Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 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. Hebrews 10:23-25
Hello Young Believer! If you are new to the faith and to church that's wonderful, there is a lot of bad church baggage that you've been able to avoid up to this point. If you are here as a young high school or college student trying to navigate finding your own church after moving out, this post is absolutely for you too. A great place to start with finding a good church is attending the church your mentor attends especially if you're a baby Christian who is just starting your walk with Christ. However, if that's not an option then here are a few things to pay attention to as you visit your local churches.
Bad Church Red Flag #1
The Church does not make the Word of God accessible or encourage that you take up your sword and test what they say by it. Here is maybe one of the most practical reasons for you to be in God's Word, when you're consistently in His Word and know what it says it is much harder to be deceived by false teaching. A church that doesn't encourage this or even goes as far as discouraging you from seeking God in His Word and holding them accountable by it is not a church you should attend.
Bad Church Red Flag #2
The Church does not teach the Gospel, they have either taken away from it or added to it. This red flag can be especially subtle for new believers and is yet another reason to remain in God's Word and know the Gospel. Don't be afraid to ask questions! If the pastor is teaching on Song of Solomon the week that you visit, he would have to be pretty creative with his altar call. But you should always feel welcome to ask what that church believes the Gospel is, who they believe God is, how do they practice baptism, and do they have opportunities for discipleship? Listen carefully and test what they say by God's Word.
Bad Church Red Flag #3
Is the Church actively trying to justify sin? This one has become so much more prevalent or at least visible these days. One example of this is that you find members of the LGBTQ+ in leadership positions in the church. You may hear rumors of sexual misconduct in the church. It's also probably a safe bet that they're promising an easy walk with Christ and that everyone is going to heaven. Remember Red Flag #2? If they don't believe that anyone faces God's judgment for their sins, why would they believe that they need His sacrifice to make them righteous or His resurrection to gift them eternal life? Now, I'm not saying that any of the above persons would be unwelcome in church, they need the Gospel every bit as much as you and I need it. What I am saying is that a good church will lovingly call sin for what it is and especially call their leadership to repentance not justify their bad behavior. On the flip side, if a Church is overly involved in all the "rules" of do this or do that, you have to genuinely consider whether they have the understanding that Jesus has fulfilled the law and you are made righteous through Him, no amount of good works could replace what He has done for you. This particular fault in the church you will come to know as legalism.
For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith. Galatians 3:10-14
No church is perfect, however, it is so important especially as a young Christian to go and be discipled by a healthy church that will equip you for life as a Christian. Who will give you the tools you need so that when you face a church that needs some accountability and repentance, you know exactly how to confront them in love and when to leave if that becomes necessary.
Good Church Green Flag #1
Finally, the part you've all been waiting for... what makes a good church? First and foremost, this Church puts Christ at the center. They teach from God's Word and encourage you to test what they say and correct them if you believe they've gotten something wrong. It's a really good sign if they also encourage that you gather together in smaller groups throughout the church to build relationships as you study the Word together.
Good Church Green Flag #2
Speaking of teaching from the Word, a good church won't avoid difficult subjects because they're politically incorrect or might offend some people. Part of the church's job is to teach the Word in such a way that it convicts you when you're in the wrong, it doesn't let you continue on in your sin claiming ignorance because they never addressed it. This doesn't mean that they're a good church because they teach something that upsets you, if that something still goes against God's Word (in fact, especially if it goes against His Word then it goes back to the red flags up above).
Good Church Green Flag #3
This church practices church discipline. I've been going to churches since before I was born and I can tell you that this type of church is especially rare and it shouldn't be. Unfortunately, many of the churches I attended who started to develop very real problems did so because they didn't know how to practice church discipline so instead of holding each other accountable to God's Word and lifting one another up through prayer, people would simply move on. This is church discipline,
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven." Matthew 18:15-20
A church that practices this well, does so with the hope that their brother or sister will be restored to them and will turn from their sin. They don't do this out of judgment or ganging up on someone they don't like, they do this with great grace and humility expecting that if they were to be found in sin that this same brother or sister would call them to repent too.
There are some silly reasons to stop going to a church that I have heard about through the course of my years attending several, some people have quit because the paint color chosen in a meeting wasn't the one they would have gone with or the music wasn't quite to their liking. These are not good reasons to leave a church that is practicing the three green flags above. In fact, God may lead you through His providence to a church that fits that "good" description on your very first try. There is no reason to keep shopping around at that point unless you feel that God has called you elsewhere. Don't let your grocery list of "wants" for a church supersede where God is leading you to attend.
As with everything enter into the decision to attend a church with prayer. Then continue to pray for the church you're attending. Once you've made the decision to stay, it's a good time to seek out what it would mean to be an official member of that Church, which should also be a good opportunity for that Church to learn more about you and where they can meet your needs as you grow in your faith.
If you have more questions about how to find a good church as a new or young Christian please leave them in the comments. I highly encourage you, if you haven't already, to seek out a mentor in your faith that can meet with you locally. This is one journey you were never meant to take alone!