Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Church Shopping

I heard this funny thing: Somebody volunteered to help out here at the church, but by the time we contacted the person about getting them involved (a few days later), they let us know they had already started attending another church. Nice! Not that this is a surprise. There are so many good churches in the Boston area these days---so many more than when I first moved here 25 years ago. And if you're new, it takes a few Sundays to get around and see them all. What makes a good church? I'm guessing the worship experience is important, the music and the preaching needs to connect. And the community aspect matters, as I guess does location and the sorts of values a church espouses. But here's what I've always been curious about: Once someone has shopped and purchased a church (to keep with the consumer analogy), when and why does the buyer's remorse set in? I naively imagine that committing to a church is not unlike committing to a friendship. You make a friend and naturally desire that the relationship will deepen, so much so that you're willing to adjust expectations and behavior to make it happen. Or maybe it's just a big church thing. Once you get to a certain critical mass, the expectation is to be served rather than serve? Be fed rather than feed? Not that these should ever be dichotomous. One makes the other possible. As the body of Christ, we need each other.


Kristen said...

What counts as a "purchase"? If you try on a pair of shoes and decide not to buy them, "buyer's remorse" isn't a description of what's happening.

Not that church should be like a pair of shoes. But to use a different analogy, lots of romantic couples date for quite a while and then decide to break up. That's not a divorce. That's deciding (maybe for bad reasons, maybe for very good ones) not to make the commitment of marriage. Entirely different ball of wax. And I think there can be church equivalents of "well we've been trying this for a long time but it's better not to push the commitment further."

OK, but but that isn't the question you asked. Whatever a reasonable church equivalent of "purchase" is, why doesn't it often/always stick?

Some of it probably reflects a general lack of permanence in our society, and in our congregation. When we have such high turnover because people are only in town for a short period of time, leaving to go to a different congregation has a different flavor than if the group is otherwise quite stable and you're the one shaking things up.

And partially people's needs change over time. What might be great and wonderful for a 20something may no longer be a good match for a growing family. Other values (e.g. geographic proximity, more stable community) may become more important. I'm not sure that's such a bad thing. If in the initial "shopping" period it's appropriate to look for a healthy balance of how you can be taken care of as well as how you can serve then as you move on to different stages of life it may well be that the balance gets thrown off and another congregation becomes a better fit.

It can be tempting (and I mean "tempting" literally) to think you should only pay attention to how you can serve and not worry about whether your own needs are being met. This doesn't work. One cannot pour out if one's own well is running dry.

If anyone figures out how to draw the line between healthy and necessary attention to one's own needs and a self-centered consumeristic approach to church, please let me know!

Anonymous said...

I agree with church hopping to a point. I think the important thing is to just dive in and start serving in some capacity, preferably at the actual service like serving Communion to others. If you put God first at the service, your cup will never run dry. I find for myself when I am feeling like I don't fit in, it's time for me to start serving and seeing Christ in others. It gives my Church experience a whole different meaning: it takes the focus off me and onto Jesus on the Cross. Not just Jesus in heaven but where He is to me right now, a suffering servant.

So the point of my post is that it's not about me purchasing a church experience; rather it's about how am I serving God at that moment, whether I am a vistor (e.g. vacation) or a regular attendant.

That's just how I see it. I know others will disagree.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Kristen, I found your comment helpful, truthful and insightful.