On Choosing a Church in College

These days, there is certainly a wide variety of options when it comes to selecting a church. No longer is church a one-size-fits-all custom. Churches these days vary from quiet, conservative, and traditional all the way to massive, base-bumping, and expressive.

From the preaching to worship to the style of services, everyone seems to have particular preferences about what they’re looking for in a church. When your “church shopping,” you’ve probably already discovered that it’s kind of difficult to find a church that hits the nail on the head in every category. Some churches might seem too buttoned-up, while others might feel like they put on a prideful performance for their worship set. You might think the pastor’s sermon is too long, boring, and theological, while another pastor’s message might feel too practical or too loosely related to Scripture.

While all these things are somewhat important to consider as you search for a church, it’s vital that you realize you’re never going to find an absolutely perfect fit. Our preferences can be pretty outrageous when it comes to church, and if it’s keeping you from being in a Christian community altogether, you might want to take a minute and consider some of the following points. How can we come together as the church with all our conflicting preferences at war?

1. Community 

Community isn’t just a proposal in the Bible—it’s a command. Right away in Genesis, God proclaims that it’s not good for man to be alone. There’s something to people from all different backgrounds, generations, and cultures meeting together as one, but the same thing that knits a variety of people into the beautiful tapestry of his church requires us to sacrifice and lay aside personal preferences.

When joining a small group or Bible study, personal preferences often get in the way. We also have pretty high expectations for what a community like that should look like. If we don’t feel like things are clicking after the first couple of visits, it’s easy to give up and just quit attending. Try and stick with it, though! Friendships often take a year or more to truly develop, and the kind of deep trust that allows you to share about sin struggles, hard times, and hold one another accountable takes just as long to form.

Diversity is important when you’re in community—it’s a wise and good thing to have people from different life stages in your small group or at your church. But that often means there are conflicting preferences and needs. This means that inevitably, we’ll have to sacrifice for one another in order to love each other well. It’s a sweet and life-giving way for us to care for our community and be cared for by them in return.

2. The preaching and worship

Many people choose a church based on the style of the preaching and worship presented. However, it’s vital that you tread carefully here and make sure to check your motives.

If you’re looking to simply be entertained, then you should go to a church with an entertaining pastor. However, if you’re looking to know Jesus more, you should go to a church with a pastor who helps you understand how to grow closer to the Lord. The same goes for the worship at the church—while the style might not be your favorite, if the content is leading you closer to God, then it might be okay to set aside your personal preference for rock music or hymns.

Here’s an easy way to assess which is which: do you leave the church thinking the pastor or the worship band is awesome, or do you leave the church thinking that God is awesome?

3. Are you a consumer or contributor? 

Most people tend to choose a church based on how it meets their own needs, but that’s actually sort of backward!

Our primary call to God’s church is to contribute, not simply consume (Mark 8:34-35, 1 John 3:16, Philippians 2:3). The right church for you may not be the one that feels most comfortable or offers you the most in terms of your preferences. The same goes for the small group or Bible study you’re a part of—instead of approaching it like a consumer, remember to think about how you can contribute and serve the others in your group.

So go ahead and be deliberate as you select the church you want to attend, but keep these things in mind. Asking, “What’s in it for me?” is not the direction you want to head, and nixing that question from your mind will help you have an open heart to the church that’s right for you.