In order to know what to look for in a local church, we must first understand  God’s purpose for the church—the body of Christ—in general. There are two  outstanding truths about the church. First, “the church of the living God [is]  the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Timothy  3:15). Second, Christ alone is the head of the church (Ephesians 1:22; 4:15; Colossians 1:18).

In regard to the truth, the local church is a place where the Bible  (God’s only Truth) has complete authority. The Bible is the only infallible rule  of faith and practice (2 Timothy  3:15-17). Therefore, when seeking a church to attend, we should find one  where, according to biblical standards, the gospel is preached, sin is  condemned, worship is from the heart, the teaching is biblical, and  opportunities to minister to others exist. Consider the model of the early  church found in Acts  2:42-47, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the  fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer…They broke bread in their  homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying  the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who  were being saved.”

In regard to the second truth about the church,  Christians should attend a local fellowship that declares Christ’s headship in  all matters of doctrine and practice. No man—whether pastor, priest, or pope—is  the head of the church. All men die—how can the living church of the living God  have a dead head? It cannot. Christ is the church’s one supreme authority, and  all church leadership, gifts, order, discipline, and worship are appointed  through His sovereignty, as found in the Scriptures.

Once these two  fundamentals are in place, the rest of the factors (buildings, worship styles,  activities, programs, location, etc.) are merely a matter of personal taste.  Before even setting foot inside a church, some homework is in order. Doctrinal  statements, purpose statements, mission statements, or anything that will give  insight into what a church believes should be carefully looked over. Many  churches have websites where one can get a feel for what they believe regarding  the Bible, God, the Trinity, Jesus Christ, sin, and salvation.

Next  should be visits to the churches that seem to have the fundamentals in place.  Attendance at two or three services at each church will be helpful. Any  literature they have for visitors should be scrutinized, paying close attention  to belief statements. Church evaluation should be based on the principles  outlined above. Is the Bible held as the only authority? Is Christ exalted as  head of the church? Does the church focus on discipleship? Were you led to  worship God? What types of ministries does the church involve itself in? Was the  message biblical and evangelical? How was the fellowship? You also need to feel  comfortable—were you made to feel welcome? Is the congregation comprised of true  worshippers?

Finally, remember that no church is perfect. At best, it  is still filled with saved sinners whose flesh and spirits are continually at  war. Also, do not forget the importance of prayer. Praying about the church God  would have you attend is crucial throughout the decision-making process.