This past semester I had a class assignment called “Church Visits”. Basically, we were required to attend 3 different churches through the semester, ideally from denominations drastically different than our own. Honestly, this was a pretty informative assignment; I’ve had many new experiences and have learned a lot about the diversity of liturgical form within the Christian tradition.
While we were out exploring the vast field of Church culture in the Nashville area, however, I came to what I think are some fairly profound and startling realizations; and of course I felt that I should share them here.
In many ways I would equate this assignment to “Church Hopping”. For those of you that may be unfamiliar, Church hopping is the practice of attending a different church every week, usually without planting significant roots in any one congregation. Church hopping is a significant problem in the modern Church, especially among my own generation. I’ve thought this for quite some time, but this assignment has given me some new perspective on the specific impact it can have on our walk with God.
One significant problem with the model of church hopping is that it removes our opportunity for accountably. I think that the majority of us immediately associate accountability with secret sin. This isn’t necessarily wrong—accountability from others is one of the most effective ways to battle a sin that lies hidden in our hearts. However, this is not the only role accountability can play in our lives, nor should it be.
The community we find in the local church is also responsible for holding us accountable to certain things. Specifically, a healthy church should encourage consistent Spiritual growth in our lives, deeper understanding of God through community with His body, and a passion for glorifying God through the practice of corporate worship.
The church hopper might still receive one or more of these things from an individual visit to a church, but this cannot match the consistency and accountability of a single “church home”. In short, there is simply no way for healthy accountability to occur without consistency.
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. Hebrews 10:23-25
Another temptation of church hopping is a preferential selection based on programs, practices, or worship styles. To be sure, there are certainly instances in which a church can be “right” or “wrong” for a person based on their spiritual needs. Here, however, I am speaking of something quite different. The practice of bouncing from church to church each week breeds an unavoidable pattern of comparison in our hearts.
We might go to one church because we love their worship style, or to another because their pastor is a gifted communicator. The further we follow this pattern of thinking, however, the more shallow it becomes.
This church has the best coffee…That one has really convenient service times, and always gets out on time…Their church has the coolest graphics…All of my friends go to that church…This church has the most attractive men and women on stage…
This goes on and on, until we find ourselves in a position where church is more about our preferences than it is about God’s presence. When we exchange one for the other, we allow selfishness to control and direct one of the most important aspects of our Spiritual lives. This is both unwise and unhealthy in our walk with God.
But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. James 3:14-17
More Than Just a Concert
The healthy function of a church is inherently dependent on the active participation of its members. As much as we attend church to receive and be built up in our faith, we should also invest our time, money, and spiritual gifts to strengthen the community. Church cannot simply be a show we attend each weekend, it must become more to us. I hope you can learn, as I did during my “church visits”, that church hopping will ultimately undermine even the most well-intentioned faith, and that our participation in the local church will draw us deeper into fellowship with Christ.