What to Look for in a Church: An Environment for Spiritual Growth

iStock-689968266What to Look for in a Church: An Environment for Spiritual Growth


As you search for a church, ask yourself why you are searching for one in the first place? What is the role of church in your life?

At South Bay Bible Church, our mission is to lead people into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ.

Did you notice the phrase, “growing relationship with Jesus Christ”? The mission isn’t simply to get people to attend South Bay Bible Church. We aren’t in it for the numbers. And the church you end up joining shouldn’t be either.

You want to look for a church that encourages and promotes spiritual growth by means of clear discipleship.

What is Discipleship?

Let’s start by defining discipleship.

According to Got Questions, “A disciple is a follower, one who accepts and assists in spreading the doctrines of another. A Christian disciple is a person who accepts and assists in the spreading of the good news of Jesus Christ. Christian discipleship is the process by which disciples grow in the Lord Jesus Christ and are equipped by the Holy Spirit, who resides in our hearts, to overcome the pressures and trials of this present life and become more and more Christlike.”

Discipleship is the process of becoming more like Christ. More literally, it is as though you were apprenticing under Jesus as a student who is growing in the likeness of his or her teacher. At South Bay, our definition of discipleship goes something like this: “Being with Jesus, Becoming like Jesus, and Doing What Jesus Did.”

Why Does Discipleship Matter?

You may be wondering if discipleship and spiritual growth matter. The quick and simple answer is YES.

We weren’t meant to become Christians who stay the same. We are meant to grow and change into new creations, new creations who look and smell like Jesus.

We won’t get there by simply going to church at 11:00 AM on Sunday, leaving at 12:00 PM, and doing the same thing all over the next week.

We need intentional and well-disciplined discipleship to grow spiritually. In fact, you may even notice how similar discipleship and discipline sound. That’s because they have the same foundational idea at the core.

Daniel Darling explains, “God has created each of us to be a fountain of spiritual nourishment, a conduit of his grace to others. But when we fail to grow, we can’t feed others. We can’t help build the church. We can’t be a light in our communities.”

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. – Colossians 2:6-7

How Can You Tell If a Church Promotes Discipleship?

Fortunately, it is easy to tell if a church promotes discipleship. To borrow an idea from Dallas Willard, you should look for three things which typically go by the acronym, V.I.M.

First, listen for discipleship vision.

Does the church, and especially its leaders, speak about following Jesus in discipleship as a realistic and desirable journey? Do the people of the church discuss spiritual growth indifferently, or do they speak of it as a beautiful active process that we get to participate in with God?

Next, look for discipleship intention.

As said in an article from Kingdom Formation Ministries, “Wanting to be different is not enough. We need to actually make the space necessary to engage with God, and then spend time speaking and listening to the Holy Spirit. That’s the point of the practices we now refer to as spiritual disciplines.”

The church should encourage members to practice spiritual disciplines, such as reading their Bible, spending time alone with God, praying regularly, participating in community, serving others, giving, and sharing their faith.

Do the messages remind members of the importance of these disciplines? Is the culture of the church one where people are excitedly taking active steps to grow in their faith?

Or do the members seem content to just come Sunday morning, leave, and repeat…

Is There a Plan in Place to Help Individuals Grow in Their Faith?

The final thing to look for is discipleship means.

It’s one thing for the pastor to encourage church members to grow in their faith from the pulpit. But healthy churches have plans in place to help their members grow spiritually.

For example, a healthy church has programs where members can be discipled by others, such as Sunday school classes, small groups, or Bible studies. Some churches even have discipleship pastors on staff. Other churches may have one-on-one mentorship programs.

At South Bay Bible Church, we offer a variety of discipleship programs, including a Starting Point small group for new believers, community groups, orientation classes, and more.

For every discipline that the church encourages, there should be a very practical and specific environment or program that can help them in building that into their life and routine.

Are They Equipping Their Church Members to Disciple Others?

Being a disciple requires sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. Essentially, a healthy church is one where disciples disciple disciples. It’s the 2 Timothy 2:2 principle!

Does the church you’re visiting teach believers how to share their faith? Are church members being inspired and equipped to raise younger believers up in the faith?

At South Bay Bible Church, we encourage our members to invest in relationships within the church, so that all may grow into spiritual maturity. Do the churches you are visiting make you feel like church members are being equipped to disciple others in similar ways?

Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” – Matthew 28:16-20