Church shopping haters

As I greeted people after a recent Sunday service, a couple gave some refreshing honesty: “We enjoyed worship here today. We are looking for a church and shopping around.”

I replied, “Thank you for worshiping with us today. I pray that you find where God wants you. It may not be here, but if it is, I’d love to sit down and chat if you want to know more about our congregation.”

church-shoppingIt is well noted that Christians “church hop” or “church shop”. That is, attending several churches looking for what they want. Many Christians loath church hopping. Other have called for the end church shopping because it turns Christians into consumers instead of disciples. Even Catholics lament church hopping. One article at urbangospelmission.com called for Christians to stop “dating a church” and be faithful to one. Blogger Travis Agnew said, “What’s devastating is that most reasons why people leave a church are not only unbiblical they are anti-biblical.”

The Pew Forum on Religious and Public Life found that 44% of American have left their first religious affiliation for another. The open market of America’s religious landscape provides us with so many options that just were not there 50 years ago. The reason why you were a Baptist or Methodist was most likely because your father or mother was. Today, folks just want an appealing church.

I’ve other heard other pastors hate on church shoppers and hoppers. Usually, it isn’t pretty.

What makes someone want to shop around? The music isn’t as good as it could be. There are a few differences between people in a church. Or, maybe the preacher isn’t great. There there are some valid reasons to shop around for churches. Certainly, heresy and corruption are good reasons. Michelle Van Loon over at Christianity Today‘s Her.meneutics blog, wrote an interesting defense of church hoppers. She poses that spiritual baggage can lead people longing for a better church:

The commitment to meet together may be a mark of spiritual maturity; however, plenty of church-goers maintain their affiliation solely for family or social reasons. Those still on the search for a church often have a backstory, whether a conflict at a former congregation, a moral misstep they are trying to hide or any number of reasons… Despite a negative experience with a toxic church, despite loneliness, despite facing a lack of hospitality or ministry resources, each of these friends continues their hop with the hope of finding a church home.

Personally, I don’t have scruples with church hoppers or shoppers. Yes, if a member of my church shops around because they don’t feel connected, it is a concern. I’d like to have a conversation with a church member if they are considering church shopping. It concerns me that they feel discounted. I want them to stay, but if they do decide to shop, I will speak well of them and I pray they will speak well of me. I always say, “You have a church family here. This church is always here for you.” I’ll pray for them, their journey, and return.

I’d blessed to serve a church that has a healthy sense of belonging. Some pastors and church leaders can’t stand when people church hop. My church receives its fair share of visitors and repeat visitors. Some of these folks stay and become members. They church shopped and found First Baptist!

I don’t despise folks for looking elsewhere. However, I hope they are looking for the right reasons. Not for selfish, dysfunctional or petty reasons. If you plan on church shopping ask yourself, “Is this about me or is about God asking me to become involved more deeply committed at another church?”

Alan Rudnick

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About the Author
Alan Rudnick has been featured on television, radio, print, and social media and serves as the Pastor of the First Baptist Church of Ballston Spa, NY. He has quickly established himself as a leader, blogger, and commentator in the areas of faith, Christianity, ministry, and social media. He is the author of, “The Work of the Associate Pastor”, Judson Press. Alan’s writing has been featured with the Albany Times Union, The Christian Century, Associated Baptist Press, and The Fund of Theological Education. http://alanrudnick.org

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  • cken

    So in other words you think you are a good enough salesperson that one on one you could convince anyone to keep coming to your church.  Face it anyone who is seriously seeking has heard all of your empty religious cliches and even your canned prayers before. It’s not church shopping that turns Christians into consumers, it’s churches. I am still looking for a church that actually believes in the ever present power of God, rather than giving it lip service.  Why do you think Baptists and Christian denominations in general are losing membership and the Nones are on the increase?  It’s because organized religion is more concerned with membership and money than they are with one’s spiritual growth and the maturation of your soul.

    • http://www.adorationservants.org adorationservants

      @cken
       So if you are against organized religion then you are for disorganized religion?  That is not biblical.  Jesus in the Gospel says the church will have scandals, that its leaders will not always practice what they preach, that there will be problems. In 90AD Ignatius of Antioch was marched to Rome to be martyred.  Along the way he wrote a number of letters available to us to this day.  I suggest you read those letters and then find the Church that matches them. It still exists and I am sure within a bicycle ride of where you are right now.

      • notebuyer

        @adorationservants  @cken Possibly, but will it do what it is supposed to do?  Maybe not.  Reality doesn’t accord with theory here.  I have had to deal with the sad results of bad training in the faith offered by concrete establishments of the church you refer to.  Is it your theory that I should tolerate them without choice?

        • http://www.adorationservants.org adorationservants

          @notebuyer  @cken
           It is my “theory” that Christ founded a single Church and he put sinners in charge and we, sinners also, must be members of that single Church once we find it.  That Church was tangibly present since the Apostles up to this day.  Christ’s single church transcends bad sermons, bad music, stale donuts, a fun youth group, inadequate parking, unfriendly members, and even evil committed by some of its leaders. It also trancends demographics.  And it has to be universal.  To paraphrase John F. Kennedy ask not what your Church can do for you, ask what you can do for the Church.

        • notebuyer

          @adorationservants  @notebuyer  @cken So we agree on words, but not on the metaphors in use.  Typical.

      • cken

        @adorationservants I will get back to you when I have read the letters.
        Generally I think church and organized religion needs to be “cleansed”.  My belief is organized religion has abdicated it’s spiritual mission in favor of political and monetary gain for so long they have forgotten what they were supposed to be about.  Paul had the same problem with one or two of his churches.  He chastised them for following a man and the commandments of men rather than God’s commandments and the teachings of Jesus.

        • http://www.adorationservants.org adorationservants

          @cken The church has needed to be “cleansed” over and over since the time of the Apostles.  Jesus said scandals will come (Mat 18:17, Luk 17:1)  And in the Kingdom of God chapters of Matthew he surely means the Church as the Kingdom of God rather than heaven because he talks of sinners within it and even leaving the sinners among the saints (Mat 13:25).  Remember also, Jesus had 92% record of choosing saints for apostles since he chose Judas.  I submit if you find a Church without sinners, without any scandals then either you are decieved or the Church has not been around very long. 
           
          As you aluded to most of Paul’s letters are really letters of correction to existing churches.  A note that Paul also said “THE church is the pillar and bulwark of truth” (1 Tim 315) and he also told the Corinthians to “maintain the TRADITIONS just as I handed them on to you.”  Beware the NIV translation which in its frenzy to condemn Catholicism translates the same Greek word as “teaching” when positive, such as here in 1 Cor 11:2, and as “tradition” when it is used negatively. Shame on them.
           
          If “THE Church” is the pillar and bulwark of truth some church MUST have the fullness of truth.  Baptising of infants is either OK or not OK.  Premaritial sex is OK or not OK.  Abortion is either never OK, always OK, or sometimes OK.  Jesus was God or he wasn’t.  There is a Trinity or there isn’t.  There is a hell or there isn’t. Truth is not flexible.  I suggest rather than find a church using the kind of methods you for buying a car or choosing a hobby, you search for the fullness of truth. Find the truth and submit to it.  You have to find a church who has held fast to its key doctrinal and moral teaching and has been around for centuries.
           
          Also study that little forgotten book just before Revelation, the Book of Jude.  It slams people for deciding to do their own thing and not accepting the Church has authority.  Especially take a look at Jude Verse 11.  What is “Korah’s rebellion” that we are so strongly warned against?  It is in effect people starting thier own churches.
           
          Certainly the 44,000+ denomination problem as documented by Oxford University relates to 2 Tim 4:3-4 “for the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but havng itchy ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings and will turn away from the truth and wander into myths.”

  • http://www.adorationservants.org adorationservants

    “Even Catholics lament church hopping.”  “Today, folks just want an appealing church.”  In Matthew 18:17 Jesus says “take it to the Church and if he refuses to listen to the Church let him be as a heathen and tax collector.”  He did not say “go find another church” or “start your own church.” .  Our fallen nature hates to be obedient and that is why Oxford University says there are 44,000+ autonomous denominiations.  That is not right.
     
    In the Timeline section of http://www.conglomination.com we read: So the question becomes what did Christ mean to do when he established His Church?  Or should we say churches?  Did he mean to establish an inconceivable amount of choices with numerous conflicting doctrines?  Did He give each person the power and authority to make his own rules and doctrines and found their own church if they so desire?  Are all the Churches in the Conglomination as good as any other one?  Or is it possible that Christ established a church that would last throughout the ages and always be visible to the masses?  Is there a church with doctrines remaining the same through centuries of political upheaval?  A church that does not split along opinions and cultures of the day?

  • notebuyer

    Shopping is looking around for a fit.  In my case, because I have moved to different places, and need to find a church that meets my requirements: when I was single, I didn’t look at the Sunday School program, for example, whereas now that I am raising a daughter, it is a reason to look elsewhere.  I saw as a single person that volunteering for a bad Sunday School program may make it incrementally better in one grade, without making it acceptable for parents, so I keep that in mind. I also saw as a single person, the war of religions inside the church (only one of which is Christian), and the state of that war inside the congregation (it is never absent), also affected my search (and sometimes that balance changes).  While I’m happier with a church that has Bible studies, my schedule means that if studies take place weekday nights or on the weekend without child care, I can’t go, so I don’t: I read books instead.  And, sometimes, I’m so tired on Sunday morning that I’m the snore floating in on the side of the congregation.  I volunteer for the church when I can: but childcare restricts that.  I appreciate pastors who are aware that I can’t stay when they can’t offer what I need.  Are there better solutions for me in the market I am in?  Possibly, but I have no incentive to look after I make my choice until my circumstances change again.  Is there one church/denomination that consistently meets requirements?  Not in my experience: but after eight or so moves for professional reasons, I’ve got a starter set: that set has changed over time, too.  For those who wish to assume that church means only ONE in a concrete, rather than spiritual sense, you have  a long row to hoe with me, because my experience argues against you.

  • Bobby Jones

    Don’t you understand? God’s call to unite with a church cannot possibly be achieved unless you are exposed to multiple churches. argh…. Similarly, God’s will for choosing a pastor cannot be achieved unless committees hear (and interview) multiple candidates. again, argh…..

  • EricLundquist

    People shop for churches for as many reasons as there are people who shop for churches. Maybe more. If you are the pastor of a church today, you ought be sensitive as to why your flock might want to leave. Some of it may not even be for malicious or flimsy reasons.
     
    No one owes any of us in leadership any loyalty to hang around. Rather it is our task to earn that. And to keep earning it.
     
    And as well, there are often very good reasons to leave a place. I don’t need a biblical reason to leave a church where the pastor or leadership is abusive or is stealing from the endowment accounts. If a church member is shopping because they are determined to stop their own victimization, then none of us have the right to tell them to reconsider or stay.

  • Jeff Allen

    Many years ago my wife and I returned to the USA and moved to a different state every 1-2 years, so church “shopping” was a necessity after each move. Pull out the phone book and go through 4 pages of churches. Sometimes neither of our respective childhood denominations were present, but it still felt like choosing among 4 gas stations on a corner based on price or some other “service” factors. In that context, it involves going several times, asking lots of questions. In the US, sometimes you end up going to church a 15-20+ min drive away because of the preference factors (as stated in the article). The problem is that most people are never taught to think about these when they start looking for a church, and then get frustrated later on and start “shopping around”. In moving back to France, we specifically chose where we were going to live and the house by visiting churches. Important to know that out in the suburbs of Paris, you need to drive 15-20min to even find a church, so it doesn’t seem like a food court. We moved to a town where we already knew the pastor and wife very well, and knew we could integrate well. This led to being involved there for over a decade. The issue that the US continues to struggle with a market of churchgoers that are quite used to fastfood takeout in the normal life, only looking for what appeals to them style-wise, and based on their own preferences. The pitfall with this is that if people only look for people that are like them, then it will become very homogenous and stale, and won’t exemplify the type of diversity that is found throughout the NT church. Paul used much ink writing to people to encourage them in collaborating despite their differences, and also admonishing and reprimanding them for focusing too much on their own needs and not working together in a heterogenous group. The US is too focused on offering a “service” with “services” (consumer-based ones such as: how many restrooms and handicapped access or not, child numbering and tracking system, separate services for adults and children, number of guitars on stage, next it will be if there are armed guards at then entry doors with metal detectors) which often have little or nothing to do with biblical criteria but rather anchored in cultural context. If the “services” change, like it happens regularly with telecom providers, then people get mad and threaten by becoming part of the consumer churn cycle. Gotta get back to biblical basics folks. Go spend a week helping in Haiti, Central/South America, Africa, Asia, Europe, and deintoxicate yourself from extra add-ons, and see how people learn to live together despite their differences.