Many years ago, I had the opportunity to serve as a proselyting missionary for my church for two years in Northern Europe. One young family with whom I worked made the selection of a church a matter of serious consideration. They attended church services of various denominations, met with pastors and church leaders of the different faiths they considered and studied church doctrine. They prayed for guidance and responded to the spirit they felt and joined a church. After they were baptized, this young family threw themselves wholly into the church community and found great peace and love in their new associations.
Much like my friends from 35 years ago, families today who are looking for a church to join follow many of the same steps. They should consider doctrine, programs, people and the sense of community as they consider their options.
Evaluate your fundamental beliefs. As you feel a need to affiliate with a church, consider first your own fundamental beliefs about God and those of your family. How do you perceive God and the role he plays in your life? Are you believers in the Bible or some other religious text? Do you consider yourselves Christian, Jewish, Muslim or some other general religious affiliation? Or are you a simple seeker of truth, open to any faith options? It would be good to write down some of your basic beliefs so that you can measure them against any church or congregation your might be considering.
Look at the lives of others. The proof of the positive impact of any church is how it affects the lives of its people. Consider the families you respect the most. In which families is love and respect most evident? Who are the people you know that live lives worthy of emulation? Are there people and families around whom you feel better and more uplifted? Are there some people at work, in the neighborhood or at school who just feel good to be around? Make a list of those people and ask them about their church and their faith. Then consider their churches in your list.
Explore the church online. Most church congregations and faith traditions have a web presence today where you can explore basic beliefs, read or hear the testimonies of members and take a look at their programs for various age groups and interests. Going online to the churches' websites is a good way to learn a little more about them and do it in a non-threatening way.
Pray for guidance. Ask God for help as you look for and evaluate your options for a family church. Tell him what you are looking for and listen for the little whisperings in your heart that lead you to answers. Many families that have found a church setting where they are happy have felt that God put people in their path or opened doors that led them to the church that was right for them.
Attend services. There is really no substitute to physically going to a church service and experiencing it yourself. Bring your family with you, if not to the first visit then to the second, so you can all get a feel for the congregation, the fellowship and the environment. Listen to those who speak in the worship service and see if the messages resonate with you. Attend other church meetings that focus on children, youth, young adults, men and women. Talk to other church members there. Visit with the head of the congregation (pastor, minister, bishop, rabbi or spiritual leader) and learn more about them and their church experiences. Take notes about what you saw, heard and felt and what impressed you positively or negatively.
Invite missionaries or teachers. Most congregations and denominations have missionaries, visitors or others who will come to your home and help you learn more about the church. Be open to having them come to teach your family in your comfort zone at home and to learning more about the church and its doctrine. See if they will bring other members about your age and with a similar family situation so that you and your family can feel more comfortable.
Be open to new possibilities. Try not to have too many preconceived notions about any particular faith tradition. There are good things to find in every church, and even though one given denomination may not be the one you select, you can take from the experience something that will benefit your family.
My family and I have been active church members all our lives, and I know what a huge impact that decision has had on our family. Our children have had good, faithful friends who helped them develop in a positive way. Our children's friends' parents have been like second families to them and have sometimes reached them spiritually when our efforts alone were not enough. And many of our friends have come from the members of the church and have been positive influences in our lives.
Selecting a church for your family is a big decision and one that warrants a careful look and process. But the dividends are worth the investment when you find the great benefits at the intersection of church and family with a congregation that provides friendship and fellowship and a doctrine that offers peace in troubled times.