Checklist from a (Recovering) Church Hopper
I’ve been part of some pretty great church families in my life. All of them have been very different, but overall each church family experience has contributed to who I am today.
Millennials get a bad rap for church hoping and not being “planted” somewhere. I think being planted in our day and age is much more abstract than committing to a weekly service.
“Church hopping” used to create intense dissatisfaction for me. I used to wish I could create my own church with bits and pieces of what I found in different settings. But as I have already written, the church has already had enough of her fair share of body dysmorphia and shaming.
It’s a process, overcoming the urge to dissect and analyze a church for the elements you wish were part of it. But I think there are some things that are pretty important to me when it comes to settling down in a church.
1. A welcoming atmosphere
I want to feel welcome, yes. But I’ve sometimes had to make myself feel welcome. So when I say “welcoming” I don’t often mean for myself. My first thought is usually: Could I bring my most un-churched friend along, and would they feel comfortable?
2. A place to grow
Attending a weekly service is not a command anywhere in scripture. So why do we “go to church?” I am still puzzled by this ritual, no matter how many Sundays I attend…but I think one of my main objectives is to find a place where I can grow in my walk with God and be challenged. As I’ve grown, I’ve realized that if I am in a place where I am not growing, it’s only because I put myself there.
3. A place to serve
I’ve been serving in church since I was 11, so sitting in the pews has never been comfortable for me. I think serving contributes to growth in many ways, so I am all for it. A church that inspires people to get involved is important to me. Especially if that church recognizes the diverse skills, talents, and experiences within their congregation and celebrates that. However, on this point, I must say…if you desire to serve, don’t wait to be asked. Approach who you need to approach to serve in your gifted capacities.
4. A church that churches outside the church
I’ve heard it preached time and time again, “We need to be the church outside the church.” I’ve seen how this can be understood as “our church assembly can happen anywhere”: we can have church services outside the church or we can have bible study in a public place, etc.
I’ve seen it understood as doing service projects, or inviting your friends to church, and just being a decent person.
Just as I still wonder why we assemble, I still wonder why we need to reiterate that the building isn’t all that makes us “The Church.” But regardless of everything I’ve studied, learned and experienced…it’s a tiresome task, but a necessary one.
Church buildings are beautiful places for service to happen. They are also beautiful places for serving to happen. But without the people whose hands and feet were made by a much greater architect…it’s just a building.
5. A counter-cultural experience
Some of the most popular words I’ve heard when it comes to church critique is that the church should be “counter-cultural.” I often wondered what that even means, or looks like. I wondered what that has to do with fog machines and flash PowerPoint slides. I wondered what that has to do with whether or not we have pews or chairs.
But I think the “culture” we ought to work to create in the church has nothing to do with aesthetics and taste. But if the culture of the world is to neglect the widow, ours is to embrace her. If it’s to ignore the homeless and treat them like criminals, ours is to give them attention and love with dignity. If it is to declare the lives of black people as meaningless through violence or silence, ours is to be loud enough to declare that they matter…
If we’re debating on whether to sing contemporary worship songs or gospel or from the hymnal, we’ve missed the point.
6. A place for difficult conversations and difficult times
One of the defining features of a cult is the unified silence of certainty. Basically, if you have any doubts, you are silenced and forced to accept the conclusions of your leader. Questions are unwelcomed. Often the people within the cult don’t even express their doubts to each other, so they are left feeling isolated.
Not calling the church a cult but I will say to varying degrees, the inability to express doubt as a normal part of our faith has hurt many people. We tend to come to church seeking truth, certainty, and comfort. As the church, to some degree, we provide that — how can that be a bad thing?
Jesus is all about positivism, sunshine and rainbows, right? Wrong.
I absolutely love leaning into the promises God has for me, but sometimes I need Lamentations, Jeremiah, one third of the Psalms and parts of Luke’s gospel.
The church should be a place to celebrate life, praise Jesus and share testimonies — absolutely. But it must also be a place that welcomes those who are “hurting and broken within.” It should be a place where people can hear the words “I don’t know” and “I’m with you” in place of cheerful dismissal of their pain, suffering and doubt.
7. A place to love and be loved
If you’ve been in church long enough, or plan to be, a lot of things can happen:
Someone, at some point in your life is going to be the church member who loves you in ways you just don’t understand. Someone is going to give you a hug that lasted too long. Someone is going to get really personal and ask you about how you’re really doing. Someone is going to pray with you and see you ugly cry at the altar. Someone is going to send you an encouraging text in the middle of the week.
Someone’s going to give you career advice, or recommend you for a job where they work. Someone’s going to tell you about a college with a free application you should consider applying to. Someone is going to commit to praying for you, during times you’ll probably be too busy to thank them.
If it’s anything I firmly believe about the church, it’s that we’ll never get it right. We’ll never be perfect. We’ll never find the right balance between contemporary and traditional. We’ll never please everyone all the time.
But I think as long as we continue to love one another, we’ll be okay.
Am I Done Church Hopping?
Probably not. If someone invites me to their church, I’ll probably go. I’ll probably find something I love about it that I don’t have where I am now. Or I’ll probably find something that stirs my heart to see the church do better.
I am content where I am because I am, which in my mind has nothing to do with church membership. From the day I gave my life to Christ, I became a member of The Church. I know that that means some places I go, I will feel unwelcome, I will see no opportunity to grow…I will feel unloved. I might even feel as if they don’t care about what’s going on in the world.
I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be a member of the church. Especially as someone who is recovering from commitment-phobia and the endless search for perfection. Overall, I find that being a member of the Church means I embrace all its beauty. I cry when it fails to be on mission. But I accept that my responsibility to the Church is to be critically active as opposed to critically inactive — to pray and labor alongside her.
Overall, as a member of The Church, my heart and my hands resonate with these mind-blowing words from a friend:
The grass isn’t green on the other side — it’s green where you water it. -Frankie Bruny (and apparently, many others!)
What’s on your checklist?
What things are important to you when finding church community?
Originally published on Medium.com on June 22, 2017.