Do you remember the old American-made saying, "there's a Starbucks on every street corner"? Huge companies seemingly find a way to expand to every road imaginable. Today, it seems corporate giants aren't the only entities that have taken over the map. You need only open your favorite search engine or pick up a copy of your local yellow pages to see a new church just about everywhere. It might leave you asking, "how do I decide which church to attend?"
Deciding where to worship can be difficult, confusing, and even frustrating. You may ask yourself, "what should my criteria be?" Some people are content to worship wherever they get a good feeling, others based on how far it is from where they live, and yet more make their decision on things like child care, entertainment value, and church size. The prophet Jeremiah said, "it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps" (Jer. 10:23). When we are seeking spiritual things we must accept that our own criteria and ideas may lead us astray. We have to be educated in God's word and not in the ideas of men.
God has not left us without instructions concerning how to find His church. The New Testament is the only place we can turn to learn about the one church which Christ built. The New Testament teaches us what the church is and what the church should be today, according to the plan of God.
First, the church was built by Jesus, and He purchased it with His blood. Jesus made this promise while standing on the coasts of Caesarea Philippi when He said, "...I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" (Matt. 16:18). From Jesus' statement it is evident that He built it, He owns it (Eph. 1:22; Col. 1:18) and there is only one (Eph. 4:4-6). Unlike some countries who appoint figurehead leaderships, Jesus is not merely the head of the church in name. He possesses power and authority over His church (Matt. 28:18; Col. 3:17; Eph. 5:24). So, an unmistakable identifying mark of Christ's church will be a group of believers who submit their lives to Christ's New Testament and worship Him only according to what is authorized.
Second, Christ's church only wears Bible-identifiable names. Jesus often referred to His church as, "the kingdom" and He identifies the church and the kingdom as being the same thing (Matt. 16:18-19; Col. 1:13). Peter refers to the church as the, "everlasting kingdom" (2 Pet. 1:11). The church is also called, the "body" (Rom. 12:5; Eph. 4:4), the "house of God" (1 Tim. 3:15; Eph. 2:19) and "temple of God" (1 Cor. 3:17; Eph. 2:21) just to name a few. Most commonly the Lord's church is simply referred to as, "the church of God" (1 Cor. 1:2) or the "church of Christ" (Rom. 16:16) but any of these names were acceptable enough for God to use in identifying His one church.
Third, while the church of Christ is one church, it is made up of many assemblies. When Paul went about to various cities teaching the gospel he did not establish denominations. Whenever the pure gospel of Jesus Christ is preached it results in men and women obeying it, repenting of their sins and being baptized for the remission of their sins (Acts 2:38). The New Testament shows us these individual converts were added to the church (Acts 2:47) and became Christians (Acts 11:26) who came together collectively to be the church of Christ as a congregation (1 Cor. 12:20).
If there was no church of Christ in your hometown and you came together with other believers (Matt. 18:20) and followed the Bible's commands on how to become Christians (Rom. 10:17; John 8:32; Heb. 11:6; John 20:31; Luke 13:3; Acts 17:30; Rom. 10:10; Matt. 10:32; Gal. 3:27; Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38), you wouldn't be setting up a denomination! You would be following the New Testament pattern. The church of Christ would then exist in your hometown, and the New Testament alone would be its guide for work and worship.
Lastly, the church of Christ is Christ's church because it adheres to the doctrine of Christ (2 John 1:9). The most important identifier for the church which Jesus built is when it can be seen observing and practicing only what is authorized in the New Testament. When a church of Christ goes beyond God's word or falls short, it ceases to have Christ's approval any longer (Rev. 2-3).
The New Testament gives a clear picture of what the church was in the first century. The church’s origin is divine; it remains the only way in which God will save man from his sins (Acts 2:38; 1 Pet. 3:21; Acts 2:47; Eph. 5:23). The beauty of the Lord's church is that it has not changed in its doctrine and structure all these years later. With diligence and respect for God's word you can absolutely find and identify His church today.