The Problem of "Church Hopping" in My Community (Part 1)

I realize this practice is not unique to my community, but I think it happens in the Greenville, South Carolina area at an unusual level. Too much, in fact.

According to City-Data, there are 473 Evangelical Protestant churches in Greenville County. This does not include mainline denominational churches. Recently a visitor to our church told me she was looking for a church and had attended over 50 so far! (She was not church-hopping, she was church-shopping. There’s a difference.) There are many, many church options with varying degrees and shades of distinction. If a church member becomes disenchanted with his current church, he can most likely find another one that promises to match his preferences in a particular element of church life.

This isn’t the only locale where people frequently change churches. In searching for relevant information, I found an article on Church Hopping in Kenya! So the phenomenon is universal. But during the nearly 12 years I have pastored in the Greenville area, I have observed this taking place more than anywhere else I have ministered.

There are legitimate reasons for people to change churches within their current community. But there are also reasons that are not so good, and there are also ways of doing it that are potentially harmful to the individual and to the churches involved.

I want to understand this phenomenon better. I want to make some observations about it and state concerns. And I want to suggest, for myself and others, some positive steps to consider.

I’m probably opening myself up to hearing some difficult things. I probably need to hear them. I’ll try to have thick skin. One of the points I will make later is that as pastors we should be providing venues and building relationships with our people so that when they have concerns they feel comfortable expressing them rather than just disappearing. So I’m ready to listen as well as talk.

Maybe some local pastors will find this and want to make some observations and suggestions. Please do.

It’s probably obvious that, as a pastor, I really struggle with this, especially when it’s such a common occurrence. Maybe I should try to put myself in the place of people who change churches. What would I do if I weren’t a pastor, and if I or some of my family were struggling with the church we attended? It’s hard to say. But I want to learn as a pastor, and I want to encourage and challenge people regarding the issue.

What Are People Thinking When They Decide to Change Churches?

Some tell you what they’re thinking, but many don’t. Some tell their friends. Some drift away silently. In my experience very, very few will initiate contact with a member of our pastoral staff and explain their reasons for leaving. Some will play “hide and seek” with the pastors—they withdraw from ministry involvement, gradually stop attending various functions and services, then don’t return phone calls or emails when we try to find out what’s going on.

So it’s not always easy to determine what people are thinking. But here’s what I have learned.

Needs

There are people who think their current church is not meeting their needs. The youth ministry, singles ministry, family ministry, benevolence care, etc., isn’t fulfilling their expectations. They leave to look for a church that will meet these perceived needs.

Preaching

Some are looking for a different kind of preaching—more practical, more confrontational, more dynamic, more evangelistic, more relevant, more helpful for new believers, more nourishing to mature believers.

Relationships

Some have a hard time being “connected.” They are not making friends, not growing in relationships, can’t find where they fit. So they float elsewhere, looking for that connectivity.

Changes

Sometimes people leave because they disagree with changes happening in the church. This is usually not over doctrine. It’s almost always about personal preferences. Often there is not just one issue but an accumulation of issues that leads to someone leaving. When the church, or the leadership of the church, refines their philosophy, develops new elements of church life or ministry, updates the look or makes adjustments to the culture of the church, some people will adapt and others will depart.

Or, on the other hand, there are people who don’t think enough changes are being made, or the changes are not happening rapidly enough for them.

Counseling

A few times families have left over what I’ll call a counseling issue. In these cases, we’ve provided counsel through a difficult situation, often involving a problem between family members. The family has strong negative opinions about the counsel we’ve provided, and leaves the church over it.

Conflict

Many instances of church-hopping happen because of conflict. One member has an interpersonal conflict with another member. There is disagreement, hurt, cold-shoulder treatment, and hard feelings. There may be a perceived offense and no effort to talk with the offender about the issue in order to resolve it—the solution is to leave. Or a person has a conflict with ministry workers, over how their child was treated by a teacher or nursery worker, for example. There are people who have a very shallow commitment level to the church, and one offense, disagreement, or instance of perceived neglect is enough reason for them to leave and look elsewhere.

Business

Interpersonal conflicts are frequently business-related. Christians like to do business with other Christians. It feels safe and it’s nice to support other believers. But if there’s a disagreement, it can get extremely messy. Construction projects and investment schemes turn into major sources of conflict between church members. I have seen this happen in the Greenville area more than anywhere else I have lived and ministered. When this kind of conflict happens, it’s rare that both parties will be satisfied with the outcome. If both parties are members of the same church, one often leaves.

Recruiting

And finally, some are recruited, or at least invited, by their friends who have migrated to another church.

Concerns Our Pastors Have with the Church-Hopping Phenomenon

I’ll state them in the form of questions to be considered. I hope they will challenge people who might be part of this phenomenon to evaluate what they’re really doing.

  • Are you avoiding needed personal growth in your own life by leaving your church and going someplace that you think will better fit your preferences and perceived needs?
  • Are you more committed to your own preferences on non-essential issues than you are to the body of Christ, the absolutes of Scripture, and your relationships with the members and leadership of your church family?
  • Is it right for you to run from conflict and disagreement with others (whether they are other church members or leaders) rather than do the hard but God-honoring work of walking through problems with them, having some uncomfortable conversations that result in growth for yourself and others?
  • Have you considered that other members or leaders in your current church may need to hear your input so they can process your concerns and possibly make changes in their own lives or in the life of the church?
  • Should you learn to live with people who are different, who apply truth to life in ways that don’t align with your own lifestyle applications, but who love and serve Jesus Christ with dedication and passion?
  • Have you considered how your decision to change churches will impact others? Will your leaving potentially influence others to respond to problems by leaving also? Will your friends make your problems their problems and follow your example?
  • If you have a family, what will your actions teach your children about how to respond to conflict, disagreement, or differences among Christians?
  • Do you realize that you may find a church that seems to fit your list of criteria for a desirable place to attend, but that will one day disappoint you, just like we have? What will you do then?
  • What is your decision really about? God? Others? Or you?

In the next article I’ll make some constructive suggestions for addressing the issue of the church-hopping phenomenon in our community.

Dean Taylor bio


Dean Taylor is Senior Pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Simpsonville, South Carolina. He has served in pastoral ministry for twenty-five years. Dean is a graduate of Bob Jones University and Seminary (BA Bible, MA Theology, MDiv) and Northland International University (DSM). His delights include his family, reading, and the great outdoors.

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Ed Vasicek's picture

I think there are probably dozens of other reasons people leave and roam.

People also leave for music.  That is a meg-reason here in Indiana. They call it "worship," but they don't leave because they want more prayer, longer sermons, or more Scripture memory. "Worship" is a term to mask the more shallow reason, namely musical taste.  Music has become an idol for some: people make it too important and they value it above more important things.  They view the church building as the house of the Lord and music as the sacrifice.  Church buildings, of course, are man's invention, and while music is a way to worship God, it is not as central as they make it.

My observation: people want a loving church when they need a loving church, but they want a church with programs when they do not.  They don't understand that the church is supposed to be a family, not just a club or business.  The church is "them" not "us."  So. like shopping at a different supermarket, they approach church as consumers.

A lot of departures and changes occur for reasons that are so shallow that we don't even see them.  Some people want a church with people of their "class" (or of the "class" they want to be).  They want their "kind." Latest fashions, coolest cars, same interest in sports, similar professions, similar educational levels, etc.  Snobs do not know they are snobs. These same people then talk about compassion for the homeless and make trips or excursions to help them, but they don't want people of lower classes than they in their church family and certainly not among their friends. Go figure. I think most of this happens at a sub-conscious level.  We are intent in seeking our "kind."  Since the early church had no competing congregations, Jew and Gentile, bond (lower class) and free were all in the same church.  Now we segregate -- not consciously -- but nonetheless.

Some people have agendas and when they realize they can get only so far in one church, they seek another.  The agenda can be ANYTHING, good or bad. They might want a church whose pastor emulates Piper, or a church that sings a lot of choruses by their favorite song writer.  Or a church that has the cleanest rest rooms or a gourmet coffee bar and makes them feel up to date and cool.  There is one fad after another, one aura to emulate after another, and one ministry that touches them after another.

Parents desperate for their children to turn our right allow their oldest to pick a church youth group and then move to that church.  Even if the original church has a good youth group, there may not be enough kids from the same school the particular youth attends.  This helps seed the "consumer mentality" for the next generation.  The second child may not like this group, but, by then, the parents are not willing to move again. The first child chooses the church.

Yet, Barna is "Revolutionary Parenting" has documented that it is parental firmness, living ones beliefs, and "hands on" parenting that are the biggest factors in youth turning out to serve the Lord.  But parents want to FEEL like the right group will bring success, and thus predict their own failure because they are obviously not "hands on."

I do not think it is possible to catalog all the reasons Christians do the church shuffle, but very, very few of them have to deal with truly Biblical or godly reasons -- issues that never existed in the early church. They derived from our horribly spoiled American way of thinking, a longstanding American problem intensified during the Baby Boom when everything catered to that generation. Being catered to is truly the issue.  Sometimes, we export that way of thinking even to Africa!

 

"The Midrash Detective"

Bert Perry's picture

....for leaving a church despite not moving are:

1.  Liberal theology (why I migrated out of the UMC as a baby believer--the difference between even quasi-Biblical preaching and what they had there was huge)

2.  KJVO and Trail of Blood being pushed dishonestly--I had been assured "we're not KJVO", and then a year later noticed that all the materials in the foyer were KJVO, and perfectly good NIVs (1984) and NKJVs had been replaced by kJVs without the translator's notes--that last part is big because those make clear that the KJV translators knew it wasn't a perfect translation.

3.  Pushing of "big church" theology (James MacDonald) and refusal to even consider the issues I'd mentioned.  Among others, it struck me that if church leadership doesn't see Elephant Room 2 and greeting T.D. Jakes as a brother as an issue, that church's leadership was emphatically not qualified to shepherd my family.

Maybe I'm an outlier, but that's my experience.  

On the light side, I confess to being a bit off a food snob, per Ed's comment about snobs not knowing they're snobs.  :^)  And probably a bit of a music snob, too.  But I bet I've got a few blind spots.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Joel Tetreau's picture

I could add to Dean's very well written opening for this multi-part article. Before I say what I will say, let me start off noting good people who love God, love the church and are senstive to the Lord's leading do at times face the need to leave one congregation and look for another. So this is not a blanket shot at everyone who leaves. Having said that I'll even say, even if people leave a church for a less than mature reason, this can be God doing a special work to protect a congregation from people who will do more harm than good. Having said that I could suggest a few more reasons why believers leave a church - and actually I have enough data in pastoring the last 25 years as well as in serving churches by way of IBL to fill a book:

1. Confusion - they think the church is here for them......primarily. Unfortunately too many fundamentalist and evangelical church attendees have forgotten the point that on a great number of fronts the Scriptures would teach submission.....not subversion. The Church is here for Jesus.....not you. I have watched with almost sick amusement at how especially church members with Christian institutional training think that because they have acquired some amount of theological data that this alone should elevate their standing in the eyes of ....... everyone. We have a rather inconvenient practice of allowing only leaders who serve to then acquire significant decision-making authority (beyond being a part of the collective authority of the congregation). Many are under the confusion that we should allow them to "decide" without any responsibility of "serving." Often we will have "so-in-so" who used to attend "here or there" perhaps even in "this or the other" ministry......and have studied and maybe even graduated at "the best theology institution in the world." They will pull me aside every three or four months (or more frequently) with certain "helpful" observations as to how we (or me) are failing in a particular area. Sometimes we are able to acquire a limited amount of value from their thoughts. Most usually they are unwilling to put skin in the game.......resulting in our not involving them in official decision-making and/or significant leadership position. After about 6 to 9 months they figure it out. Usually the following Sunday the Lord has lead them elsewhere.

2. The Wrong Kind of People Go To Your Church! - See Ed's very good description of "Church Snobs" - His observations correspond to my point here (Good job Ed!) - an individual who who never gave financially and never served..... was full of criticism about every leader who did give and who did serve in one particular church. After years of being ignored because of their constant immaturity left the church in question. On the way out their shot was "all the best people are leaving......." 

3. I didn't ever have a "Best Friend" at your church and it's your fault! Sometimes Christians will attend a smaller church exactly because they want the pastor to be their new "best friend." You try to help them understand that as much as you love them......they are not your best friend. They should be friendly and find their own friends. They are shocked that you would suggest this........so they become angry at you and so they leave the church explaining to everyone that you are cruel. You hate people!

4. You didn't agree with their theology.......or "really fantastic Biblical revelation/observation." Years ago I know of a couple who attended a church and the wife discovered some exotic view of sanctification through a para-church ministry. She took it on herself to try to subvert.....I mean reach all the families and leaders of the church by encouraging folks to ignore the doctrinal position of sanctification of the particular local church in favor of the para-church they were involved in. The para-church actually taught their folks to infiltrate congregations and target the pastor to believe the position of the para-church group. 

5. You followed church discipline but you weren't nice about it - So you confront so-in-so about an action or attitude. They don't receive it and so they leave. They then gossip and other friends or family members pick up an offense that is not theirs and so they leave believing everything they have been told because they have an automatic assumption that leadership is typically twisted.....especially when they are not part of the leadership.

6. Sister "Big Mouth" explains she has the gift of discernment. You explain that gift died out at the time of the Apostles and she probably does not have that gift but needs to be careful of judgmentalism. In a sermon you explain those who are involved in gossip should "shut up" according to the Scriptures. Everyone gossiping is offended because they think I'm talking about them......which I am! They leave the church saying the same thing as number 3.

7. They were part of the key leadership that was involved in bringing you to the church. They voted for you and knew you were going to bring in the Kingdom of God.....with their help. Then after 4 months......or 8 months.....or 14 months, they realized you would not be controlled by what they wanted in the church. They leave the church saying the same thing as number 3.

8. They came to your church to help you from another church that either launched or helped to launch your ministry. After 6 months......12 months......they found out you are actually liberal.....and worse.....you are ugly. They leave the church saying the same thing as number 3.

9. People from #1, #2, #4 and #6 try to leave your church as a group and start their own church. It has two splits in eleven months and dies - primarily because their collective gift is criticism. Thus, not having anything tangible spiritually that could build a church.......or even help a church. 

There's more..........I will conclude with this. For leaders who are hurt because in your view a church member left and it was for a less than clear or noble cause - we need to continue to foster love and forgiveness in our heart towards those brothers and sister. There is almost always more going on below the surface. Sometimes they really are doing the best they can do at the time and we need to try to assume the best. I know that's hard. We need to give them over to God. Also we need to recognize that in even some of these mentioned occasions your own leadership style can add to the confusion. In my case there have been times I have responded badly to a bad decision of someone leaving. No that doesn't let them off the hook but it hardly helps them to pursue wisdom when I have been short sighted on this or that and have responded in a way that misses the high road. If we as leaders are not careful......other believer's leaving our ministries the wrong way can lead us to having a hard heart incased in bitterness. 

Straight Ahead!

jt

Dr. Joel Tetreau serves as Senior Pastor, Southeast Valley Bible Church (sevbc.org); Regional Coordinator for IBL West (iblministry.com), Board Member & friend for several different ministries;

M. Osborne's picture

  • "For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit." (1 Cor. 12:12-13)
  • "But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose." (1 Cor. 12:18)
  • "God has so composed the body." (1 Cor. 12:24)
  • "Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it." (1 Cor. 12:27)

If I am a member of a church, it is by the providence of God. I am a member of a body, not a member of a gym. Membership in a body doesn't expire like membership in a gym. God will hold me accountable for whether and how I fulfill my role in that body. If the body has a problem, it's my problem. Whether I like it or not, that's what I covenanted to when I joined the local assembly.

If I have to contemplate leaving, I can't think in terms of "me" and "my church" as if "my church" is an abstraction to which I don't already belong, or as if the church is an abstraction different from the individuals to whom I have covenant obligations. Nor can I keep clinging to an old ideal for the church as new members come and go, as if I'm trying to preserve that abstract ideal. I need to constantly adjust to the question, "How can I love the people that God's providence has joined me to right now?" (Those who leave and those who stay and perpetually drag their feet are both pursuing an abstract ideal that may not exist anywhere.)

So there are good and bad reasons for leaving a local assembly, but even when there are good ones, the question of how best to take care of the people to whom I've covenanted remains.

(This line of thinking can also apply to church-hopping pastors who engage in secret negotiations with another church, then announce their ministry change to the congregation as a done deal.)

Michael Osborne
Philadelphia, PA

Larry Nelson's picture

 

I was talking to a 60+ lady a few weeks ago, who belongs to a different local Baptist church than I do.

I don't recall what prompted it, but she expressed that at times she feels snubbed (marginalized) by some other ladies in her women's group because they went to Bible college, and she did not (she went to a state university).

Is this type of thing something that others have seen or heard of?  The thought of such a thing happening in a church riles me.

Joel Tetreau's picture

Larry,

Sure.......there are all kinds of reasons why "self-righteousness" is exalted over "the other people" in church groups......such as the ladies group. Church members who have gone to Christian College and/or seminary will often struggle with this kind of thing. They are under the impression because they have more "data" they are more Holy, valuable, etc. Especially in congregations who thrive on self-righteousness.......people can struggle with this. It's not just in Baptist churches. You can find this kind of thing all over. Leaders must resist allowing these kinds of people to negatively influence their ministries with this kind of attitude. I'm afraid there is much in comparison with this attitude and what Jesus calls the "leaven of the Pharisees." 

Straight Ahead!

Dr. Joel Tetreau serves as Senior Pastor, Southeast Valley Bible Church (sevbc.org); Regional Coordinator for IBL West (iblministry.com), Board Member & friend for several different ministries;

Ed Vasicek's picture

This is sadly true.  Women seem to be the worst -- some of them have one or two friends and do not even think of opening their circle of friends to others.  Seen it often.

"The Midrash Detective"

M. Osborne's picture

Larry Nelson wrote:

I was talking to a 60+ lady a few weeks ago, who belongs to a different local Baptist church than I do.

I don't recall what prompted it, but she expressed that at times she feels snubbed (marginalized) by some other ladies in her women's group because they went to Bible college, and she did not (she went to a state university).

Is this type of thing something that others have seen or heard of?  The thought of such a thing happening in a church riles me.

When I grew up in a Christian school, I think at times I perverted what was an undeserved blessing into a badge of superiority. I've gotten over that. Anyone who's gone to Christian college should understand the principle, "To whom much is given, of him much shall be required." That's not your invitation to take over a church; it's your invitation to maturely restrain yourself and contribute as you can.

I think that alienation can happen inadvertantly, too, especially where the folks who had the privilege are in the majority. In my context now, a Christian college background is a rare anomaly.

Michael Osborne
Philadelphia, PA

Larry Nelson's picture

 

Joel Tetreau wrote:

Larry,

Sure.......there are all kinds of reasons why "self-righteousness" is exalted over "the other people" in church groups......such as the ladies group. Church members who have gone to Christian College and/or seminary will often struggle with this kind of thing. They are under the impression because they have more "data" they are more Holy, valuable, etc. Especially in congregations who thrive on self-righteousness.......people can struggle with this. It's not just in Baptist churches. You can find this kind of thing all over. Leaders must resist allowing these kinds of people to negatively influence their ministries with this kind of attitude. I'm afraid there is much in comparison with this attitude and what Jesus calls the "leaven of the Pharisees." 

Straight Ahead!

---------------------------------------------------

Ed Vasicek wrote:

This is sadly true.  Women seem to be the worst -- some of them have one or two friends and do not even think of opening their circle of friends to others.  Seen it often.

--------------------------------------------------

If not having gone to Bible college can cause even a spiritually mature, long-time church-attending woman to sometimes feel ostracized by fellow church-member women, then what hope has the just-recently-accepted-Christ yet still quite-rough-around-the-edges single mom---with three kids from different fathers and some prominent tattoos---at being accepted? 

Shouldn't the assimilation of believers into the local church be simpler than it seems to be at times?  Why can this be so much more difficult in practice than in theory?

Are we good at welcoming people when they are of a different skin-color, or social status (as mentioned above), or they send their kids to public school (when everyone  knows that good  Christian parents enroll their kids in a Christian school, or at least homeschool them!), or they are single (never-married) adults, or have certain disabilities, or have other characteristics that make them different from the majority in the church? 

I'm afraid the honest answer is that we (individual churches) oftentimes do a terrible job at this.   It makes me wonder if "church hopping" is a phenomenon that churches can ever perpetuate, through making assimilation into their body difficult. 

Ed Vasicek's picture

Larry said:

 It makes me wonder if "church hopping" is a phenomenon that churches can ever perpetuate, through making assimilation into their body difficult. 

Sometimes that is the problem.  But sometimes people with roots and tendrils get the bug to wander, too.  Philippians 2:4 I think is a relevant verse: "Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others."  Very often it is an emphasis on our own interests -- rather than loving others -- that drives hopping.

"The Midrash Detective"

Ron Bean's picture

Perhaps one of the problems is that we do not take church membership seriously. Joining some churches is relatively easy. Maybe there's a membership class, a personal testimony of faith, and you're on the roll. Leaving churches is easy as well. You just quit going. Maybe someone notices you're gone. Maybe not. Maybe someone calls. Maybe not. After a period of time you're dropped from the roll. Meanwhile you've joined another church which never bothered to contact your previous church.

I like to tell prospective members that joining a church is like getting married. You're committing yourself to a relationship. You are expected to be involved in church life and we will constantly encourage you to do so. We promise you that we will not let you walk away for any reason but will pursue you to keep you a part of this body. If you're not willing to commit yourself to our church for as long as you live (here), don't join.

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

Barry L.'s picture

"I like to tell prospective members that joining a church is like getting married."

Does that mean a pastor should never voluntarily leave a congregation for another ministry?

I have been a member in only two churches my entire life. One for 22 years (born and raised) and the current one for 26 years because of change in location; so I am not a church hopper and more dedicated to the ministries than the pastors that have served them. This is a mobile, disloyal society. Hardly anyone stays at the same job for a long time. They will shop online for a few dollars savings while their neighbor struggles to keep his retail business going. People switch banks, phone services, cable/DirectTV, spouses at the drop of a hat. Sadly,  pastors and congregants are influenced by society, and, therefore, BOTH constantly move around in search of a better situation for themselves. You pastors know how many of your peers can't wait for a better gig whether its a teaching position at a university or a larger, more financially secure church. You can call me a cynic, but you know it's true. Assistants are just there until they get there senior pastorates so they are reluctant to invest too much in their current position. You know what? your congregation is just like you, some are dedicated and some seek a more comfortable or a different environment.

 

 

 

Ed Vasicek's picture

Ron, as much as I think it is important to commit to membership, I think there is a greater factor: attachment and mutual concern.   All our commitments (marriage, work, etc.) are up for grabs in this society.  More commitments or even more sincere commitments are not necessarily the answer.

A church family should be like an insurance policy: everyone contributes equally, but some draw more than others. We don't know the unknown.  The local church is there for us, and we are there for folks in the church when they are in need.  We look out for the interests of others, not just our own.

Most modern Christians in America view the church through the eyes of a consumer (as they are increasingly viewing marriage): what is the best benefit for me and my family (our families are actually viewed as extensions of ourselves).  If we decide we would be happier at another church (or with another marital partner), we move on, faulting those we leave behind.

Since people do view the church as an institution for consumers (not a family), it is easy to simply move - on, perhaps with some regret, but regret easily out-shined by the excitement of discovering a new church.  And, seeing that this consumer mentality is rampant, it is probably better for the church if they DO leave.  Nothing kills the morale of a church like unhappy campers who whine, complain, and spread negative attitudes.  Usually the sooner and more quietly they leave, the better for the church.  The slower departure --with feigned attempts at being happy (and I underline the word "feigned") -- does more harm to the church and offers a warm, moist atmosphere for the bacteria or discontent to fester.

Barry, as a pastor who has served the same congregation for 32 years, I have learned this: pastors either will move around or people will. There are lots of folks who, after 4 or 5 years of the same pastor, either leave or want the pastor to leave.  They might be high-arousal types who thrive on change, or, more often, they have agendas and reach a brick wall with one pastor and hope to advance those agendas with the next.  The agenda might be to imitate a favorite celebrtity pastor, their old pastor, or change the ministry/service style of the church, etc.

The strange part is that I have gone through the cycle so many times that there are few church-hopper types coming around anymore. They have already been through the mill and are bumping around somewhere else.  Additionally, when a pastor is long established, they are less likely to attend because they know they are less likely to advance their agenda to create their particular version of a dream church, which, incidentally, often changes with the fads or whatever conference they have been to.  On the positive side, church hopper types (who stay 4 or 5 years) can boost the attendance of a church as long as they come in faster than they leave.

Additionally, I heard of a study conducted years ago from an old pastor. I cannot document it, however, but it sounds plausible.  It concluded something like this:  Pastors who have short terms are not nearly as creative as those who remain for long terms.  The short term pastors have their bag of tricks, and, when they use them up, they take their bags and same tricks to another congregation.  Long term pastors, however, keep pulling out new tricks out of their bags.  I have observed this myself to be true.  

Short term pastors may follow this pattern or one like it: They preach on Romans and Ephesians and maybe John and perhaps some Psalms.  Then they redo the same series at their next church.  They follow typical ministry approaches and do not come up with anything unique.  They might be really good at those things, but they have a limited spiritual cuisine.

"The Midrash Detective"

Dean Taylor's picture

First, thanks to Aaron for using this. It's interesting to see the feedback from pastors and church members in various settings.

I'm going to copy/paste and respond to a few statements. I think there's a way to do this that shows who the commenter is, but I haven't mastered that.

I thought I heard God telling me to plant a church in Greenville ....  -  This happens all the time. I'm not saying it's a bad thing, but I am amazed at the number of gospel-centered churches being started within blocks of each other. Where I pastored in Wisconsin, it seemed like there was a bar on every corner. Here in Greenville County, it seems like there's a church on every corner. And new ones being started regularly. Again, having more local manifestations of the body of Christ in one area is not necessarily a bad thing. But it is a factor in the availability of churches all across the spectrum of theology, culture, and preference. (Our church was one of those church plants, back in 1983). 

. . . good people who love God, love the church and are sensitive to the Lord's leading do at times face the need to leave one congregation and look for another. - I wholeheartedly agree. 

For leaders who are hurt because in your view a church member left and it was for a less than clear or noble cause - we need to continue to foster love and forgiveness in our heart towards those brothers and sister. There is almost always more going on below the surface. Sometimes they really are doing the best they can do at the time and we need to try to assume the best. I know that's hard. We need to give them over to God. Also we need to recognize that in even some of these mentioned occasions your own leadership style can add to the confusion. In my case there have been times I have responded badly to a bad decision of someone leaving. No that doesn't let them off the hook but it hardly helps them to pursue wisdom when I have been short sighted on this or that and have responded in a way that misses the high road. If we as leaders are not careful......other believer's leaving our ministries the wrong way can lead us to having a hard heart incased in bitterness. - Thank you Joel, I needed to hear that. 

If I am a member of a church, it is by the providence of God. I am a member of a body, not a member of a gym. Membership in a body doesn't expire like membership in a gym. God will hold me accountable for whether and how I fulfill my role in that body. If the body has a problem, it's my problem. Whether I like it or not, that's what I covenanted to when I joined the local assembly.If I have to contemplate leaving, I can't think in terms of "me" and "my church" as if "my church" is an abstraction to which I don't already belong, or as if the church is an abstraction different from the individuals to whom I have covenant obligations. Nor can I keep clinging to an old ideal for the church as new members come and go, as if I'm trying to preserve that abstract ideal. I need to constantly adjust to the question, "How can I love the people that God's providence has joined me to right now?"    Yes. There is a lack of commitment to the body as an entity and to the people in it.  

Most modern Christians in America view the church through the eyes of a consumer (as they are increasingly viewing marriage): what is the best benefit for me and my family (our families are actually viewed as extensions of ourselves).  If we decide we would be happier at another church (or with another marital partner), we move on, faulting those we leave behind. - This is the mentality I observe in many cases as well.

An anecdote - Several years ago, we had a Sunday event with an outside speaker who was the retired pastor of one of the larger conservative churches in the Greenville area. He's a very gracious, humble, and genuine person, with a witty humorous streak. As he started speaking, he looked across our congregation and said, "It's good to see you. I recognize many of you. In fact, I think I have probably pastored most of you at one time or another." Got a good laugh. That's the reality of Greenville :). 

              DeanHTaylor.com 

Larry Nelson's picture

 

Ed Vasicek wrote:

People also leave for music.  That is a meg-reason here in Indiana. They call it "worship," but they don't leave because they want more prayer, longer sermons, or more Scripture memory. "Worship" is a term to mask the more shallow reason, namely musical taste.  Music has become an idol for some: people make it too important and they value it above more important things.  They view the church building as the house of the Lord and music as the sacrifice.  Church buildings, of course, are man's invention, and while music is a way to worship God, it is not as central as they make it.

 

 

Does this cut both ways? 

Here's my question: Say the issue wasn't someone "church hopping" because their musical preference (Ed uses "musical taste") doesn't match (or no longer matches) the particular church they are at.  (I personally think this would be a bad reason to leave one church for another).  Say instead that one's own church switches to a style of music that doesn't match one's "musical taste," even if that switch was from "traditional" to "contemporary."  Would this be a valid, sufficient reason to leave that church for another? 

 

 

Larry Nelson's picture

Larry Nelson wrote:

 

Ed Vasicek wrote:

 

People also leave for music.  That is a meg-reason here in Indiana. They call it "worship," but they don't leave because they want more prayer, longer sermons, or more Scripture memory. "Worship" is a term to mask the more shallow reason, namely musical taste.  Music has become an idol for some: people make it too important and they value it above more important things.  They view the church building as the house of the Lord and music as the sacrifice.  Church buildings, of course, are man's invention, and while music is a way to worship God, it is not as central as they make it.

 

Does this cut both ways? 

Here's my question: Say the issue wasn't someone "church hopping" because their musical preference (Ed uses "musical taste") doesn't match (or no longer matches) the particular church they are at.  (I personally think this would be a bad reason to leave one church for another).  Say instead that one's own church switches to a style of music that doesn't match one's "musical taste," even if that switch was from "traditional" to "contemporary."  Would this be a valid, sufficient reason to leave that church for another? 

 

Before answering, I'd suggest re-reading Pastor Taylor's article.

Whether "Yes" or "No," I can think of some profound implications either way.

Greg Linscott's picture

Dean, to what extent does the influence of the the large institution in your area factor into this experience? I have never lived in Greenville, but I have lived in Grand Rapids, MI and the greater Des Moines, IA area, and it is interesting to see how sometimes people seem to be connected or more committed/loyal institutionally than they are ecclesiastically. Church hopping can occur elsewhere, but it seems to me there are additional factors in specific places like have been mentioned (something that might be similar in the vicinity of Watertown, WI, let's say) that factor into this phenomenon. Any thoughts or observations?

Greg Linscott
Marshall, MN

M. Osborne's picture

Greg Linscott wrote:

Dean, to what extent does the influence of the the large institution in your area factor into this experience?

Greg, I'm not sure if I'm hitting your question directly, but Dean's post got me thinking about the exceptional circumstances in Greenville in general. I was a student/Grad Asst there between fall of '98 and spring of '05. My freshman year, I found a church in East Flat Rock, NC, up highway 25, and stayed the whole time. I wanted to get out of the Greenville area so I could be useful to someone.

So, using my imagination, I could see legitimate reasons to change churches when you really want to serve, and you're in a church already saturated with godly and capable servants. If I remember right, we did have a family or two start attending our church from the Greenville area just because they wanted to be involved. I suppose that leaves the person vulnerable to the "if I can't play, I'll take my marbles elsewhere" attitude, but it can also be born of just a matter-of-fact observation that, while God never needs me for His work, He really doesn't need me here. Smile It's kind of like watching young children play soccer: "Guys, you can't all kick the ball at once, especially when you're on the same team."

Michael Osborne
Philadelphia, PA

M. Osborne's picture

Larry Nelson wrote:

Say instead that one's own church switches to a style of music that doesn't match one's "musical taste," even if that switch was from "traditional" to "contemporary."  Would this be a valid, sufficient reason to leave that church for another? 

I'll bite. Referring to what I wrote in an earlier post, a change like that in the church has to challenge you to ask, "Do I love an abstract ideal or do I love a flesh-and-blood congregation?" Of course, Jesus is flesh-and-blood and must be loved and worshipped above all else. So some changes in the church that dishonor Jesus would be a grounds for leaving, in time. But simply leaving right away is a violation of your covenant obligations. You have to stay and work through it. If they're drifting the wrong direction, hello, it's you're covenant obligation to help them get back on track.

I'm not sure how much you're focusing on music in particular, and how much you're just using music as a test case for "what if the church changes first?"

Lurking in the background of your question is the person to whom the right kind of beat is right up there with the virgin birth, and who would handle drift in either area the same way. Can I bracket that into a separate question, then sidestep it? What I would say that in the event that the church drifts in an area great or small, I have an ongoing function of provoking others to love and good works, and should have been active enough all along,and should get active now, to help my brothers and sisters in a godly way.

 

Michael Osborne
Philadelphia, PA

Greg Linscott's picture

Mike, I think you are speaking to what I had in mind, to one degree or another. That tension of wanting to serve, but also wanting specific opportunities that don't seem to present themselves...

The music discussion others have raised is an interesting factor. Here's another: what about changing demographics? In the last 4-5 years, the makeup of the congregation I serve has changed significantly (I wrote about this here). In short, sometimes up to half our attending congregation now can be non-native English speakers. We haven't had anyone leave because of this yet, but I do sometimes wonder how unsettling this might be to some visiting, or if someone more established here would ever consider leaving if there were another similarly organized, viable church option nearby (the closest established options locally would be E-Free, LCMC Lutheran, or somewhere on the continuationist spectrum). We already know that sometimes congregations have relocated... Fourth Baptist in Plymouth, MN is a prominent example, and Wealthy Street/Park Baptist in Grand Rapids (where my wife's family has been for 3 generations) is another.

In one area I am aware of exploding with population growth... a new congregation was started by an experienced pastor/professor as this growth began... but it wasn't a direct planting effort of the long-time established church in the community he had been attending. Some left established congregations in that community and the metro to join in that effort, not always with their current pastor's blessing, either. That can be an interesting scenario to deal with, too.

Greg Linscott
Marshall, MN

Dean Taylor's picture

Greg Linscott wrote:

Dean, to what extent does the influence of the the large institution in your area factor into this experience? I have never lived in Greenville, but I have lived in Grand Rapids, MI and the greater Des Moines, IA area, and it is interesting to see how sometimes people seem to be connected or more committed/loyal institutionally than they are ecclesiastically. Church hopping can occur elsewhere, but it seems to me there are additional factors in specific places like have been mentioned (something that might be similar in the vicinity of Watertown, WI, let's say) that factor into this phenomenon. Any thoughts or observations?

Greg, the "saturation" effect mentioned above would be a factor. Also, it seems that people employed by such institutions are very dedicated to their work as a ministry, and in some cases don't have much time or energy left to devote to church involvement. I am speaking generally - there are many who are very engaged in our church. But for those who aren't, low involvement can lead to (or be  symptom of) low commitment which can turn into floating around to various churches. I will say that the current leadership at BJU seems to be encouraging University personnel to be highly committed to and involved in their local churches. At least I have observed more involvement on the part of some who weren't in the past. 

 

              DeanHTaylor.com 

Ed Vasicek's picture

When a church changes direction and you began attending a church for the direction it had originally, that could warrant a departure, I would think.  However, if updating musical styles is the only change (in other words, not forsaking expository preaching or a solid doctrinal emphasis for pop-psych seeker sensitive philosophies), then -- if you have truly become attached to the Body -- it might be time just to grin and bear it, IMO.

If you have not established roots and tendrils into the Body there, it might be easier to leave. This is especially likely if you have not been there that long.  But that goes back to one main issue: we no longer have a family model of church.  We would normally endure much to stay on good terms and in fellowship with our earthly family.  Given our culture and the preconceptions people have of church life, it may not be possible for churches in the West to truly be a family.  A "community," perhaps. A family, no.  And that is why the New Testament Church is apples and even the best churches are oranges.

"The Midrash Detective"

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