When my husband and I were first married, we began looking for a church together near our new house. Even though we agreed on the essentials such as theology and doctrine, we had different priorities when it came to picking a church.
Consider the following strategies to learn how to choose a church with your spouse.
Make a list
Since I am the more artsy, expressive one in our marriage, finding a church with heartfelt worship in a certain style was extremely important to me. But my husband, the deep thinker, cared more about finding a place where the sermons were going to make him think and give him daily application. I obviously cared about that too, yet if I found a church that had great sermons but lifeless worship, I wouldn’t have wanted to stay. And viceversa for him.
We decided to sit down together and make a list of all the things we were looking for in a church, with genuine worship and applicable sermons as a tie for the first priority. We knew that there was no perfect church but that we were looking for a place that generally fulfilled these top two things. Our list looked like this:
- Strong teaching and theology that always point to Jesus and the Gospel.
- A place that isn’t afraid of hard truth. We didn’t want a church that avoided topics like homosexuality, divorce, abortion or pornography just because they are controversial.
- Heartfelt worship.
- A place where we can grow and thrive as a couple.
- Generational diversity — older people who can mentor us, younger individuals whom we can also mentor and people in our same stage of life.
- We can sense God’s presence there, actively working in the church body.
- Safe place for kids where the Gospel is taught.
Don’t just choose the easiest option
It was important for us to not just choose the easiest or most convenient church to attend. We didn’t want going to church to feel the same as having a membership to the YMCA. We wanted to find a church that was going to help us truly draw near to God.
Charles Spurgeon once said in a sermon about revival,
Think you that all churches bring honor to God? I tell you nay; there are some that dishonor him—not because of their erroneous doctrines, nor because of any defect in their formalities, but because of the want of life in their religion.
There is a meeting for prayer, 6 people attend beside the minister. Does this proclaim your homage to God?… Go to their sanctuaries and hear their hymns; there is the beauty of music, but where is the life of the people? Listen to the sermon; it is elaborate, polished, complete, a master-piece of oratory. But ask yourselves, ‘could a soul be saved under it except by a miracle?’
If we would honor God by the church, we must have a warm church, a burning church, loving the truths it holds and carrying them out in life… oh that God would give us life from on high.
Pray for God’s direction
Every Sunday before we visited a church, we prayed for God to show us if the church had these things on our list. Prayer put the decision in God’s hands. It allowed Him to soften our hearts to a church even when it didn’t meet every requirement on our list. Prayer gave room for the Holy Spirit to help my husband and me be on the same page and have unity as we learned how to choose a church.
James 5:16 says, “The prayer of a righteous person has great power.” One Sunday several months into our church-hunting journey, we were visiting a church and the youth pastor stood up to make announcements. He said, “If you are new here and are looking for a place with strong teaching, that is not afraid to speak truth, that has heartfelt worship …” and went on to include our entire list in order, almost word-for-word, “This church is for you,” he said.
I could not believe it. We had prayed just 30 minutes earlier for God to make it clear if this church was our place, and He could not have answered more directly.
Visit multiple times
No one can make a slam dunk every week. Give a church multiple chances before deciding to stay or move on. If you visited a church that had great potential but didn’t quite hit the mark, try it again and see if perhaps they just had an off week.
When we were looking for churches, we had a rule of trying a church three times unless it was obviously not a good fit for us — like if they were preaching downright heresy or didn’t have any attendees below the age of 80.
Remember that churches are made up of broken people. They will not get everything right. It’s important to give grace for those moments that don’t quite measure up, like when the band goes off-key or the pastor fumbles through one of his points.
Giving grace to your spouse while you’re seeking how to choose a church is also important. They may not see everything the same way you do, and that is OK. Listen to their thoughts, concerns, fears or excitements. Be willing to shift your perspective if necessary or to offer an alternative if you’re not aligning with your spouse on the church choice.
If you can’t agree
Ultimately, there may still be disagreement. If this is the case, determine if the disagreement is based on a preference or an essential doctrinal truth.
If your disagreement surrounds a preference, like if the church only sings hymns or if the pastor wears jeans, then you need to compromise. Remember that those types of things are not crucial to the Christian faith and therefore don’t have to be deal breakers, especially if you live in an area that doesn’t have a large selection of churches to choose from.
However, if the disagreement issue is deeper (infant baptism versus believer’s baptism, gifts of the Spirit, Calvinism, etc.), it might be wise to seek the advice of mentors or Christians you and your spouse trust. In addition, you should both search the Scriptures with an open mind, willing to see the other person’s side and change your mind.
In the end, you may not find a church that meets all your criteria, and that’s OK. Cling to the essentials, such as finding a place that preaches the Gospel. After that, you may have to let go of some preferences. Pray for and strive to have unity with your spouse on the decision. Ask God to meet you wherever you decide to attend, and He will.