What to Look for in a Church: Faithful Preaching
The majority of Americans are without a local church home.
According to a recent Gallup poll, "Americans' membership in houses of worship continued to decline last year, dropping below 50% for the first time in Gallup's eight-decade trend. In 2020, 47% of Americans said they belonged to a church, synagogue or mosque, down from 50% in 2018 and 70% in 1999."
While this trend is alarming, we need to keep in mind that these numbers don't represent the many people who want to go to church but just haven't found the right one.
Pew Research found, "About half of U.S. adults have looked for a new religious congregation at some point in their lives, most commonly because they have moved."
Of course, there are many other reasons why people choose to look for a new church.
As we begin this series, it's important to note that there is no such thing as a perfect church. That mostly has to do with the imperfect people who participate in it. You shouldn’t go looking for the perfect church. But you should go looking for a biblical church.
No matter why you are searching for a new church home, we hope to guide you on your quest.
This new series, What To Look For in a Church, will point out the characteristics you should pay careful attention to while searching for a church.
Today, we're focusing on faithful preaching.
There's a good reason we are starting this series with preaching and sermons.
According to Pew Research, "Fully 83% of Americans who have looked for a new place of worship say the quality of preaching played an important role in their choice of congregation." Additionally, "A 2017 Gallup study found churchgoers citing sermons as the primary reason they attended church."
Since the quality of preaching plays the most prominent role in how people tend to choose a church and sermons are the main reason people attend church, it is wise to begin our series here.
What a pastor says in his sermons is very important. He leads the church with the words he uses in his weekly messages. Though it may happen in many environments, Pastors will primarily teach, care for, lead, and protect their church members from behind the pulpit.
That's why it is crucial to evaluate the quality of his preaching.
For example, someone can be an exceptional speaker with tons of charisma, but that doesn't mean his preaching is biblical.
In fact, it doesn't even mean he is a Christian. Unfortunately, the Bible warns against false prophets. Moreover, some preach only what people want to hear – not what is Biblical or convicting.
For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. – 2 Timothy 4:3-4
Use the following guidelines to help you discern if the church has faithful preaching.
Expositional Vs. Topical Preaching
Churches should lean more towards expositional preaching.
Got Questions explains, "Expositional preaching at its simplest is preaching that is focused on explaining the meaning of Scripture in its historical and grammatical context. Expositional preaching involves explaining what the Bible says to a contemporary audience that is likely unfamiliar with the cultural and historical settings that the passage was written in."
In contrast, topical preaching is preaching focused on a topic and then applying certain Bible verses to it.
Got Questions explains, "If it is the only [preaching] method used, the speaker can easily get trapped in the rut of only preaching on those topics that are of interest to him or those which are easily developed in a message." Furthermore, the pastor may preach using only topics that his audience finds appealing rather than sermons they need to hear.
At South Bay Bible Church, we do sermon series around certain themes. Still, we work through one primary passage each week and thoroughly dissect the passage in a way that stays true to the scriptures (expositional preaching) instead of randomly and recklessly applying the scriptures to the lives of 21st-century believers (topical preaching).
I am certain there are good, biblical preachers who teach topically, but I find it to be rare. Ultimately, it is much better to thoroughly teach scripture over pulling random scriptures from all over the Bible to misapply to life.
Preaching That Honors the Scriptures
It is of utmost importance that the preaching is faithful to the text and honors the scriptures.
First and foremost, the sermons should use God's Word. There is a difference between a motivational talk and a sermon.
Next, the sermon should leave you with a better understanding of the text – not more confusion.
The sermon should also proclaim the gospel. Is it clear that the sermons get the congregation thinking about Jesus and what he did for us?
Finally, the person delivering the sermon should have clearly studied the Word of God and has a strong understanding of what it means. Verses should not be taken out of context.
Preaching That Equips the Saints
If you are a believer, take note of whether the sermons are applicable.
It's one thing to take a Bible class and learn about the Greek and Hebrew meanings of words in the verses, but it is something totally different when these verses are explained in a way that is applicable in your daily life.
Ask yourself these questions.
Do you leave Sunday morning feeling encouraged about what steps you need to take to draw closer to God? Does the preaching ever leave you feeling convicted about sin in your life? Does listening make you want to change? Do you leave church with a better idea about what you need to do than when you arrived?
So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. – Ephesians 4:11-13
Preaching That Captivates Unbelievers
Lastly, you want to pay attention to how the sermon draws in unbelievers.
As much as the church is a place to equip a body of believers, the mission of the church is to spread the gospel. The preaching should help accomplish that mission. The preaching must be attractive and inspiring for unbelievers. It should show them why they need Jesus and point towards his redemptive love.
Would someone who doesn't know Jesus be able to follow along with the sermon and want to know more?
Evaluation of Preaching and Preachers
When it comes down to it, this could be the most important factor for finding a church home. If the pastor (or pastors) who is preaching in the pulpit is not competent to thoroughly teach the scriptures and help you in your walk with the Lord with his preaching, then perhaps it would be best that you find a different church to call, “home.”
That said, pastors and preachers are human too. Be careful not to be overly critical. Just like any preacher, I have some messages that go well and some that don’t come out as clearly as I’d wish. As my old college professor used to say, “Think critically, don’t be critical.” There can be a difference.