The previous post on this subject presented reasons people leave one church for another and concerns that our pastors have about this practice. Let me say again, there are legitimate reasons for leaving a church and going to another one in the same community. It may seem that I should discuss those reasons in these articles. But I want to focus on problematic church-hopping rather than the acceptable variety.
For church members who are considering making the jump to another church in your community, may I encourage you to walk through the questions I listed at the end of the previous post. You may not realize how important you are to your church, how much people care about you, and how your decision will affect you, your family, and the churches involved. Please take the time to prayerfully and honestly consider your answers to those questions.
Here are some ways church leaders might address the problem of church-hopping in our community.
Make members aware of the deep level of commitment they are making when they join the church. We have a membership class, as many churches do. As part of this class, we should include teaching that emphasizes the commitment members make to the body of Christ and to one another. This commitment includes working at living together in unity.
Paul’s instruction, “endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, “(Ephesians 4:3) implies that there will be a tendency toward disunity. All members should be challenged to do the hard work of living together in harmony.
It’s much like a marriage. If you are committed to permanent marriage, you will work through the differences and problems, big and small, that threaten to push you apart. Church people need to learn to do this!
Cultivate an environment of open communication within the body of Christ. Church members who have disagreements, conflicts, or concerns with church leadership or other church members should know they can and ought to talk face to face with those parties. There should be clear and repeated teaching from the Scriptures that addresses how believers handle offenses with one another.
Pastors should work at developing personal relationships with church members so that when concerns arise, the members feel comfortable discussing them. Also, the pastors might plan some informal Q & A meetings in order to hear what is on people’s minds and have an opportunity to respond. The point is, church members should know that their pastors are available and eager to listen to their concerns.
The reality is, although pastors teach extensively on this topic and provide opportunities for expressing concerns, there are people who will still not practice it. But some will be encouraged to handle difficulties and disagreements in a way that strengthens the body of Christ rather than divides it.
Challenge the thinking that leads to church-hopping. Everyone can do this, not just pastors. It can happen from the pulpit as well as in private conversations.
Challenge the consumer mentality that drives much of the church-hopping phenomenon. Challenge idealism about the church – the thinking that there is a church out there that will meet all the needs and expectations without conflict or disappointment.
Challenge the idea that the church should never change. If a church is growing toward “a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,” (Ephesians 4:13) then it will be changing. Some of these changes will make certain church members uncomfortable. Rather than reactively looking for a church that “is like what our church used to be,” these members should consider whether they should let go of the preferences they hold so dear in order to grow in the likeness of Christ, both individually and as a church body.
Challenge people to learn to live with others who are different. Many Christians make lifestyle applications of Scripture in differing but legitimate ways. These people can function and fellowship within the same local church.
Improve communication among churches in the community. This is a tough one. Independent churches are known for being, well, independent. There’s not much cooperation among them. And every church eagerly seeks new people. They’re welcomed with wide open arms, usually with few questions asked.
Maybe we as pastors should make a better effort at being in touch with each other when one’s sheep shows up in another’s pasture. In the past, many churches required a transfer of letter for someone coming from another church to join. I was taught by the senior pastor where I started in full-time ministry that it is both ethical and wise to make a phone call to another pastor in the community when someone from his church visits yours. When I first came to the Greenville area to pastor, I tried doing this. I’ll confess my practice of this has waned. At the same time, I have rarely been contacted by other pastors in the community regarding our members who have started attending their church.
A quick email to a fellow pastor when we realize there’s a potential hopper in our midst might help. “Hope you’re doing well. Just letting you know that Mr. & Mrs. Churchhopper have been attending our services lately, and I understand they have been members of your church. I’d be happy to discuss their circumstances with you if you’d like.” I’m not sure if this would directly discourage church-hopping. But it would at least provide a level of awareness among the pastors that might increase accountability for the migrating members.
We do require new members, if they are coming from another church, to indicate on their membership application form whether they have notified their previous pastor of their decision and if they have resolved any issues between themselves and others. If we think there’s any reason for concern, we make contact with the previous pastor.
Church-hopping goes with the territory, especially in the greater Greenville community. It’s tempting to accept it as the way things are. And there is a tendency to be hardened and embittered by it. Ultimately it’s not about me, nor is it about keeping names on a roll. It’s about the strength, unity, and growth of the body of Christ. The church is bigger than our local expression of it. I need to realize this, and accept that God is sovereign and people can thrive and serve in more than one setting. However, I believe we should do what we can to reduce unnecessary church-hopping.
I’m very thankful for the many faithful, loyal people whose feet are in concrete, who are committed to the church and tell me so. Only a cataclysmic upheaval would dislodge them from their place in our assembly. May their kind increase.