There are many things to look for when Christians are seeking a body of believers to join itself to. Let me say from the start that I am talking about Reformed or Presbyterian churches only. Since I am Presbyterian I am speaking out of my own presuppositions. If you are not Reformed or Presbyterian, you are free to join one! Many people will disagree on what to look for in a church since the Scriptures guide us to join ourselves to the true church and the idea of denominations is foreign to the Word of God.
We know that the history of Israel had two major factions of people who claimed to worship YHWH, but the prophets frequently speak out against the Northern kingdom and its worship.
The reason that the prophets spoke out against the Northern kingdom was that they had departed from biblical worship. The sin of Jeraboam is a frequently repeated phrase in the Old Testament. The sin was worshipping God in a way that was not prescribed in the Scriptures. One of these Northern kingdom worshippers asked Jesus Christ about his input on the "worship wars" of his day. The woman at the well, I am sure, was really interested in his opinion about her choice of "denomination". Jesus responded to the woman, "You do not even know what you worship!" He concluded that there will come a time, and it now is, that those who worship God will do it in Spirit and in Truth.
What does this have to do with choosing a church? First off, it shows that the worship of God is very important to Jesus Christ. Worship is not something that is open for private interpretation. Worship needs to be done according to the prescription of God's word.
Point One: Know how the Church views the Bible. Do they believe that it is God's inspired and inerrant Word? Do they say that it is and then deny it in the way that they order their church? (Point three includes more on the view of Scripture).
Point Two: Seek out a Church that worships according to biblical principles of worship. If you do not know what a biblical principle is, then seek it out in scripture. Be able to cite a handful of verses that support biblical worship. Do not just assume that the way things are done are okay with God. Remember the woman at the well.
Point Three: Know what the church believes. Ask about doctrinal standards. If they have written standards read them and study them. Talk with the elders of the church if you do not understand points.
If the church is Presbyterian ask about its denominations writings other than the Westminster Standards. They all have documents that help to interpret the Standards. Also ask if the church has any position papers. These will help you to see how they apply the Standards and the Bible. (For example; The OPC has a position on abortion [in a certain circumstance] that many evangelicals will not like.)
If the church is Reformed ask about other papers as well. The CRC has a position paper called "Our world belongs to God". The URC has available synodical papers that help to discuss what they believe. The Protestant Reformed people have Herman Hoeksema's Reformed Dogmatics and that IS IT!
Point Four: (This one will be strange for some) Ask about the church's history. What denomination did it break off of? What reasons did it leave the body that it once was a member of? Did it have a legitimate reason to split or should it have joined an already existing body? What is it doing to re-unify the Reformed and Presbyterian churches? Does it have a heart for "one body", or does it enjoy being "alone"?
Point Five: Is it apparent that the (professing) members have lives that are transformed by the power of the gospel? Is it apparent that her people have hearts that seek to order their lives according to Scripture? Do you see a mature zeal to have families that glorify God and enjoy him? (This will show the power of the preaching in the church as well as the teaching that the members sit under.)
These five points will begin to help you on your path of choosing a body of believers that you can join with and work with towards bringing glory to God. I am sure that there are other things that are important and others can give input from their experiences.
This is not something that should be done without prayer, much discussion with elders and other godly counsel, and more prayer. Church membership is so important that you should see it as something that your children and grand-children will be effected by. Your choice could help you in your walk with Jesus Christ and it could also be the first step towards being spiritually dead. This is SERIOUS business!
Below you will find a helpful article by one of my favorite modern writers. It is easy to read and filled with biblical advice. ( The blog, Johannes Weslianus also has some insight into this: it is linked on my blogger section).
Choosing A Church
-What would you add my five points for consideration?
-What are biblical reasons to LEAVE a church?
-What should be the "battle plan" for what is called, church "shopping"?
* * TO ALL MY READERS: I am not thinking of leaving my church, but I have friends and family that are in the early stages of seeking out a new church and this topic has been something that I have been praying about and meditating on for the sake of friends of kin!