How to Find a Good Church

How to Find a Good Church

Hungry for a grace-based, gospel-focused, sound-doctrine-preaching, local church to call home? Me, too.

Scripture tells us that the Church is the body of Christ. It is made up of wonderfully diverse people from all over the world who have been saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. But until we reach heaven, we still wrestle with these mortal bodies. We battle what Paul calls our flesh. None of us are perfect; all of us, if we are walking in the Spirit and growing in the grace of God, are a work in progress as we are being conformed into the image of God's Son.

In the words of author Ann Voskamp, we are "bruised souls pressed close."

Knowing that we all struggle against sin and cannot expect perfection from one another, how do we find a local community of believers, a local church, we can call home? What makes a good church? When prayerfully evaluating a church, what do we look for?

Do they preach the true gospel?

Most churches have a website that includes their statement of faith or doctrine. Look for tabs that say "What We Believe" or "How to Know Jesus," "How to Go to Heaven," or some other kind of evangelical outreach. Locate their beliefs about salvation and / or how to be saved. Does their message line up with the simple gospel we are given in Scripture? Do they teach we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ who died for our sins and rose again? 

Test their message of salvation according to Scripture read in context: Rom. 1:16-17, Eph. 2:8-9, 1 Cor. 15:1-4, Titus 3:5-7, Acts 13:38-39, Rom. 4:2-5.

Red flags

If a church teaches that you must turn from your sins to be saved, repent of your sins to be saved, live a holy life to be saved, be baptized in water to be saved, commit your life to Christ to be saved, give offerings to be saved, confess your sins to be saved, pray a special prayer to be saved, follow the Torah to be saved, or walk down an aisle to be saved, flee from that church because they have added to the gospel of our salvation and created an accursed gospel (Gal. 1:6-12). 

Our faith is not in ceasing to sin. Our faith is not in turning from sin. Our faith is not in water baptism. Our faith is not in how holy we can live. Our faith is not in our commitment or prayers or alms or service or pastor or confession of sins. Our faith is not in keeping the law. Our faith is not in our own righteousness, spiritual disciplines, or ability to do good. Our faith is in Christ, who died for our sin and rose again. He took our sin and gave us His righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21). He alone accomplished the work. We rest in Him. As we grow in the faith, it is important to live for Him and be trained by the same grace that brought our salvation to live soberly, righteously, and holy (Titus 2:11-14) but these qualities of service and devotion to the Lord are not what saves us or keeps us saved. They are a freely-offered response of gratitude, humility, and love. 

Do they preach eternal security / once saved always saved?

We are not saved due to our behavior. If one could lose salvation, we all would have done so! Instead, Scripture is clear that the only life God gives a believer is eternal life (John 3:16, Rom. 11:29, 1 John 5:13) based on faith alone. If someone teaches salvation can be lost, they are teaching that you are responsible for your salvation. This is a false gospel. God is the one who keeps you. (1 Peter 1:3-5) Your eternal life does not depend on you. You cannot give it back or become unborn. Is it possible to walk away from the faith, or live foolishly and in disobedience? Yes, and with grave consequences. But this does not take away the free gift of eternal life (1 Cor. 3:9-15, 1 Cor. 5:1-5, 2 Tim. 2:7-26, 1 John 1:8, 1 John 3:9)

Do they preach sound doctrine? What do they believe about Jesus?

Jesus is the Word. He is God in the flesh. He is the Creator. (John 1) He is the Son of God, equal with His Father and the Holy Spirit. As believers, Jesus Christ is our foundation. We become born again through faith, which is the message of the gospel. When looking for a local church community, evaluate everything according to our foundation of Christ and His gospel. "As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord [by faith], so walk in Him [by faith]" (Col. 2:6). This includes the statement of faith, the beliefs, the sermons, and the classes and teachings of the pastor and those in leadership.

Jesus taught that we will know false prophets and evil men by their fruit. Their fruit is not outward behavior, lifestyle, or appearance, as some mistakenly claim. Jesus clearly warns against this: "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing [outward appearance], but inwardly are ravenous wolves." (Matt. 7:15) Instead, you know them by the fruit of their lips. What is their doctrine? What do they teach? What do they really believe? 

“For a good tree does not bear bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. For every tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they gather grapes from a bramble bush. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks." (Luke 6:43-45) 

A revealing question to ask your potential pastor is, "What is the proof of my salvation?" Listen carefully to his answer. Remember, we cannot see the heart, but out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. A profession of faith in the blood of Christ as the atonement for our sins is the only "proof" of salvation we need to consider someone a brother or sister in Christ. Lifestyle, behavior, and good works can certainly be indicators of maturity and spiritual growth, but they are NOT biblical means to prove salvation. The Pharisees prided themselves on their law-keeping righteousness, but Jesus said they were sons of the Devil. (John 8:42-47) Other faiths, such as Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons, could put Christians to shame for their patient evangelical zeal and moral codes. There are atheists, Buddhists, and agnostics with high personal morals and philanthropic commitments. Outward appearance is not a reliable proof of salvation. Certainly, Christians should endeavor to live righteous, set apart lives and be zealous for good works. But this is not how we prove whether or not one is born again. 

Red flags

Many churches deceive by appearing to present the true gospel on the surface, but when pressing deeper will add caveats and requirements that Scripture does not. This includes heretical statements like, "Yes, you're saved by faith alone in Christ, but if your life doesn't show it by a change, this proves you weren't really saved." Or, "Yes, you're saved by grace, but grace is not a license to sin so if you have sin in your life, that's a sign you're not saved." Or, "Sure, you're saved by faith alone, but faith that saves is never alone. Faith without works is dead. Therefore works will prove your faith." These are distortions of Scripture.

Other heresies include preaching a different Jesus ("He did not die for everyone, but only the elect who would believe in Him,"—Calvinism; "He was A god, not THE god,"—Jehovah's Witness; "Jesus and Satan were brothers,"—Latter Day Saints; "Jesus is the Torah and came to show us how to follow the law,"—Hebrew Roots Movement; etc.) 

2 Cor. 11:3-4 is a warning against crafty deception and reminds us of the simplicity of Christ and the soundness of the true gospel, which is Christ crucified (1 Cor. 1, 1 Cor. 2) for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:1-2) that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16).

Are the children and youth programs gospel-focused and grace-based?

If you're a parent, don't overlook the nursery and children's ministry as you consider a local church. What do they teach the kids? What do the Sunday School teachers and youth leaders believe and teach? What criteria does church leadership have in place to appoint teachers for the children and protect the children from spiritual, physical, and other harm?

If your six-year-old asked them how to be saved, how would church leadership respond? Do they lead children in a "salvation prayer" to "ask Jesus in your heart?" Or do they preach belief in Christ crucified for our sins and His resurrection—salvation by grace through faith? Do they "dumb down" the gospel, turn Bible messages into cute cliches, or take to heart Christ's words regarding the simplicity of a child's faith? Do they teach Scripture and age-appropriate sound doctrine? What sort of activities, games and entertainment do they utilize, and is it in alignment with your biblical family values? How do they respond when someone gets hurt or bullied in a class or group?

Does the church maintain a proper distinction between salvation and discipleship?

While salvation is a free gift through Jesus Christ (Rom. 6:23), offering ourselves as a living sacrifice to God in holiness is our reasonable service (Rom. 12:1). We do not achieve or maintain eternal life through good works, but God has created us unto good works (Eph. 2:8-10, Titus 2:11-14) and desires that we have a profitable faith (James 2:7-26, Titus 3:8,14), grow as a Christian (2 Pet. 1:3-8, Col. 3), and grow in grace and the knowledge of Him (2 Pet. 3:18). This happens through spiritual disciplines such as prayer, Bible study, service and learning. 

What kind of discipleship does the church offer? Do they keep the assurance of salvation separate from the ongoing walk of a believer? Are they invested in helping their members grow in the faith? Do they teach deep, rich lessons in ways that can be understood and practically applied? Do they refuse to water down the truth, even if that means the church doesn't make a lot of money or have thousands of members? 

Other considerations

In the essentials unity, in the non-essentials liberty, and in all things charity.

While not a verse of Scripture, this helpful quote reminds Christians to keep a proper perspective on the essentials of the faith compared to beliefs or lifestyle convictions that are not salvific in nature. As you evaluate the secondary issues to decide if a local church body is a right fit for your family, read and keep Romans 14 in mind. Disagreement about non-essentials of the faith, if in liberty and love, are not necessarily a red flag. 

There MUST be unity on the essentials: Jesus, salvation, the atonement. Otherwise, how else could you fellowship? "Can two walk together, unless they are agreed?" Other sound doctrine essentials important for fellowship include the infallibility of Scripture as originally given; the nature of the Godhead, or Trinity; God's design for marriage between one man and one woman; calling sin sin; and more. 

Some examples of non-essentials that allow for sweet, loving Christian fellowship despite disagreement include dietary convictions, headcovering, and so on.

Observe the structure of the church and the example given by the pastor and leadership. Do they lead with humility or expect to be served? Are they rock stars in the church, or do they roll up their sleeves and get dirty serving the Lord? Is there a spirit of liberty in the church, or do they control and micromanage their members? Do they guilt members into tithing, gifts, service, and other expectations? Do they use God's name, Scripture, or their position of authority to manipulate and threaten parishioners to get what they want? How do they handle church discipline and address sin? 

Personal preferences

Is there room for personal preference when evaluating a church? Prayerfully, yes. Some prefer classic hymns versus contemporary singing. Some prefer large congregations, and others look for small, intimate chapels. Some will drive two hours away for church; others prefer a community close to home to get involved in. Remember, these are secondary—or tertiary—considerations. What is the best fit for your family's growth? Where can you be a mutual blessing among other saints of God? Ask the Lord to lead you.


Since the church is comprised of imperfect, sinful people unified by faith in Christ, do not expect perfection as you search for a godly community. However, do not budge on doctrine. Be ruthless in love for the gospel for the sake of our beloved Lord and His sacrifice for us. Weigh the teachings of the church against Scripture. Pray. Beware of deception, even the kind-hearted, well-meaning sort. It is better to gather as a family at home, and serve the Lord independently, than to tolerate an accursed gospel or expose your children to false doctrine.

In closing, if you desire to find a good, solid, grace-based, gospel-founded, solid-doctrine-teaching church, pray. Ask the Lord to lead you. Continue to grow through prayer and study. Listen to teachings of godly, wise teachers online.* Remember that ultimately, as a believer, you are the church. If you cannot find a solid local church community right now, don't neglect being the church wherever you go. Bring the light and hope of Christ to a desperate, lonely, and aching world—one that may literally be at your doorstep.

* Recommendations for solid bible teaching online:


Here is a printable tract you can download, print at home, and fold. Put copies in your car, your purse, your briefcase, or your pocket to have ready to hand out or leave somewhere to find.