Committing yourself and your family to a local church is one of the most important decisions you will ever make this side of eternity; and yet, for all the weightiness of it, it is a decision to which the larger part of church attenders have given little to no thought. Over the past three decades, I have witnessed multitudes of individuals and families choose to join churches for the wrong reason(s). While there is a plethora of helpful resources out there to help people understand the right reasons to join a church, the right reasons to leave a church and the right way to leave a church, there is very little that speaks directly to wrong reasons to join a church. While more could be added to them, here are 7 common wrong reasons for which people join churches:
1. You don’t want your relationship with your family to suffer if you don’t attend the church that they attend. While we frequently talk about the challenges that those who leave Romans Catholicism face when they start attending a Protestant church, we often fail to acknowledge that this is the case in other ecclesiastical settings. Over the past 6 years of church planting in a small Southern town, I have notice that those coming from fundamentalist and deeply traditionalistic Southern churches often face the same challenges as those who leave Romans Catholicism. The families of such individuals look so disparagingly on Calvinistic or Reformed churches that they put pressure on their family members not to leave. I have been witness to numerous examples in which friendships have been broken–and family relationships strained–over such a move. In a few cases, I have watched as those who would otherwise have attended a Reformed church backpedal and settle for a church that, while it may not be an unfaithful church, is certainly less biblical simply because of the family relationship dynamic. This is a wrong reason to choose a church for yourself or your family.
2. You think that you might be able to make a difference in a church even though the leadership and body is biblically unfaithful. Legion have been the times that I have heard individuals that know that they attend a biblically unsound church try to convince themselves that it is right for them to stay with the following rationale: “We really feel like we can make a difference there” or “We are really involved with our Sunday school class and are able to pour into the lives of others in it on a one on one basis.” While this sounds noble, it is actually a wrong reason to be united to a local church. If the leadership is unfaithful, it will inevitably be detrimental to the individual members’ spiritual growth. This is a wrong reason to join a church.
3. You like the music and the atmosphere. Please don’t hear me as saying that you shouldn’t like the music or atmosphere of a local church. All of us have musical and stylistic preferences; however, if the first reason (or, one of the first reasons) that you give when asked why you chose to join a certain church is that you like the music, then it is likely that you have led with the wrong reason. This is one of the most common reasons that I hear when I talk with people about the churches that they attend. In fact, I usually don’t even have to ask them about their church for them to offer it. The conversation usually moves from me telling someone that I am a pastor to the individual(s) with whom I am talking telling me about their church. In almost every case, they say, “Well, we really just liked the music.” This is a wrong reason to join a church.
4. You feel comfortable going where everyone else in your town goes. This is one of the foremost reasons people bind themselves to a particular church. All of their neighbors and/or friends attend that church. A high number of residents in a community is no mark of a church being faithful or healthy. In most cases, very large churches will have a multitude of programs, outreach and service opportunities. This also, is not a sign that the church is biblically healthy or faithful. All that it means is that the church has a bigger pool from which to pull and from which to utilize in weekly events. This is not to say that you may not have a biblically faithful church that is large in attendance and programs; however, choosing to join a church principally because most of the people you know attend there is a wrong reason to go to a church.
5. You want a church that has the best programs for your children during the worship time. I have witnessed scores of families choose a church home almost exclusively because they have “the best programs for the kids during the service.” While it is certainly not wrong for a church to have a thoughtfully developed children’s ministry, nowhere in the Scriptures do we find a “children’s church” to be a reason to join a church. Ironically, the reverse is actually a mark of a healthy church. Those churches that encourage the family to be together in worship when the children are old enough to sit through school, are modeling a more biblical model of the local church. Any children’s ministry that occurs should be viewed merely as a supplemental ministry that aids the parents in bringing up their children in the training and admonition of the Lord (Eph. 6: My friend, Sean Sawyers, has written a very helpful post on “3 Ways to Avoid the ‘Children’s Church’ Ditch.” Every family ought to learn the principles contained in it. If you choose a church because someone else raises your kids for you while you get a break on Sunday morning then you have embraced the wrong reason for joining a church.
6. You want a church that caters to everyone. Many attend churches that cater to the least common theological (or the least common “religious”) denominator because, as J.I. Packer once explained, “low expectations are easy to fulfill.” Knowing that many turn away from churches that faithfully teach and preach the whole counsel of God, numbers of people choose to join a church where the preaching is watered down. People don’t need the truth watered down, they need it broken down. While ministers should be zealous to preach the word to “every creature under heaven,” and our churches should be outward focused and evangelistic in nature, ministers are not called to “save the deeper truths for settings other than the church’s worship service.” As William Still has memorably put it:
If you think that you are called to keep a largely worldly organization, miscalled a church, going, with infinitesimal doses of innocuous sub-Christian drugs or stimulants, then the only help I can give you is to advise you to give up the hope of the ministry and go and be a street scavenger; a far healthier and more godly job, keeping the streets tidy, than cluttering the church with a lot of worldly claptrap in the delusion that you are doing a job for God. The pastor is called to feed the sheep, even if the sheep do not want to be fed. He is certainly not to become an entertainer of goats. Let goats entertain goats, and let them do it out in goatland. You will certainly not turn goats into sheep by pandering to their goatishness. Do we really believe that the Word of God, by His Spirit, changes, as well as maddens men? If we do, to be evangelists and pastors, feeders of sheep, we must be men of the Word of God” (Work of the Pastor p. 23).
Attending a church because it is committed to keeping the front door of welcome as wide open as possible and the back door of church discipline firmly shut then you are choosing a church for the wrong reason.
7. You want a church where you can slip through the cracks and keep a lid on your life. Sadly, this is one of the most common reasons people choose a local church. Most people want low accountability. What J.I. Packer noted about churches that water down the word is true also of churches that member involvement in the life of the body: “Low expectations are easy to fulfill.” There is no way to read through the letters in the New Testament without being struck with the repeated “one another” refrain. Most of the Gospel imperatives in the Scripture can only be fulfilled as members are meeting together regularly and opening their hearts and lives to one another. If you choose a church because you don’t want to be transparent and committed to serving others then you are joining a church for the wrong reason.