Navigating the Church Shopping Experience
Church shopping: the act of hopping from church to church, trying to find a church that best suits the shopper.
Church Shopping: A Controversy
When it comes to church shopping, the world of Christian media often sends mixed signals. Even though searching for a new church is sometimes an inevitable process (especially when people move to a new place), many speak out against the concept as it encourages a consumeristic culture within the church marketplace.
Is church shopping a positive process?
I think it can be. The real reason people have a problem with church shopping is the mere connotation of the term. To shop is to consume. And if we view churches as products that are meant to be consumed on an individual level, then we are completely missing the mark.
Church Hunters: An Analysis of Christian Satire
The problematic nature of church shopping can be summed up through the following two videos by christian comedian, John Crist. On Church Hunters, we follow a couple’s church shopping journey. Through the obvious satire, Crist is commenting upon deep-seated issues subconsciously gripping christians across the country.
Searching for a church is a process that takes time. But its also important to be intentional in the way the you execute that process. In these videos, we see a couple scrutinizing every aspect of two churches, asking questions and learning about what each church has to offer. What is problematic here is not the process but the perspective.
The young couple shown in these videos is looking for a church to fit all of their needs. While they are asking good questions about each church they visit, they are more concerned about how the churches are fitting their individual needs:
“The churches we go to now, for us, they’re not just doing it for us.”
“The last church was too traditional, it was too much, it was like, we left there feeling convicted, ugh.”
“I gotta be in that worship band. Imagine me up on that jumbo tron, mid guitar solo. Imagine all of the instagram likes you’d get!”
“I connect in worship more when the leader is attractive”
“There’s nothing around like 2:00? Like for us, what we need, usually 2:00 or 2:15 is best.”
Rather than looking for all of the good things a church has to offer, such as a good community and strong potential for spiritual growth, Nick and Molly have boiled the church experience down to the things that fit their needs. They want a church that will make them look good. They want a church that will give them their weekly dose of Jesus without challenging them in any way to be more than they already are. They don’t want to be convicted, they want to remain complacent.
Its easy to sit back and laugh at these videos, acknowledging their truth without realizing the gravity behind them. People like Nick and Molly certainly exist. However, the direct connotation of these videos is not nearly as important as the implicit one. You won’t walk into churches expecting to run into people like those in the video. But you will find a sense of self-indulgence (though often subconscious) wherever you go.
Kathy Howard put it best when she stated that
Christians have learned the power of the American consumer. We know that marketers cater to our needs and desires because they want our business. If one store does not satisfy us, then we simply go somewhere else that will. Unfortunately, many Christians have allowed the consumer mentality to affect their faith and their relationship with the local church. We ask the church, “What do you have to offer me?3”
In asking this question, we are becoming a part of the self-indulgent mindset that is a bi-product of our individualistic and consumeristic society. This mindset has conditioned us to gravitate towards the types of things that society has deemed “cool”. Often, these things amount to attractive worship leaders and the appearance of a “righteous” worshiper with their arms held high. They amount to things that don’t fill us, but leave us feeling more empty than we were before. In many ways, we are taught to value things that, at the end of the day, don’t matter when it comes to being apart of the Body of Christ.
Can we make church shopping intentional?
Thankfully, what I discussed above is not all Church Shopping has to offer. Its time to revise the true definition of the term and realize that the search of a new church does not have to be a superficial consumer-based experience. You can be intentional. You are allowed to look for a church that it is a good fit for you, but your search can not be all about you. Find a church that has a great community, find a church that empowers you and challenges you, and, yes, convicts you. Ask questions, explore different ministries and small group opportunities, experience worship in new and unfamiliar ways. There is something so humbling about observing the different types of christian gatherings.
Intentional Church Shopping is possible. By looking at group of churches within the same ecological context of Naperville Illinois, I sort of became an intentional church shopper myself. This series of pages, entitled “Navigating the Church Shopping Experience,” is meant to provide you with a clearer understanding of the current church shopping culture. With the knowledge from researchers, pastors, and theologians, and also clear steps that you can take, these pages will help prepare you for your journey.