Church hopping! Oh, for fear! Oh for shame! How can an individual ever recover from such a backslidden, deranged, un-holy practice as this?! At least that’s what you’d think by reading some of my favorite Christian blogs over the last couple months. I don’t agree.
Besides the fact that I think the church needs a LOT less guilt and a LOT more love, I think this act can be quite healthy even if it can make pastors pull their hair out from time to time.
It can be difficult to talk clearly about “church hopping” because it seems every blog entry assumes a vastly different definition as universal. I am going to address each definition I’ve found in turn and explain just why I think you might need to do a little church hopping yourself. We’ll go in order from the least to most depraved.
1. The Occasional Hopper:
Every once in a while a friend’s church is having a special service or program or a guest speaker on Sunday morning. Responding to the universal plea of every pastor ever, they “invite a friend.” Since so many Christians are friends with other Christians (can you imagine!) you are the friend who gets an invitation.
After posting a mention of a possible illness on Facebook, you wear a wig as you get in their car when they come to pick you up, and you enjoy an unusual spiritual treat at another church.
I cannot for the life of me imagine why anyone would have a problem with this, but they do. (I also don’t understand how anyone could have a problem with real butter, but that’s another subject altogether).
If you attend another church regularly, please, please, please visit other churches with your friends occasionally. Enjoy the special treats, and bring a fresh perspective back to your own church!
2. The Dual Resident:
I have a friend who alternates church attendance between a more traditional congregation and a more Charismatic one. I know this because she flaunts this heathen practice all over Facebook posting pictures from both places on consecutive Sundays. Can. You. Believe. That.
Ok, It’s not that hard to believe. As strange as it may sound to the Christian blogosphere, it is a very healthy thing for her. It works because of the weird way the church has developed over the past several centuries. Instead of going into every Christian church and experiencing the beautiful diversity of the ways people worship God, you get one narrow expression.
Maybe it’s 1950s style (often called traditional) or maybe it’s the 1990s version with fake ficus trees and “Light the Fire Again,” or maybe it is a more beautiful, more ancient ritual that connects you to the earliest roots of the faith.
Whatever the case, to walk into almost any Christian worship service is to experience the ghettoization of Christian worship. As it turns out, God moves in beautiful ways through ALL of those types of worship, and you may be the type of person who loves more than one.
If that’s you, go for it! Be a dual citizen. Live in two congregations and don’t look back, you are much closer to seeing what would be an accurate view of Christian worship than someone who experiences one style every week for the rest of their life.
3. The Mad Hopper:
Can you believe they would change the carpet that your great grandmother donated in 1902! The nerve! I don’t know how you could ever set foot in such a disrespectful church again!
Look, we all get mad. We all have issues with worship, and personality conflicts with leaders. Sometimes we get hurt. Sometimes our relationships become so broken and painful we need to move on. Is it the ideal? No. Would it be better to live in a world where there is no death, or mourning or crying or pain? Yes.
We don’t live in that world. If you need to leave a church because of broken relationships, it’s ok. I would encourage you to do it with a lot of care and grace, and after seeking to make peace and reconcile with those who you hurt and have hurt you. But, if leaving means you can be free to worship, do it.
I can tell you as a pastor, that most of the people I have seen come because they were mad at another church end up spending time at our church resting and healing and then go back home after a while.
And, let’s be completely honest, people don’t leave church over changing carpet. There is always something way deeper than great grandmother’s carpet. If you are leaving, deal with the real issue, and if you are talking about someone who has left, don’t make them out to be so shallow.
4. The Free Spirit:
I was in high school the first time I met a truly “free spirit” in the church hopping sense. A friend of mine had attended the youth group I had attended on Wednesday nights (that’s right you caught me… I was a dual resident in my teens) and just dropped out.
A couple weeks later I saw him at a revival service at another church and asked him where he’d been. “Man, I’m just following the move of the Spirit, and it is moving strong here like it was at your place a couple months ago.” I wasn’t sure what to say, and I was relieved when the band took away the awkward silence.
This is the one I have most trouble with because it is so far from my personality. I like to get to know people, I like to have roots, and I think for me (and for most people) this is the most healthy way to journey through faith. But as soon as I say that a couple faces pop up in my mind of dear friends who are not like me. They don’t stay in one place for long. They don’t spend their whole lives in one career, and the only people bothered by it are others. They like their nomadic life.
To those people I would say you still need community, you cannot practice Christianity in isolation, but that community can be in your home on Tuesday nights or over Skype a couple times a month. You can make roots that are a bit more flexible than most everyone else’s, but you probably already know that.
I say all of this to say, let go of any guilt or shame you have if you are a church hopper. It doesn’t make you a second class Christian. It doesn’t make you a horrible person. The body of Christ extends beyond any denominational boundary and definitely beyond any church property line.
When we hold membership in a single congregation or denomination up too high we start to miss the central call of Jesus on our lives. Jesus didn’t say to follow Grace United Baptist Reformation Community Church, and as much as I love the man, Jesus didn’t say to follow John Wesley either. His call was simple: Follow Me. So, do that. Follow Jesus.