Churches come in all shapes, sizes, and sometimes even beliefs.
In Revelation 2-3, the Bible gives us some descriptions of a church that might have lost its way. Although, the Bible also mentions positive things that these very same churches were doing, so they weren’t all bad. This is an important idea to remember, because no church is going to be one hundred percent perfect; after all, they are run by humans.
Be wise and be aware, but before you leave any church, take some time to evaluate your own motives. Any problems that you see might be a result of your own perception and not really issues at all. Your inclination to avoid a particular church may be valid, but it could also be your own pride thinking you deserve better. Always check yourself and your motives.
Still, certain characteristics may be a good reason to go elsewhere:
1. Lost Its First Love
The Church of Ephesus lost its first love. I believe that this means they had forgotten the heart of the Gospel—God’s love for repentant sinners. They worry over the politics of running a church instead of sharing God’s love. Gaining numbers in money and attendance becomes a prime concern.
The love of God is a pleasing aroma to anyone seeking it. Preach it and people will come. You don’t have to bend over backwards to please the congregation.
Your first love is the reason you desire to do good for others. Christ’s love should always be your motivation.
2. Doesn't Preach the Cross
The cross is the heart of the gospel. Jesus came to earth so that He could be a holy sacrifice for our sins. He didn’t come only as a teacher, friend, or an example--although He was all of those things. His main purpose was to willingly go to the cross to appease the Father’s wrath at all His creation’s sins.
The cross of Christ is an offense to unbelievers and churches can sometimes tiptoe around it, thinking that a softer approach is more palatable and will win over more people. It may win people temporarily, but the power is watered down. We need the fullness of the gospel to get through the trials of life.
Our churches need to keep the main thing, the main thing.
3. Dismisses Suffering or Trials
If the church seems to continually dismiss suffering or trials as caused by a believer not having enough faith, something is wrong. In the Bible, God mentioned many times that a person’s faith had healed them, but physical healings and obvious answers to problems do not always happen.
Trials themselves and how we handle them are an instrumental key to our spiritual growth. Problems have a purpose that we can’t always see until after we’ve gone through them and turned the corner.
4. Teaches Doctrines That Are Wrong
False doctrines can come in multiple subjects. It’s important to receive the messages that you hear in a church with eagerness, but it is also vital to examine the Scriptures yourself to see if what was spoken was biblically true or not (Acts 17:11).
Does it preach that you are justified by your faith in Christ alone?
Does it preach that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God?
A good church focuses on the One who convicts of sin, speaks the Truth, and lovingly points to repentance as the way to get back on track.
5. Leaders Who are in Open, Unrepentant Sin
Leaders are humans, so they are not going to be sinless; however, if they are living in unrepentant sin or even a full-fledged sinful lifestyle, it will affect the whole congregation.
People who oversee other people’s souls must watch their lives very carefully. As much as possible, they need to be above reproach. Leadership has an intense job description: faithful in marriage, self-controlled, hospitable, not given to drunkenness or violence, and there’s more. All leaders in the church should be sobered by the long list of prescribed characteristics in 1 Timothy 3:1-7.
Church leaders need to be accountable, approachable, and open to criticism. Other leaders in the church should be able to approach them with observations about their life.
6. Never Convicts You of Sin
When the word of God is preached, you should feel uncomfortable at times. We all fall short of where we should be. Sometimes we’re unloving, stressed, and lazy.
In 2 Samuel 12, Nathan the prophet convicts King David of sin. We all need a Nathan in our lives to show us sin that we either don’t see or have pushed down so we can avoid it.
When it’s preached, the Word of God should point out the times when we’ve acted wrongly.
7. Is It Lukewarm or Even Dead
Faith without works is dead. A church’s main job is to push, urge, and encourage their congregation to do good with their lives 24/7; not just on Sunday morning. When a church stresses entertainment over application of the word of God, there is a problem.
The purpose of church teaching is so you can go into all of the world around you, showing love and compassion and sharing your testimony about God’s goodness, especially to those that don’t believe yet
8. Doesn't Quote Scripture
This includes both the Old and New Testament. Church is more than just stories and platitudes. Actual Scripture should be quoted regularly and whole passages read out loud. Sometimes we need a paraphrase to help us apply Scripture. But at other times, just reading it directly from the Bible is enough.
The Word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart (Hebrews 4:12).
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
9. "Thou Shalt Not" is Heard Often
It could be a bad sign if they seem to think that the phrase “Thou shalt not” alone is enough to stop people from sinning. The law tells you that you’re doing something that is against God’s good plan, yes, but it can’t get you to change; it can only make you realize what needs to change.
Our natural inclination is to do what we don’t want to do and to not do what we do want to do (Romans 7:15). We often know what we’re doing is wrong, but we desperately need God’s help to change.
10. Doesn't Preach the Resurrection
Jesus came to die on the cross for our sin, but that’s not all. When His body had no life left in it, it was placed in a dark tomb. but three days later, both the cross and the tomb were empty. The Resurrection is pivotal to all Christian faith; if Jesus didn’t rise again, we might as well bulldoze all the churches because preaching and faith would be useless.
The Resurrection equals eternal hope. Is there a spirit of hope and a never-give-up attitude when speaking of inevitable trials in life?
Through it all (the good, the bad, and the indifferent), we can have peace and be of good cheer for He has overcome the world (John 16:33).
Surrender, self-control, and a whole lot of the Holy Spirit gives you the ability to change. You admit the problem. You ‘fess up to it. Then God’s grace comes in and helps you to turn and go another way.