Are you guilty of church-shopping?
Church-shopping is when people hop from church to church, never quite settling or putting down roots anywhere. This is especially prevalent among people who are setting out on their own for the first time. Perhaps it’s the college kid who is trying to find a new place, or the new family who just moved cities. For whatever reason, when we’re in a season of transition, it’s intimidating to plug into a church, and so church-shopping inevitably follows.
I can understand the appeal of church-shopping. I got to see a lot of churches growing up. My dad served as an interim pastor for so many churches, I can’t even count them all. And while we had a church that we loved and called our home, I often opted to go with my dad on Sunday mornings because I loved seeing how different churches did things. I saw so many church buildings, church hierarchies, a variety of worship music, Sunday school classes, business meetings. . . And I loved it. I became fascinated with how churches operate, as well as how people choose which church they will call their home.
While it can be wise to check out a handful of churches before committing to one, it can be dangerous when this becomes a prolonged process. Here are a couple reasons why we should be wary of continued church-shopping.
1. We let our preferences control us
One of the reasons church-shopping is so dangerous is because it tends to make us believe that going to church is about us, as if church exists to entertain us or fulfill our preferences. This is dangerous thinking. How often have we heard of divisions in churches over music preference or preaching style?
But in all honesty, corporate worship is not about us and our preferences. There should be a much bigger and stronger bond than music preference that holds the people of a local church community together. Being part of a family means that you don’t always get your way, and that’s okay.
I remember being at a small church where the pastor left, and a new interim pastor was called to step in. We didn’t love the new guy’s style of preaching, but we didn’t leave the church. Now don’t get me wrong: if there is wrong or unbiblical teaching happening at a church, that’s reason to leave, or at the very least, call for change. But that wasn’t the case here. What he was preaching wasn’t wrong; it just wasn’t our style. But we decided to stay.
It wasn’t an easy decision, but church is more to us than preaching style. Church is about God and His people. It isn’t really about us at all, and so we pressed on in that little church community. And I’m so glad we did. Real growth happened in us while we were at that church. We were given opportunities to lead and serve. Had we moved because of our preferences, we would have missed out on all this goodness.
In Ephesians 2, Paul reminds us that Christ is the cornerstone of the Church. The cornerstone is the first stone set in place when a building is being constructed. And every other stone or brick is built around that One stone. The same is true of Christ and the Church. The Church is about Him, not about us. Everything we do is because of Him.
2. We lose the opportunity to serve
Church-shopping for a prolonged period of time also means we never commit to a certain church community. We never put down roots. We don’t serve in churches we’re just “shopping” at. And this is a major problem. Paul describes, in multiple places, the church as a body that is made up of many members. “Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many,” he says in 1 Corinthians 12:14. If this is true, then by church-shopping, we are excluding ourselves from the body of Christ—which isn’t healthy for us. It also means that we are depriving the body of Christ from the gifts and service it needs to grow into its fullness.
At our current church, I’m so very thankful for the teachers of my daughter’s class, for the kind woman who works so hard at serving coffee, for those who greet me at the door with a smile. I’m grateful I get to teach a class to the ladies at our church. I’m grateful for my husband who mans the sound booth. No one gift or place of service is better than the other. Some are more public, but that doesn’t mean they are more important. The copies made, the door held open, the diapers changed, the craft prepared, the sermon delivered. All of these are vital and important in the inner-workings of a local church community.
3. We miss out on accountability
A lot of us prefer to church-shop because it makes it so easy to be invisible. Maybe we are afraid to be vulnerable or real. Maybe we are afraid to commit to serving or might have experienced hurts from our previous churches that make us wary of being part of another church community.
There was a time in my life when I was guilty of this kind of “invisible” church-going. My husband and I were newly married, and we had just moved to a new part of town. He was job searching; I was finishing school. And it was just a difficult time for us. So, while we believed that going to church was important, it was easier for us to just go in and out of a church service each week, invisible and anonymous.
It was easy, but it wasn’t healthy. At a time when we should have been especially surrounded by our people and held accountable, we weren’t. We eventually became dissatisfied with this type of church-going. We were lacking something and we knew it. Finally, God called us out of this anonymity. He confirmed for us that being invisible was a far cry from His purposes for the Church.
What then, are the purposes of the Church? In Acts 2:42, we are told that the early Christians “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” Here we have a glimpse of what the early church looked like. Correct and biblical teaching, community, and regular prayer—all of these should be part of any local church community.
But lest we forget: our local church communities are part of a much bigger Church—Christ’s body, His bride, made up of His people all over the world and all throughout history. In the gospels, Jesus speaks of the Church with such affection and compassion. He loves his Church. And because the Church matters to Christ, it should matter to us. We must persist in “doing” Church. We need people who are willing to dig deep, put down roots, and work hard at being God’s people, at being the Church.