Dr. James Emery WhiteJames Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina; President of Serious Times, a ministry which explores the intersection of faith and culture (www.serioustimes.org); and ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture on the Charlotte campus of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Dr. White holds the B.S., M.Div. and Ph.D. degrees, along with additional work at Vanderbilt University and Oxford University. He is the author of over a dozen books.
- 2012 Aug 06
A man approached one of our Guest Services volunteers and asked, “Where are the Sno-Cones?”
For the past few summers, we’ve offered Sno-Cones following our weekend services as part of our Guest Services experience. The goal was to give exiting kids a final pleasant memory of their time at Meck (Mecklenburg Community Church), as well as create a “linger” factor for parents to connect with each other and the staff.
This summer, we’ve been offering them as a “surprise” on select weekends, but not every weekend.
“I go to another church,” he continued, “but during the summer I come here for the Sno-Cones. So where are they?”
The volunteer explained to him our current approach to Sno-Cones, and he became rather indignant. “Is there any way you can let people know in advance when it’s a Sno-Cone weekend so that we know when to come?”
I guess people really like crushed ice and syrup.
Let’s talk church hopping, shall we?
Actually, I’m not the one bringing the subject up. It was surprising to find two articles on the matter get picked up and carried nationally – in the same week, no less – this past month.
First, a working definition: church hopping is going from one church to another without committing to any one church for any significant period of time (which makes it different than legitimate church “shopping”).
As Betsy Hart writes, hoppers reflect a growing tendency to decide, after they have officially joined a particular church, that “Oh, that pastor down the street is a little more high-energy than mine,” or “Gee, the music here isn’t really meeting my needs right now,” or “I really am not crazy about that new children’s church director.”
So they hop from church to church.
The hard-core hopper never even makes an initial commitment. They perpetually float between churches, pursuing a Beth Moore study at First Baptist, youth group at First Methodist, weekend services at Hope, Grace, or Community Church, marriage enrichment events at …w ell, you get the picture.
What’s driving this?
For some, it’s simply the consumer mindset of our culture at work.
As Hart writes, “Church ‘hopping’ is the ultimate ‘all about me’ experience.” They take from various churches whatever it is they perceive to be of value without committing to any one church either to serve or support.
For some, it’s insecurity.
They have to be wherever they think it’s “happening” in the Christian world. I know of pastors who joke about a “migratory flow pattern” among Christians in their community who are constantly church-hopping to the “next” thing in church life.
They move from one church to another, looking for the next hot singles group, the next hot church plant, the next hot speaker, the next hot youth group.
Many times they end up full circle where they began, because their original church suddenly became “next.”
For some, it’s spiritual gluttony.
They want nothing more than to be “fed,” and when they feel they’ve eaten all a church has to offer, they move on where there is the potential for more food – as if that is what constitutes growing in Christ or being connected to Christ.
For some, it’s refusing accountability.
A pattern of sin is pursued, or a choice made, and they leave for a place where no one knows, and no one asks.
For some, it’s avoiding stewardship.
If they are not committed to any one church, there is no obligation to give or serve at any one church. They can float above sacrifice without guilt.
For some, it’s emotional immaturity.
A decision is made they don’t agree with, a building campaign is initiated they didn’t vote for, a staff change is made they didn’t like, so they take their marbles and go play somewhere else.
I know, I know. None of these reflect well on the person leaving, which intimates that anyone who leaves a church is somehow in the wrong, and that is not fair.
In truth, there can be times to not simply hop, but leap. If there is scandal that is simply not addressed, doctrinal heresy, or patterns of abuse, you should leave.
But for the typical hopper, it’s not time for self-justification, but loving admonishment.
First, church isn’t about you. Sorry, but it’s not. It isn’t one of many stores in a mall that exists to serve your spiritual shopping list. Church is a gathered community of believers who are pooling together their time, talent and resources to further the Great Commission.
Find one and start investing your life.
Second, the very nature of authentic community is found in the “one anothers.” Love one another, serve one another, encourage one another; this cannot happen apart from doing life with people.
You need community.
Third, the absence of a ministry you desire may be God’s call on your life to start it, rather than leave to find a church that has it. Remember, every member is a minister, and has been given at least one spiritual gift for service in the life and mission of the church.
Fourth, you aren’t going to agree with every decision the leadership of any church makes, regardless of its structure or decision-making process. You either feel you can trust the character of the leadership, or you can’t.
And being able to trust that leadership doesn’t mean they will always do things the way you think they should. In other words, don’t hop every time you disagree. That’s immature.
(And for goodness sake, don’t stay and pout or politic, either. Either get on board once the decision is made, if it was one that didn’t breach doctrine or ethics, or find a place where you can.)
Fifth, don’t worry about being fed as much as learning to feed yourself. Even more, concern yourself with taking what you already know and applying it to your life, and then helping to feed others who are new to the faith!
Finally, spiritual depth isn’t fostered by satiating your sense of felt needs. It’s receiving a balanced diet of teaching and challenge, investing in service and mission, living in community and diversity that you probably would not select for yourself.
If you simply go to where you are drawn, you will miss out on addressing those areas of life where you are blind.
All to say, if you’re ever at Meck, have a Sno-Cone.
But don’t leave your church to come for it.
Start serving them there.
James Emery White
Betsy Hart, “The gospel according to church ‘hoppers,’” Scripps Howard News Service, July 6, 2012. Read online.
Rose French, “Spirit moves 'church hoppers,'” Star Tribune, July 14, 2012. Read online.
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, N.C., and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His newly released book is A Traveler's Guide to the Kingdom: Journeying through the Christian Life (InterVarsity Press). To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, log on to www.churchandculture.org, where you can post your comments on this blog, view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on Twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.