3 Types of Churches—How to Choose a Church

3 Types of Churches—How to Choose a Church

Choosing a church is no easy task. In Nashville where I live, more than 1000 churches from a plethora of denominations hold weekly services, serve their neighborhoods, and offer fellowship opportunities.

While some people may base their church membership decisions on the style of worship or the senior pastor’s likability, I encourage you to consider more serious criteria as you choose a church.

I believe all churches fall into one of three categories. Where do you see your church in the following descriptions?

Safe Church

At Safe Church, Safe Pastor finds the middle of the road and stays in it.

You will not have any of your thoughts challenged. You will hear from the pulpit what you already think. The radical kingdom of God will be domesticated to fit your cultural prejudice and your convenient, uncomplicated lifestyle. The infusion of new ideas from science, politics, immigrants, minorities, or education will not be welcomed.

The scriptures will not be interpreted into the world that currently exists, but will be used to defend the world as you already see it. Discussion will center on issues already resolved by popular opinion. Being non-controversial will be the guiding principle of the church. Getting along will matter more than anything else.

The instant someone is uncomfortable in a conversation, it will cease or be diverted. Disagreement is akin to sin in Safe Church. These congregations can be found everywhere.

Bland religion lives in the middle of the road at Safe Church where you will be encouraged to smile and play nice.

Final Word Church

You can also find a church that claims to have everything figured out: Final Word Church.

Much bolder than Safe Church, Final Word Church thrives on controversy and actually is bolstered by enemies. When Hollywood’s favorites say something un-religious or Congress passes disputed legislation, the sermon for the coming Sunday is set.

The Final Word Church has the defining say on all doctrinal, ethical, social, and political issues. All you have to do is sign the dotted line of the membership covenant and they will give you your position on everything: every candidate, every new ethical issue that emerges, and every controversial topic.

A disciple is a ditto head. Final Word Church declares a kind of Biblical authority that places their opinion above Scripture, while quoting just enough select verses to make you think they are biblical. The pastor usually has an ego and needs to be viewed as the savior of the world, the fountain of all wisdom, the master of Power Point, and the martyr willing to take a stand on any and every headline issue.

Final Word Church is growing. And its people tend to be judgmental, arrogant, and mostly angry at the world.

Maturing Church

At Maturing Church, the people are willing to wrestle with the tough issues.

You can sit at the table with fellow Christians who are willing to grapple with new emerging questions about faith in every realm of life. You will grow accustomed to hearing an issue discussed by Christians with varying perspectives. You will quickly discover that good people can read the same Bible and reach different conclusions. You will be formed as a maturing follower of Jesus in a changing world.

A Maturing Church worldview continues to develop as one studies Scripture and lives in a vibrant community. Your church will and should discomfort you at times. Your church will and should expose your arrogance. And reading the Bible will become the most disturbing thing you do, because this world is not aligned with the ways of God.

You will find taking up the cross of Jesus to be painful. You will encounter issues for which the answers are not black and white – criminal justice, poverty, political systems, and use of force. You will develop mental categories for unresolved issues. And you will sit on the same pew with people who do not think like you think, but who could not be more brother or sister, because your unity is rooted in the redeeming love that binds you together in Christ.

Your church will be filled with vibrant conversations and vibrant love. And the people of Maturing Church will continue to grow in likeness to Jesus, without avoiding the hard questions (like they do at Safe Church) or becoming arrogant in knowing (like they do at Final Word Church).

What type of church will you choose?

Today’s post is excerpted and adapted from my book, A Charitable Discourse: Talking About the Things That Divide Us.


  1. Richard Harper says

    Right on Dan!! this fits today’s delima in the church world. Few fit into the third catagory where churches should be. I think Jesus faced this kind of world as well. If I get the courage I may send you a oned pager I am working on along that line.

  2. Beverly Bross says

    I really like this article! It sums up some of the churches and “religious” environments that I have seen over the years. I’m so grateful to be part of a maturing church. All the best to you, my friend!

  3. On target! Thanks, Dan.

  4. Neal oodruff says

    I wonder what sort of church or church leadership actually encourages the members to write and submit a listing of issues potentially at risk of dividing members of the congregation one week. And then, collecting these invited statements, and reads them from the pulpit as examples of spiritual sabotage during the next week’s message? Is it these same churches who preach that they hope everyone will buy into a multi-generational experience, but what they really mean is that the leadership has decided on a target demographic, and just wants everyone else to show up and be OK with it. Where do those fit it this hierarchy?

    • Good insight Neal. Allowing all generations a voice is part of the maturing choice. I think every generation has to be sanctified of the selfish urge to have the church that “I want” and be filled with the Spirit who is always moving outward toward unreached generations. The church exists only as an outward-moving expression of God’s love. If we can be the maturing church in our discussions of complex issues, we will be creating hospitable space for those outside the church to find a seat at the table.

  5. Miles Q. Turner says

    Hi Dan, love the article. However, I would add a forth kind of church…the “Stuck-in-th-mud” church. This church is willing to discuss current issues and seem challenging and progressive, but never actually changes. Things always stay the same because “they have always been done that way.” This behavior is usually disguised by the word “tradition.”

  6. This is an awesome article! I think it also holds those who serve in the church to account as well. Often we want to be safe and not cause any waves or we want to dominate the issue and the competition and be the final word. Admitting that our ministry lies is a place of uncertain tension is a hard thing to do. Acknowledging that we are still in the process of maturing is difficult for us because it requires us to be truly humble.

    • Thanks Ben. I think we have postured as all-knowing to the harm of our credibility. You are right on. “Pastor” is a challenging place to stand in a conversation.

  7. James Elkins II says

    Dan, thought i’d Ithrow in my two cents. lol.

    “Meek”- being an instrument of God’s will first (the highest-good or Heart), “not your own Self-Ego.”
    “Poor in spirit”- humble before God and “Respecting others as Equals.”

    They would do well to certainly consider “a more nuanced approach” that leads away from Antagonism and Division towards little more of that Christ like “Humbleness,” “Meekness,” “Humility and Understanding.” (By gentleness and humbleness of mind and spirit, which many obviously lack in my Humble opinion.) To me, this is the Central-Core of the Christian-Gnosis.

    To be ready “to do every good work”: “speak evil of no man,” but “GENTLE, shewing all Meekness and Understanding unto all men.” Not to be envy, hateful, and hating another Brother. Meekness of Wisdom-Understanding (I like the Greek word “SOPHIA”). Of a Meek and Quiet Spirit, “which is of course in the sight of God of Great Price.”

    Speaking of Meekness and Humbleness, I like in Galatians whereit says: “But the fruit of the Spirit is Love, Peace, Patience, “Meekness,” “Humbleness.” If we LIVE in the SPIRIT, let us also “WALK in the SPIRIT.” That Sums it all up! (But there’s a mighty big difference between knowing the Path and “Walking the Path!”)

    The ‘Poor Man’ and the ‘Mendicant’ are names by which the Christian Mystic was proud to be known, because they imply that he is stripped of every thought or wish that would divert his mind from God. In the Christian Tradition, true Christian poverty is not merely lack of wealth, but lack of desire for wealth: “the empty heart as well as the empty hand.”

    For what it’s worth, I naturally tend to lean more in the Mystical tradition…the moral transmutation of the inner-man. Ego or Self, which is obvious, is a “limited and restricting emotion.”

    In general, you could say the Path consists of (1) Poverty => (2) => Patience (3) => Trust in God’s Grace. This over-simplification just to give my idea…Poverty and humility is only the beginning of Path.

    Anyhow, i’m sorry to drone and ramble on like that. lol. ;D

    Peace and Wish You All the Best,

  8. Wow ! Thank you SO much Sir ! How Wonderful, Rare, and Inspiring !

  9. Dwayne Mills says

    I enjoyed reading your article. I enjoy having our minds expanded as we in the church have the awesome responsibility to challenge our people to think with the mind of Christ. It’s only been two years that I’ve had the awesome privilege to pastor a small little church in eastern Kentucky. Even thought we’re located in the 7th poorest county in the county, it’s been awesome to see them embrace our mission to be “His hands, His feet, His heart, His mission”. As we filter everything through this perspective, it’s been awesome to see how God is leading us to the “unchurched”. As Andy Stanley puts it, “we as the Church must create irresistible environments unchurched people love to engage with”. It’s not easy, but oh it’s fun to live on this street! Thanks for your encouraging and challenging words that reminds us who we are and what we must be about.

    • Dwayne, pastors like you serving the small church are the hope of the world. God has no other plan to save the people of your town except through his people.

  10. Whitney Cantrell says

    This is excellent, Dr. Boone! I saw this being passed around on Facebook and had to see what you were discussing. 🙂 I’m so thankful to be a part of a “Maturing church”.

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