Question: I have a question. What is the minimal requirement for a person to get into heaven? (if there is a minimum - if not, then what does one need to get into heaven?) A friend said that if I wanted to go to a church, he would volunteer to come with me so that I would know whether it was the 'right' church or not - that is one based on the true teachings of the Bible. How would I know if he is right?
Response: Thanks for your question. Let me say by way of beginning that, contrary to what popular culture thinks, the ultimate destiny of the disciple of Jesus Christ is not in heaven. Heaven is a temporary stop, and for some (i.e., those who remain alive until the Lord returns) no stop at all. The earth was made for God's creatures (first angelic, then man) and it is only through rebellion (angelic) and disobedience (human) that we have to speak of heaven at all. When we who have committed our lives to Jesus Christ are resurrected at His glorious return, we shall be with the Lord we love so much forever here on earth, first for His one thousand year reign, then for all eternity on the new earth in New Jerusalem (see Coming Tribulation, part 6A, "The New Jerusalem"). Heaven is where God temporarily resides, but when the earth and heavens have been cleansed by fire at the end of time (2Pet.3:3-13), God the Father along with the Son will make their abode here on earth (the new earth) with us forever (see especially Revelation chapters 21-22). Therefore heaven is likewise a temporary abode for believers awaiting the resurrection and Christ's return (where they are clothed with temporary bodies which, while vastly superior to the ones we now dwell in, are as nothing compared to the final, resurrection body we anticipate: cf. 2Cor.5:1-5; and also of course 1Cor.15; for the interim state, see the link: Our Heavenly, Pre-Resurrection, Interim State).
If this seems a bit like nit-picking, it really is not, because what we as dedicated followers of Jesus Christ really want is not to "get in" anywhere, but to be with our Lord who is our life (2Cor.5:6-10; Phil.1:21). True Christianity, biblical Christianity (as opposed to many organized groups that style themselves as Christians) is a relationship with Jesus Christ. Put it this way. Imagine you loved someone with all your heart. Loved that person so much that they were more important to you by far than even yourself. In such a case, being with that person would not only be the top priority in your life, but also learning as much as you could about them, and seeking to please them in every possible way. That is what being a disciple (literally, a "student-follower") of Jesus is supposed to be all about (1Pet.1:8; cf. Heb.11:27; please see the link: "Walking with Jesus" and "Pursuing a Deeper Relationship with Jesus").
And how could we not feel this way about Him? We were dead with no way to escape condemnation. But though He was rich, He made Himself poor for us (2Cor.8:9). Though He was God, He took on the form of a man for us and subjected Himself to this world for us (Phil.2:6-8). Though He was eternal, He died for us so that we would not die (Jn.3:16). He paid for our sins a price we could not pay so that we could be made righteous before our God (1Cor.5:21; 1Pet.2:24). He gave up everything for us so that we might have every good thing forever (Is.52:13 -53:12). He bought us and we are His (1Cor.7:23). He is our husband and we are His bride to be (Eph.5:25), bought with a price beyond prices (1Pet.1:18). That is true love (Jn.15:13). How can we not be moved to love Him back if we honestly have faith that these things are true?
Indeed, we are commanded to love Him with all our heart and mind and might and strength (Matt.12:36-37). And without such love being deep, dedicated and committed, the chances of it enduring in the pressures of this world are remote. If it is not snatched away at the start (Lk.8:12), it will fade in the heat of the day (Lk.8:13), or be choked to death by the love of this world instead (Lk.8:14-15). Jesus told us to "count the cost" of our discipleship before we head down this road of following Him (Lk.14:25-34), because after the salt has lost its savor, it isn't good for anything anymore. Once we have committed ourselves to Christ and then turned back, recovering our love for Him is a very difficult and usually nigh on impossible task. So while many are no doubt eager to tell you to become involved on any basis (something being better than nothing), I would say from my understanding of the scriptures as I read them (as I would think anyone who really reads them and lets them speak for themselves would understand them) is that following Jesus Christ cannot be a "minimum" anything – like the mustard seed, faith in Jesus must grow and grow until it becomes a huge tree, filling the whole heart, the whole life. In good soil it will do so. If you commit yourself to Jesus, believe in Him, who He really is, what He has really done for you, then follow Him with your whole heart, from your whole heart, and understand that from that point forward He is your life. If you do so, His promise is clear – eternal life by grace through faith (Eph.5:8-9). In doing so, moreover, there is great eternal reward (please see the link: "The Judgment of the Church"), but anything else risks being pointless. And I suppose this discussion begs the question of whether all those who are involved in the lukewarm worship of God are doing themselves any good at all. With God all things are possible, but God is not deceived about the intents and thoughts of a person's heart. Search the scriptures and see that everywhere we are encouraged and commanded to be zealous, to be faithful, to be undivided in our commitment and dedication to God, to love Him with all we are, and to take no account of the world. That is to say, this true message of the Bible presented in the Person of Jesus Christ, is obvious from every page and every book in the Bible, and far different from much of the consumer "Christianity" or pop-culture understanding of what Christianity really is. But true Christianity is not weak, or watered down, or "minimum" anything – it is powerful through the power of the Word of God proclaiming Him who is the Word of God sent by Him whose Word He is. There is only one way and one narrow gate. Strive to enter by the right way.
As to churches, this is an even more difficult question in one respect: even here in my own country there are precious few churches and no denominations which I could in good conscience commend to a person who wants this sort of powerful and all-consuming relationship with Jesus Christ. To address the principle of your question, however, I would say that anyone who truly wants God should seek for Him, and I know by faith and by scripture and by experience that all who seek Him do in fact find Him (Matt.7:7-12). If you are persistent, if you pray, and read your Bible, and have faith, and seek teaching, and listen, and learn, and apply, and live what you have believed, God will lead you to the place He wants you to be (which in your heart of hearts is the place you really want to be too as a true child of God even if you do not know it now). God will provide all that you need (including the right Christian fellowship and teaching) if you keep diligently seeking it out and seeking Him. Through His Spirit He will give you wisdom if you pray for it. Havefaith that He will do so – with perseverance. This life with Jesus is for the whole life. It is a pilgrimage to Zion that lasts until the very end. It is a life-long fight. It is a life-long race. Patience and perseverance, continued faith through thick and thin, this is what God requires . . . and honors (1Sam.2:30; Ps.91:14-16). Because our faith and our faithfulness and our love cannot be demonstrated in a moment (anyone can say "I love you"). They must be demonstrated over time and through difficult circumstances in order to show to the world and to ourselves that we really do love and esteem Jesus Christ more than anything in this world, more than ourselves, more than our lives. Anything less really is "minimum", and only spiritual danger lies in that direction.
On all these issues, please see Bible Basics 4A: Christology: the study of Jesus Christ, His Person and work.
Hope this helps to answer your question.
In Him who is our life now and forevermore, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.