The Church Member Migration (AKA Church-Hopping) Phenomenon in My Community (Part 1)

I realize this is 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.

As I said, I know 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 ways of doing it that are potentially harmful to the individual and the churches involved. I want to understand this phenomenon better. I want to make some observations about it. I want to 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.

This post is just to get started. We’ll explore the thinking behind changing churches, some pastoral concerns, and constructive considerations in future posts.