Christianity Today has posted a thoughtful article on the subject of church hoppers. It concedes that church hoppers have a bad reputation as consumerist and often live down to said reputation. But things are usually not so simple. Many have baggage and experiences that make it hard for them to settle down in a congregation.
My church search of 1988, when I moved back to Texas, certainly reflects that. I wrote on that here nine years ago. I admittedly was a little picky. But my experiences back then gave me good reason to be so. My criteria at the time:
1. I required any new church to hold to inerrancy. My readings and church experiences had convinced me of the necessity of that.
2. Churches in mainline denominations were immediately ruled out. (See the 2-14-04 entry.) [I had grown weary of being alienated from my own denomination as had become the case in the mainline Presbyterian Church.]
2 1/2. Denominations not exercising adequate church discipline were ruled out. That’s important as that ruled out the Southern Baptist Convention for me at the time. I know that may shock some readers. But at that time, the SBC took no action against pastors and congregations I found very objectionable.…
I know -- I was a hard man. In any case, ruling out the SBC was important as there are more Baptist churches in Texas than there are people. [With changes in the SBC since 1988, I no longer consider church discipline such a problem in that denomination.]
3. At the same time, I didn’t want a legalistic church. … Legalism has always been a turn-off for me.
4. I wanted a good teacher as pastor. I felt starved of good Bible teaching, and I knew I needed it.
5. I wanted a big singles group with plenty of women in their twenties. I felt starved of good . . . O.K., I know that sounds crass. But I was in my late twenties by now and didn’t want to be single much longer, to put it mildly. So this wasn’t anything predatory. I wanted an excellent Christian wife.
6. Although my new home was a ways north of Dallas, I wanted to be involved in the Dallas area. I grew up there, and my heart was there. So I wanted a church down there, but one that didn’t take too long to drive to.
Like I said, picky, but mostly with good reason I still think. Predictably, my church search took a while and was frustrating at times. My singleness was a sore spot for one thing. And even in the churchy Dallas area, ruling out the SBC and mainline denominations reduced the field greatly. It took about four months of going to different churches just about each Sunday before I decided on a home church, only to find it not a good home five years later.
Since then my church stays have been about ten years, then moving and now nine years and still going strong. So I have a record of commitment to a home church. Yet back in 1988, I found myself church hopping anyway . . . because I was determined to find a church to which I could commit wholeheartedly.
So do not assume bad motives to church hoppers. “Church hopping” may be actually a sign of determination to find a church to commit to rather than a sign of a lack of commitment to the church.
And, yes, singleness, having no children, having special needs children, past bad church experiences and more can make finding a home church difficult. So we should be much quicker to pray for church hoppers than to judge.