As I greeted people after the service this past Sunday, 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.”
It 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?”