churchshoppingIf you’ve ever looked for a church, you probably know the term “church shopping.”  It usually means an uncomfortable process of going from church to church, in order to figure out where you, or your family should attend on Sundays.

It can be a simple process of going to a few churches and seeing where your feel comfortable.  Or it can be an involved process of mental checklists, websites, surveying the kids, etc.  It can take a few Sundays, or it can take some people years.

I heard this term on Christian radio yesterday and it was being affirmed as a good thing to do.  Let me tell you why I think church shopping is not a good thing for you, or for the church.

  1. Shopping is focused on the needs, or desires of the shopper.  When we shop, we have been taught, “the customer is King.”  We expect a church to cover our checklist and to do it well.  Now, there might be some good things on this list, like use of Scripture, but when we shop, we tend to expect it to be delivered our way.  We are so shaped by our world, that we can even turn biblical things into a way of seeking our own fulfillment.
  2. Shopping is driven by consumption.  We shop for goods and services for us to use and consume.  We shop with different standards.  But generally speaking, we want the best bang for the buck.  We want quality at a price we can afford.  When we measure a church like this
  3. Shopping turns everything into a commodity.  We shop for things we want to possess.  If church is primarily about relationships, shopping doesn’t fit.  How many of us would feel comfortable if our daughter went out next Friday night to “husband shop?”  Or, how about if a couple went into an adoption agency to shop for a child?  That just sounds offensive.  It turns people into something we own.

It hurts us by tapping into our cultural (or fleshly) drive to measure everything’s value by how it makes us feel.  We ask, “will this congregation give me enough to justify what I will spend in tithes, time and relational energy?”  Or in other words, “will this group of people cost me more than they will give me?” Simply, it reinforces our thinking that church, like the rest of life, is all about us.

It hurts the local church because now, we are chasing shoppers instead of growing servants.  When shoppers are what’s coming in the door, the church is tempted to pursue them.  The church is being shaped by the heart of the attender and we end up being better at marketing then at being a community of people living in service, worship and sacrifice together.

My experience is that church shoppers easily turn into church hoppers.  If we go into a church as if it’s a commodity we consume to make us feel better, when it stops, we will probably look for a new, better deal down the road.  And pastors, if we’ve used the shopping mentality to get people in, we really don’t have much to say when that same drive moves them along to a happier place.

In my next blog, I’ll address just what we should call this process of entering into a church and how we can do it in a uniquely Christian way.  Let me give you a hint… the word discernment is key.

I’d love to read your comments.

Part 2 is here!

Jim Renke is also the author of “Transformed Pain; How God Makes it Good.”