In the past several years, I have had opportunities to attend and visit many churches due to my ministry work. Every living church ministries is different. It is always interesting how one can spot a good church and a not so good. ‘Good’ meaning a place of worship where people seem to be joyful and united from the congregation to the pastoral team. How does one recognize a good church?
I have been at churches where the pastor couldn’t be seen anywhere before the church service, and would disappear just as mysteriously after the preaching. How can the members of the congregation or the visitors get to know him and he them, short of phoning to make an appointment between Sunday to Sunday just to exchange a few words? Even then, I have also experienced, a phone call is intercepted by a secretary and never returned anyway.
Traveling to various locations and attending different churches gives you the variety to gauge some analytical feelings. And I’m not talking here about feelings of carnal criticism. I’m not talking about a judgmental attitude. I’m talking about a mature spiritual discernment of how things are going within the body of Christ from one place to another.
One needs to allow for the culture and personality of people and leadership. Some churches may be more alive than others, some may be more conservative, etc. That’s not what we’re talking about here. There is an atmosphere, a Spirit if you will, that can be quickly sensed in the air, as to whether the church is genuinely joyful or distressed. It’s something like the first three minutes of an interview, or the atmosphere within a low-morale organization.
But real joy or distressed cannot be faked. You can see it in the faces of the people. You can feel it in the voices and greetings of the folks milling around. You can observe it in the discipline and reverence in the sanctuary. You can hear it in the singing. You can experience it in the affection between the members and the pastors. You can sense it in your spirit. You can definitely receive it in the preaching of the preacher.
Let’s examine these attributes more closely.
1) You can see it in the faces and joy of the people:
Reality cannot be faked nor hidden. The genuinely joyful greetings of an excited, Spirit-filled congregation can be sensed by even the most unbelievers. As a matter of fact, I have on many occasions abstained from inviting an unbeliever to church for the very reason that the feeling was never right for such an occasion. I’ve been at conservative churches that unexpectedly turned into ‘heavy metal’ concerts by youth pastors in the absence of the regular pastors. That’s enough to turn any middle aged skeptic away. Different people fit in different styles or formats – all of which is determined by the satisfaction of the members of the congregation.
2) You can feel it in the voices and greetings of the folks milling around:
The genuineness of the people can only come from times spent together and caring for each other. Times really enjoying each other’s company through fellowship, times talking and sharing before and after the Sunday services and in home cells during the week. Times praying together, crying and laughing together in appropriate moments of life. Times of singing and worshiping, helping, planning, suggesting, rebuking when necessary, and praising a lot. This transfers into the voices and greetings of the members, as opposed to a distraught and upset, disinterested or dissatisfied people.
3) You can observe it in the discipline and reverence of the Sanctuary:
There is nothing less irreverent then a congregation ignoring the service starting times and the quietness of the sanctuary. Or the lateness of members with the excuse of ‘sleeping in’ or being too busy to make it on time. In many churches, the chatter and noise going on in the Sanctuary is no different then in a casino or coffee shop. There has to be reverence in the House of God. The Sanctuary is just that: a Sanctified place to meet the Almighty God of the Universe. Of course He is with us even in our homes. But the Church is the official meeting place of the children of God. I’ve seen folks barefoot with coffee on hand walking up and down the isles as if it was an outdoor pic-nic.