t ready to risk being hurt again or b) someone (often a false convert) who doesn’t grasp the concept that being joyfully joined to a local body of believers is part of what defines someone as a Christian.

I can tell some of y’all have already fired up your e-mail programs or mentally formulated a corrective comment. Hang on, and please read what I’m about to say so we’re all on the same page here. I am not saying, have never said, and will never say that attending church, joining a church, serving at a church, or being baptized into a church is what saves a person, even in part. Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian. Everybody with me? Scripture is clear that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, and that good works, such as church attendance, play zero part in a person’s salvation.

What I am saying is that one of the signs, or fruits, that someone is already saved is that she has a heartfelt love and affection for the things of God, which includes the gathering of the saints for fellowship, worship, encouragement, and edification. For a believer, love for the bride of Christ is a natural extension of loving Christ, Himself. She doesn’t have to be talked into attending church; there’s no place on earth she’d rather be.

We’ve all been in difficult situations with difficult people at church that can hurt, sometimes deeply – believe me, I’ve been there – and can leave us in need of taking a few Sundays off to recover, or possibly the need to change to a healthier church. But if you’ve harbored antipathy toward the church, as a whole, for years, have never taken joy in fellowshipping and worshiping with fellow believers, don’t see any particular need for gathering with the Body, or are generally apathetic in your attitude toward church, you’re in a very dangerous place, spiritually, and you need to question your salvation. Those are symptoms of being lost, not fruit of being saved.

For Christians, being joined to a local church is not optional and non-negotiable. Why?

1. God Says So

Just in case the entirety of the Bible isn’t clear enough that God wants His people meeting together for fellowship, worship, and the Word, He says so very bluntly in Hebrews 10:24-25:

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

The HCSB puts it this way: “not staying away from our worship meetings, as some habitually do,” and NASB says: “not forsaking our own assembling together.” God says we are not to neglect, stay away from, or forsake, the meeting of the church body. For anyone who claims to be a Christian, that reason alone ought to be good enough. When God tells us to do something, we do it. Period.

2. The Church is God’s Plan for Christians

God doesn’t need or want your help devising the best methodology for your life and growth as a Christian. He already has a plan. He already established that plan. That plan is the church. There’s no plan B or any cafeteria-style options. If you’re a Christian, God’s plan for you is to be a faithful part of a local body of believers. The Bible never suggests that it’s OK for you to be a “Lone Ranger Christian.” There are no explicit statements to this effect, nor even one example of a New Testament Christian who lived life apart from the church. The New Testament assumes Christians will be part of a church. If not, the majority of Matthew through Revelation would be moot. If you reject the church, you’re rejecting God’s word and His way in favor of your own way.

3. Jesus Values the Church

You claim to love and follow Jesus, right? Well, Jesus founded the church. Jesus is the head of the church. Jesus loves the church. Jesus died for the church. Jesus is the Savior of the church. Jesus nourishes, cherishes, and sanctifies the church. How could anyone claim to love and follow Jesus and yet cavalierly toss aside something He values so much that He laid His life down for it? If you really love Jesus, you’ll value the things He values, and, clearly, He values the church.

4. Being Joined to the Church Is an Indicator of Salvation

First John 2:18-19 makes no bones about it. Forsaking the church is an indicator that you’re not saved:

…now many antichrists have come…They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.

Want to make it plain that you’re not of Christ? Step one is to leave the church.

5. The Church is the Dispensary for the Word and the Ordinances

The preaching and teaching of God’s Word. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. In order to preserve their purity and sanctity, God established a hierarchical structure of ecclesiastical authority and placed the responsibility for administering Scripture and the ordinances with the church, not isolated individuals. Do we have women’s Bible studies and Sunday School classes? Of course. But only under the oversight of our pastors and elders, as an outflow of, and in keeping with, the preaching and teaching ministry of the church. Do we share the gospel with the lost we encounter during the week? You bet! Our churches enable us to do so by training us in the Word, and we bring new believers back to our churches so that they may be discipled.

6. The “One Anothers”

Love one another. Comfort one another. Forgive one another. Serve one another. Bear one another’s burdens. Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another. Have you ever stopped to think which people “one another” is referring to? It’s easy to see when you look at these verses in context. It’s our brothers and sisters in Christ. All of the New Testament “one anothers” are written to the church. You need brothers and sisters to minister the “one anothers” to you, and your brothers and sisters need you to minister the “one anothers” to them. We cannot properly carry out the “one anothers” outside the church because they were meant to be practiced first and foremost within the church.

7. Sheep Need Shepherds

The Bible often uses sheep as a metaphor for God’s people. And since we know that God is the author of Scripture, we know God handpicked that metaphor to describe us. Ever notice that God never describes a sheep wandering off on its own as though that were a good thing?

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way;
Isaiah 53:6a

I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek your servant,
Psalm 119:176a

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
Matthew 9:36

What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray?
Matthew 18:12

Sheep who leave the flock to make their own way in the world are in danger from wolves, the pitfalls of sin, and any number of other perils, especially the trials and tragedies of life. I can’t tell you how many e-mails I’ve received from distraught Christian women in dire personal circumstances who desperately need pastoral counsel. Sadly, when I tell them I’m not equipped to help them with such a complicated problem from so far away and that they need to make an appointment with their pastor for one on one, face to face counseling, the response is often, “I haven’t been going to church. I don’t have a pastor.”

We need the protection of the sheep pen, the brotherhood of the flock, and the leadership of our shepherds, our pastors, to help guide us. God knew we needed those things. That is one reason He established the church and created the position of pastor. Christ is our Good Shepherd, but until He returns, He has appointed godly men to watch over and protect the flock in His absence:

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.
John 21:15-17

And he gave…the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,
Ephesians 4:11-12

So I exhort the elders among you…shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.
1 Peter 5:1-4

You can’t shepherd yourself. That internet pastor you listen to – even the most doctrinally sound one – can’t shepherd you. You need to be part of a flock led by a shepherd who knows you and cares for your soul.

Do you take joy in gathering regularly with your brothers and sisters in Christ for worship, the Word, the ordinances, building one another up, and serving one another? If not, the solution is not to leave the church altogether. The solution is to examine your heart against Scripture to discover whether or not you’re truly saved, and then to find a healthy church you can pour yourself into. Christ has given believers the local church as a blessing and a benefit, not a burden and a bore. Love and embrace this precious gift He has lavished on you.


Additional Resources

Six Ways Not to Forsake the Assembly 

7 reasons worshipers need the church at The Cripplegate

Mailbag #49: Home Groups Over Church at 9Marks

My Jesus, I Love You; Your Bride I Despise! at Reformation21

Why You May Be Tempted To Neglect Your Church by Tim Challies

Five Essential Reasons for Christians to Gather in Public Worship at Ligonier

Prioritize Your Church by Tim Challies

Is a “Churchless Christian” an Oxymoron? at Ligonier

The Plight of Churchless Christians at The Cripplegate

40 reasons to be part of a local church at The Cripplegate

Church, Mailbag

The Mailbag: How can I tell if a church is doctrinally sound?

Originally published March 11, 2019

 

How do I know if a church is doctrinally sound? Do I base it off their statement of faith?

This is such a great question in a day when you can’t really trust that a building with the word “church” on the sign out front actually teaches and practices sound doctrine.

Because it would be impossible to cover every single aspect of doctrine that churches need to handle biblically, and because many of my readers are new to some of the deeper points of theology, what I want to do is give you some “signposts” to look for as you’re checking out a new church that will help indicate whether or not that particular church is likely to be one that handles those harder to understand points of theology in a doctrinally sound way.

First, check out these resources (and others) under my Searching for a new church? tab in the blue menu bar at the top of this page. These should be helpful if you’re unfamiliar with the biblical issues that a church should be handling correctly:

Looking for a Church Home? by Tim Challies

Church shopping? 35 Key Questions to Ask the Church at Berean Research

4 Questions to Ask Before Joining a Church by Brian Croft

How Can I Find a Good Church? 

Finding a New Church: Starting from Scratch

Six Questions for a Potential Church

If you are a brand new Christian and you aren’t sure what the answers to the questions in these articles should be, ask the person who led you to Christ, a pastor you know to be biblically trustworthy, or a friend who’s a mature Christian to help. You can also use the search bar at the top of this page to see if I’ve addressed your question. And, make liberal use of Got Questions? It’s a wonderful website that gives simple, biblical answers to all kinds of questions about the Bible, church, theology and other issues.

A church’s stance on many of these theological issues can be found in their statement of faith, which most churches post on their websites (often under the heading “What We Believe,” “Doctrinal Distinctives,” or something similar). While you’re on the church website, here are some other things to look for that can give you a fuller picture of whether or not the church is likely to be doctrinally sound.

⛪ Be wary of a church with no statement of faith on their website at all, and be cautious if they have a very simplistic statement of faith with few or no Bible verses cited to support it. Generally speaking, in my experience, the longer and more detailed a statement of faith is, and the more Scripture references it has, the more likely it is to be a doctrinally sound church. (Here and here are some typical, good statements of faith, and this one is particularly detailed.)

⛪ A few things to look for in the statement of faith:

•The Trinity: You’re looking for language along the lines of, “We believe in one God in three persons.” If you see three “modes” or three “manifestations,” that’s the language of modalism, and it is not a doctrinally sound church.

•Some churches have a section of their statement of faith on spiritual gifts or the Holy Spirit and include wording indicating whether they are a continuationist (ex: “we believe all the spiritual gifts are in operation in the church today”) or cessationist (ex: “we believe supernatural gifts such as healing and tongues have ceased”) church. Generally speaking, a church is more likely to be doctrinally sound if it holds the cessationist view. (No, I am not saying every continuationist church is heretical. I’m strictly talking probabilities here.) If there is anything in the statement of faith that indicates that a Believer will or must speak in tongues in order to be saved or as a result of salvation, or that the “baptism of the Holy Spirit” occurs separately from salvation, it is not a doctrinally sound church.

•Some churches intentionally indicate that they are complementarian in the “Marriage and Family” or “Church Leadership” section of their statement of faith by stating that the husband leads the family and the wife submits to her husband, or by explaining that the roles of pastor and elder are limited to men. It’s usually a good sign when a church makes a point of saying these things.

⛪ If you find the pastor’s name listed here, it’s not a doctrinally sound church.

⛪ If a church subscribes to a creed/confession/catechism you know to be biblical (ex: 1689 London Baptist, Westminster, Heidelberg, etc.) there’s a better chance they’re a doctrinally sound church. 

⛪ Some churches have a page on their website where they recommend books, blogs, and other resources. If they’re recommending doctrinally sound materials by trustworthy authors and teachers (click here for a few), that can be a good sign.

If they have a women’s ministry page, check out who’s speaking at the next conference they’re going to and who is the author of the Bible study materials they use.

⛪ Check the staff page and make sure they don’t have women serving as pastors/elders. (Be aware that some churches are now using titles like “Coach,” “Director,” “Facilitator,” etc. to disguise the fact that women are serving in unbiblical positions of leadership. Regardless of the way the position title is worded, women are not to serve in pastoral or elder offices or in any position in which they will be teaching or exercising authority over men.)

⛪ Check the sermon archives for a couple of things: 1) to see if they invite women or false teachers as guest preachers, and 2) does the pastor preach mainly expositorily or topically?

Keep in mind, however, that there are lots of churches out there who look perfectly doctrinally sound “on paper” but are not practicing what their website preaches. Take a look at these statements of faith for example: Lakewood (Joel Osteen), North Point (Andy Stanley), and Bethel (New Apostolic Reformation). (You can find out more about these churches/pastors here.) On the surface, and especially to those newly saved or not very familiar with the Bible, these statements of faith look fairly decent (although…notice that no Scriptures* are listed, and they are short and/or somewhat vague), but the practices of these churches may be surprising in comparison. *(Update: Since I originally wrote this article about a year ago, Lakewood has actually beefed up their statement of faith with a few Scripture references.)

Because churches’ practices and teachings often differ – sometimes significantly – from what you see in their statement of faith, you’ll have to dig deeper in order to get a better feel for the church’s doctrine. If the website posts the audio or video of their worship services, listen to several sermons. Make an appointment to go in and talk to the pastor about what the church teaches and ask any questions you might have. And visit the church for a while before joining to see how things actually go. The most a church website can do is help you weed out the churches that are definitely bad. The website cannot tell you that a church is definitely good.

If you’re looking for a new church but you aren’t sure where to start, check the church search engines and churches recommended by my readers at the Searching for a new church? tab in the blue menu bar at the top of this page.


If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.

Church, Worship

Throwback Thursday ~ Rolling Out the Welcome Wagon

Originally published August 25, 2010

The LORD said to him, “I have heard your prayer and your supplication, which you have made before Me; I have consecrated this house which you have built by putting My name there forever, and My eyes and My heart will be there perpetually. I Kings 9:3

As Golden Girl Sophia would say, “Picture it:”

After church one Sunday, a friend says, “Why don’t you come over to my house tomorrow night for dinner?”

So, the appropriate time comes on Monday evening, and you drive over to her house. The door is standing open because she is expecting you, and you’re familiar enough with each other that you feel comfortable just walking on in.

As you’re walking in, you see your friend standing there, and you say to her, “I invite you into this house! You are welcome here!”

Anything seem a little off about that?

Well, of course that seems strange. It’s her house.

But that’s what is taking place in churches all over America every Sunday morning. I saw it in a televised local church service last week. The worship leader stood up to lead the first song and said, “God we welcome you into this place!” I’ve heard others say things like, “Lord, we invite you into this house this morning!” We sing songs like Holy Spirit, Thou art Welcome and Lord, we Invite You.

‘Scuse me? Isn’t the church God’s house?

Of course, it isn’t God’s house in the same way the temple was God’s house, in that there isn’t a holy of holies where the actual presence of God resides. On the other hand, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it’s only a building, like the post office or a doughnut shop.

At some point, way back when, or maybe even recently, a body of Believers got together and asked God to give them a place where they could worship Him. God saw fit to answer that prayer. He provided the land, the permits, and every brick, nail, and piece of sheetrock. He allowed His name to be placed there when we decided to call it “Grace Fellowship”, “St. Luke’s”, or “First Baptist”. He protects that building and allows it to stand as a testimony to the community: God, and God’s people, can be found here.

It’s not your church. It’s not my church. It’s God’s church. And it exists for His glory.

But somewhere along the way, we’ve forgotten that. Somewhere along the way, we gave God an eviction notice and became squatters on His property. How arrogant have we become that we strut into church as though we own the place, and dare to invite Him, to welcome Him into His own house as though He were a guest? How dare we?

Maybe it’s partly because we no longer have a holy of holies that we don’t see God’s house as sacred. “Ah,” you may say, “but that’s Old Testament thinking. Now we understand that when we gather together in His name, He is with us.”

Really?

When it’s my church, my comfort, my pew, my ministry that nobody else better touch, my style of music, my opinion about how long the sermon should be, my feelings that got hurt, my idea of how things should operate, what I got out of the service, are we really gathering in His name?

Welcome, Lord. Are You sure You want to come in?

Church, Parenting, Worship

Throwback Thursday ~ Churchmanship 101: Training Your Child to Behave in Church

Originally published January 30, 2015

churchmanship-behave

they all walked sedately into the church. The first clang of the bell rang out when they were on the steps.

After that, there was nothing to do but sit still till the sermon was over. It was two hours long. Almanzo’s legs ached and his jaw wanted to yawn, but he dared not yawn or fidget. He must sit perfectly still and never take his eyes from the preacher’s solemn face and wagging beard. Almanzo couldn’t understand how Father knew that he wasn’t looking at the preacher, if Father was looking at the preacher himself. But Father always did know.

From Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder¹

A hundred and fifty-ish years ago, this is how children were expected to behave in church. I love a good sermon, but I’m not sure even I could meet those behavioral expectations, and, these days, I certainly wouldn’t expect my children to. But fast forward from the 1800’s to 2015, and think about how you may have seen some children behave in church. It’s quite a bit different from Almanzo’s experience, wouldn’t you say?

I don’t think we need to dial things back a hundred and fifty years, though. A little fidgeting, a Bible dropped loudly on the floor, a few seconds of wailing while you frantically search for the lost pacifier, a bit of jabbering, none of these things are a big deal. But neither should a toddler be allowed to run up and down the aisles of the sanctuary for the bulk of the sermon. Eight year olds do not need to be crawling around on the floor between the pews playing with toys. Twelve year olds can reasonably be expected to stay awake, sit still, and pay attention during the service. We expect our children to obey us (and other adults) and behave properly in a variety of places: school, the grocery store, restaurants, on their sports teams, at scout meetings. Why, when the worship service is far more important than any of these, would we not require them to act appropriately in church? And when we require them to behave themselves in all these other venues but not in church, what are we teaching them about the importance of church, reverence, God?

But, if you’ll determine in your heart to train your child to control himself and behave appropriately during church, you might be surprised at all the blessings and benefits you encounter along the way.

What is appropriate church behavior?

That’s going to vary by age. Obviously, a three year old isn’t going to sit perfectly still for thirty minutes and take sermon notes. But, believe it or not, you can start (and I would strongly recommend) training your child from infancy that church is a place where we sit still, sit quietly, listen when it’s time to listen, and participate when it’s time to participate.

How do I train my child?

The first and best way to train your child is by modeling proper church behavior yourself. Does he see you singing enthusiastically during the worship time? Are you checking your makeup or Facebook during prayer? Are you visibly paying attention during the sermon? Constantly talking to your husband or a friend during the service? Your child will imitate what he sees and take his cues from you as to what is acceptable behavior.

Otherwise, you train your child in church the same way you would train him in any other situation. If you were at a restaurant, and your baby was crying incessantly, you would tend to his needs at the table, or, if you couldn’t, you would take him out to the lobby or outside until he calmed down. The simple act of doing so begins to plant the idea in his mind that a certain level of behavior is expected in that venue.

If your school aged child won’t sit quietly in his seat at school, the teacher administers the appropriate discipline, and, possibly, you do too, at home.

It’s the same way at church. You let your child know what is expected of him behavior-wise at church, praise him when he does well, and administer discipline when he disobeys.

A few helpful hints:

Infants and toddlers:
If your church offers a nursery, there’s no shame in making use of it. As a stay at home mom, I well remember the days when church was the only opportunity I had for a small breather from my children, adult fellowship, and hearing God’s word without interruption.

But if you want to have your infant or toddler in church with you, that’s great! Be sure your diaper bag is well stocked with anything you might need to keep a little one relatively still and quiet. Bottles, pacifiers, small snacks that won’t make too much of a mess, some small, soft toys (such as stuffed animals or board books- maybe even a special one that’s only for Sundays) that he can quietly play with in his lap.

Try to choose a seat on the aisle near a door in case you need to make a hasty exit. Also, try to sit somewhere where any noise your child might make won’t be picked up by the pastor’s (or other) microphone.

Older children:
Sometimes well meaning Sunday school teachers serve sugary snacks or other foods/drinks that might make your child jittery. If so, it may be more difficult for him to sit quietly during church. Check out the snack situation in your child’s class, and serve him a breakfast that won’t give him the fidgets.

Make a bathroom/water fountain pit stop before the service a weekly habit. If your child would benefit from running a lap or two outside before the service to work off some energy, make that part of the weekly routine as well.

Dress your child appropriately, yet comfortably for church. I still remember scratchy lace on some of my childhood Sunday dresses. And sitting up against the back of a pew or chair wearing a dress that ties in the back? Absolute torture when that knot dug into my spine. It’s kind of hard to sit still when your entire outfit is conspiring against you.

Get them started on taking notes during the sermon. Give your preschooler some crayons and paper and help him listen for something in the sermon he can draw a picture of (a sheep, Jesus, an angel, a garden…).

Lower elementary aged children might enjoy taking “tally mark” notes. Make a brief list of words your child is likely to hear during the sermon (God, Jesus, Bible, Love…) and instruct him to make a tally mark next to the word any time he hears it during the sermon. Some pre-readers can even attempt this if you draw a couple of small pictures instead of words (a heart for “love,” a cross for “Jesus,” etc.) Before church starts, try to guess with your child which word will get the most marks. After church, count up the marks and see if you were right. You may even want to do your own tally mark sheet during the sermon to model for your child what you want him to do.

Some churches offer a fill in the blank sermon outline in the bulletin. This is a perfect note taking activity for older children and tweens. They can also be encouraged to turn in their Bibles to all the Scriptures the pastor mentions, copy down a verse from the text of the sermon, or write down any questions that occur to them as they listen.

And, speaking of questions, another fun activity is for each family member to write down a couple of questions, and their answers, from the sermon. Then, in the car on the way home, each person gets to ask his questions. Whoever gets the most correct answers gets to pick what’s for lunch (or bragging rights, or something else fun). It’ll keep EVERYONE paying attention, and it’s a great way to reinforce and discuss the sermon.

Attend church every Sunday. Not only is it biblical to attend faithfully, but children thrive on routine, and it will be easier for them to remember how to behave if they’re learning and practicing those behavior skills weekly instead of in a “hit and miss” fashion.

 

Training your child to behave well in church isn’t easy at times. I know. I have 6 children and we have raised all of them in church. But if you and your husband will invest the time and effort, everyone benefits. Your pastor will be able to preach uninterrupted. Your fellow church members will be able to worship undistracted. Once your child begins to behave himself better, you will be able to focus more on the service and be less frazzled. But most importantly, your child will develop the skills necessary for hearing and paying attention to God’s word being proclaimed, and what a blessing that will be to him now, and for the rest of his life.

What are some things that have worked well
to help your child behave in church?

 

¹Laura Ingalls Wilder, Farmer Boy  (New York: Harper Collins, 1933), 90-91

This article was originally published under a different title at Satisfaction Through Christ.
Church, Top 10

Throwback Thursday ~ Top 10 Features Your Church Website Needs

Originally published July 20, 2018

One of my favorite parts of this ministry can be found at the Searching for a New Church? tab at the top of this blog. Whether you’re moving to an unfamiliar area or you’re forced to leave your current church due to false doctrine, it can be difficult to find a doctrinally sound church to join.

I’m trying, in my own small way, to make that easier. In addition to providing church search engines and biblical resources delineating the things you should look for in a church, I’ve asked my readers to recommend any doctrinally sound churches they’re familiar with. They have generously given of their time to respond, and I’m overjoyed to report that we’ve had many happy “matchmakings” of brothers and sisters in Christ to wonderful church families.

I recently culled through and organized the nearly 250 reader-recommended churches into an easily navigable master list. I wanted to make sure the list was as helpful as possible, so I provided the web site of every church on the list. Which means I’ve looked at a lot of church websites lately. Most have been very helpful and well-designed. A few, well… let’s just say there was room for improvement.

If you want your church’s website to be helpful to visitors considering your church, as well as to your members, here are ten features (in no particular order…well, except #1) that would be beneficial:

1.
A Website

In other words, your church needs to have a website. All of the 250 churches on my master list have a website (or at least a Facebook page), so I’m guessing that means the vast majority of churches have some sort of website. However, in the past, I have attempted to find information on a particular church only to discover that they had no online presence.

When somebody puts your church’s name into Google and the only hits they get are Yelp or Yellow Pages listings, that communicates something about your church: “We don’t really care whether outsiders can find out information about our church in order to visit.” or “We are stubbornly digging our heels in against technology, even though it would benefit others.” or “We are an elderly congregation that won’t make the effort to understand how to use technology.” (Please don’t try to tell me technology is too complicated for elderly folks. My 97-year-old grandmother has a Facebook page and understands computer guts better than I do.)

Also, while having a Facebook page for your church is great (see below), I would recommend that you also have a web site. Many people, for various reasons, are not on Facebook, and even if your page is public, they have no idea how to navigate a Facebook page if they land on it. There are many free and simple web site hosts out there with a wide variety of designs such as WordPress, Free Church Websites, Doodlekit, and others. Ask around at other churches, examine a variety of church websites, or just Google “website builder”, and play around with the results until you find something that works for your church.

Finally, make the web address for your church simple, logical, and as brief as possible. If the name of your church is First Baptist Church of Anytown, make it something like FBCA.com or FirstBaptistAnytown.org, not PleaseComeVisitOurChurch.com or John316.org.


2.
A Facebook Page

What? I thought you just said we needed a website! Right. It’s very helpful to have both, for potential visitors as well as members. For visitors, a Facebook page has a friendlier, more interactive feel to it than just a web page. On your website they get “Just the facts, ma’am”: your address, statement of faith, staff, etc. On your Facebook page, they get to see the day to day goings on that members are involved in, comments from members, pictures, and so forth. For members, a Facebook page means up to the minute announcements and prayer requests, and a way to stay connected with their church family between Sundays.

But just as having no website can send the wrong message, having only a Facebook page and no website can also send a negative message: “We’re a young, hip church. We don’t care enough about the non-tech savvy crowd to make our information easily available to them.” or “Senior citizens aren’t welcome here.”

And notice, I specifically said a “Facebook” page. Yes, there are problems with Facebook, but it is the platform the majority of people on social media use. Maybe you personally prefer Google+ or Twitter, but if you want to reach the greatest number of people, go with Facebook. And be sure to post your Facebook address on your website, and your website address on your Facebook page, so that anybody landing on one will easily be able to click over to the other.


3.
The Church’s Accurate, Specific Physical Address

“Off Highway 20, just past the tire factory” isn’t specific enough for people who aren’t familiar with the area and are trying to input your address into their GPS or maps app. Give the specific, correctly spelled, street name and number, and be sure to include Dr., Ave., St., etc., especially if there’s another street in your town with an identical name (ex: Oak Dr. and Oak St.). Then, if you want to give additional landmarks, that would be helpful. Also include the full, correctly spelled name of your city and state (believe it or not, I’ve run across a few church websites that never mention which state they’re located in). People unfamiliar with your area may not know what DFW, NOLA, or Jax means.

Be sure that if the address of your church has recently changed, or if you’re temporarily meeting in another location for some reason, that you immediately update this information on your website, social media, etc. If people make the effort to get up, get dressed, and visit your church, only to arrive at your abandoned, old location, that’s a surefire way to make a bad first impression and practically guarantee that they won’t come back.

Put your physical address on the home page in an easily visible spot. Most of the church websites I visited did this beautifully, but it was annoying that some of them required me to hunt around for the address for several minutes. Was it on the “contact” page? The “about” page? The “FAQ” page? Don’t you want people to be able to find your address so they can visit?

4.
The Church’s Contact Information

This should include the church e-mail address, phone number, and mailing address at a minimum. It’s preferable to have these on the home page, but if that’s absolutely impossible, at least put them under a clearly marked, easily accessible tab marked “contact information”. Not under something less specific like the “about”, “learn more”, or “Got questions?” tab. Not under something cutesy or vague like a “Walk the journey with us” tab. Contact information. If you don’t have your social media icons on your home page, this would be a good place for those as well. You want potential visitors as well as members to be able to get in touch with your church, and most people don’t use phone books anymore.

If you use a website contact form rather than providing an actual e-mail address, be sure somebody in the church office is assigned to check those messages daily and respond to them in a timely manner. I’ve had the misfortune of trying to contact several churches through their website forms and never receiving a response. Likewise, someone should be checking and returning voice mails in a timely manner. Failing to respond to messages makes a bad impression on potential visitors and aggravates your members.


5.
Statement of Faith And Denominational Affiliation

It disturbs me that so many churches seem to be trying to hide their denominational affiliation or are being vague about their statement of faith in order to be “seeker sensitive” and not “turn people off”. That foolishness needs to stop. It’s deceptive, which is another word for lying, which is a sin. Churches need to unashamedly tell people who they are and what they stand for. If you’re so ashamed of the denomination you’re affiliated with that you feel the need to hide it from people, you don’t need to be part of that denomination any more.

Don’t depend on your church’s name to state your denomination for you. “Calvary Baptist” could mean Southern Baptist, Independent Baptist, American Baptist, Missionary Baptist, Reformed Baptist, etc. You can offer any caveats or explanations you like, but be up front about which tribe you belong to. If I’m specifically looking for a Southern Baptist church, I want to know if that’s what you are before I waste a bunch of time slogging through your website in an attempt to find out. And the same holds true if I definitely don’t want a Southern Baptist church. Don’t bait-and-switch me.

Your statement of faith should be specific, biblical, and include Scripture references. I think the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 is an excellent template to follow. And, indeed, if the denomination you belong to has a solid, specific statement of faith on its website, why reinvent the wheel? Just link to it and say, “this is what we believe.” The same goes for any creeds or confessions your church holds to. Give the text or link to a site that gives the full text.

Having no statement of faith or a flimsy statement faith on your website raises immediate red flags. Not having a statement of faith says you’re hiding what you believe, or what you believe is so unimportant that you forgot to put it on the website. A flimsy statement of faith (A handful of short, extremely broad statements with no Scripture references like, “We believe the Bible is God’s Word.” Yeah? So do about 80% of Americans, most of whom aren’t even Christians.) says your church is doctrinally flimsy or wishy-washy.


6.
A Gospel Presentation

Most of the time, people perusing church websites to find information on how to visit your church are already Christians, but sometimes a false convert or a run of the mill lost person will happen upon your site. Christians should seize every opportunity to share the gospel with the lost, and putting a gospel presentation on your website is an easy way to do so.

If it’s a written explanation of the plan of salvation, make sure it’s long enough to be specific and accurate, but short enough that people will actually read it. Or, you could post a video like the one I’ve posted in the sidebar of this page, or maybe one that your pastor has recorded. Or, if your denomination’s website has a good gospel presentation page, you could link to that.


7.
Sermons

Christians looking for a new church want to know what the preaching is like. Church members who are out sick or traveling want to listen to any sermons they might have missed. A lost person who “stumbles across” (hey, we all know that’s Providence, right?) your website could listen to your pastor preach and get saved.

If you have the technology to record your pastor’s sermons and put them on the church website, do it! It can only serve as a benefit and a blessing. And if you don’t have that recording technology, prayerfully consider investing in it.


8.
Staff

It helps potential visitors feel more at home if they can get to know a little bit about the pastor they’ll be listening to or the youth director who oversees their children’s Sunday School department. A little personal information is nice, but be sure to also include some “resume” type of information, such as where he went to seminary and how many years of experience he has. A few websites I’ve looked at have included  the names of well-known pastors and authors or books that have been influential on the pastor’s spiritual life or philosophy of ministry. I find those very insightful.

9.
What to Expect

Some churches include a page on their website that gives all the details a first time visitor would want to know. If you have a welcome center where they can meet someone who will show them around, explain where it is and which exterior door is closest to it. Do you have visitor parking? Give directions to it or post a diagram. What time and in which room(s) are the worship service, Sunday School classes, etc.? Where is the nursery? Are there special accommodations for disabled visitors? Is next Sunday the monthly potluck? How do people usually dress for the worship service? Is a map or directory of the campus available? Ask new members what information they found helpful on your church’s website and what improvements could be made.

10.
Updates

If your church website has the same interface it had in 1997, it’s time for an update. Get a more streamlined, user-friendly, contemporary looking layout. It doesn’t have to look like something out of Star Wars, but it shouldn’t look like the site you had when the internet was brand new and AOL was the hottest thing going, either.

Make sure that when people click on the “about” or “contact information” or “staff” tab that there’s actually something there once they get there, not a “404 Error. This page does not exist.” type of thing. Old looking websites with pages that don’t work are not the way to introduce your church to the world. They send the message that, “Nobody here really knows what they’re doing, technologically speaking. Somebody tried to put a web page together about 20 years ago, but it was too hard, or she got too busy, and she gave up, and nobody else cared enough to handle this project.”

Additionally, keep the information on your website up to date. Sermons should be posted within a week or two max. Your calendar page should be the current month with up to date events, not the calendar from last September. If a staff member has left, the staff page shouldn’t look like he’s still there. As previously mentioned, all of your contact information should be kept up to date.

Not Absolutely Necessary, But Extremely Helpful:
Recommended Resources

More and more churches are dedicating a section of their website to a list of recommended books (and sometimes, blogs, websites, and music, as well) on various theological topics such as salvation, eschatology, marriage, etc. I’m sure this is a wonderful resource for their own members who want to study up on these topics, but I’ve found it is the fastest and easiest way to tell where a church stands, theologically, depending on which authors’ materials are recommended. If I were looking for a new church, the book page of the church’s website is the first page I’d check out. It often says more, specifically, about the church’s theology than the statement of faith page.


Your church website can be wonderfully helpful to potential visitors and church members alike. Take some time to make it the best, most welcoming and informative introduction to your church you can.

What are some helpful things you think should be included
on church websites for potential visitors? For church members?