The term “Church Hopping” connotes a certain flightiness that may be more divisive than helpful. However, there has been some excellent discussion on the topic–both in my bedroom, on my phone and in the blogospere.
David Fitch, in a post on the topic, writes:
To me this is one more extension of the historical game of musical chairs. At first it was the Roman Catholics leaving for Reformed churches. Those Reformed churches came to the New World and weren’t individualistic enough, so we had Great Awakenings and a whole bunch of folk left to join the revivalist churches. There were also the people that were always leaving for some fresh Anabaptist primitivist vision of the church. These too were ancestors of evangelicals. Now we have people doing the reverse, i.e. leaving evangelicalism back to the high church traditions. They are sick of the thin insubstantial theologies and narcissistic forms of Christianity that have evolved out of evangelicalism’s individualism. Ironically, theologians, many whom critique the consumerist habits of evangelicals and mega churches are folk who move to the high church traditions, “church shopping” for a more substantial vision instead of trying to help us evangelicals out of our quandary. One can only wonder how long the ancestors of these folk will go before they complain about rote liturgy and leave for a primitivist more authentic version of Christianity again and start the whole cycle again.
Over against all this, I propose we give up the musical chairs and stay put. Let us all seek faithfulness and trust the work of the Spirit to take us somewhere out of where God has put us. It is slow but I believe it could be taking us towards a renewed unity of the church.
I had another good conversation about “church hoping” (or maybe better put making a switch) with a prof friend at the last church I worked… His view was there were two reasons to leave: 1) if there is a serious compromise in the leadership where they no longer function as a church (I don’t think he was thinking simply in terms of doctrine here – maybe something like the reformed definition of “church” correct preaching of the gospel, partaking of the sacraments, and practice of church discipline); OR 2) if there is no way/opportunity to use your spiritual gift. Some variant of the first is probably cited pretty often by church hoppers, but the second one really surprised me. His argument was… if you can’t use your gifts then both you and the community are suffering. I think you could make some sort of a biblical case for those two concepts (I don’t know how compelling).
I’ve also had other friends who look at church commitment as a “covenant” – like a marriage. You stay for better or worse and always work thru it. I am inclined toward agreeing on some level that leaving a church should be the exception. I don’t know exactly what grounds would be justifiable (or if they could be quantified) – many explanations I’ve heard are along the lines of “my needs weren’t being met.” That’s one reason I was intrigued by this article, because it recommended that people try to work thru difficulties rather than take the easy way out (which I think is endemic today and his examples from “low” to “high” or vice-versa are pretty common too).
So I pose some questions. Is a pragmatic, though admittedly prayerful, approach the correct method to choose a church? Or is it calling–a divine placement thought which we labor for God’s Glory? Should changing churches be a result of the cons outnumbering the pros or vice versa? Is it “over-spiritualizing” to call local church membership a calling? Is it ever possible “over-spiritualize”? Would God ever call you to stay a church that seems stagnant in its growth, though not heretical in its’ theology? If so, on what basis? Is there Biblical support for any answer to the above questions?