Why church shop?
With so much negative commentary on the subject, people find themselves faced with this most basic question.
Why even bother church shopping?
What is there to gain from the experience?
With so many people speaking out against the consumeristic culture that has grown through people’s participation in this process, many are left to believe that “faithfulness to a specific theological or ecclesiastical tradition has been replaced by “church shopping.1” There is some truth to this statement, as there has certainly been a decline in denominational loyalty among church shoppers. Indeed, according to a study conducted by the Pew Research Center, “About half of U.S. adults who have looked for a new congregation (48%) considered changing denominations or religions when looking2.” However, it is important to note the difference between denominational loyalty and religious loyalty. If anything, the church shopping phenomenon has supported the rise of an ecumenical movement that is sweeping across the nation.
In modern times, less and less people are concerned with remaining loyal to their original denominational affiliation. For seminary students, this means it is even harder to discern where they will be ordained, as their own experiences are broader than the individual boxes of each denomination. As a result, these students must embark on an intentional process of choosing a denomination and further discerning their vocation. Richard Mouw, former president of Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena California, has compared this vocational exploration of seminary students to the process of church shopping:
In deciding where they will serve, [seminary students] are attempting to discern what talents and disciplines and special theological emphases God is asking them to nurture. And I would portray the choice of a family to move from a local Methodist congregation to a new-style congregation that features contemporary worship in similar terms. What may appear to some as a consumerist decision may in fact be a serious exploration of their family’s special vocation3.
When motivated by the desire to pursue a process of discernment, church shopping is an experience that will allow you to flourish in your church, to challenge yourself in your own faith, and foster deep connections with other christians. It is a celebration of the diversity of worship experiences within your local context, and a wedding celebration of becoming apart of the Body of Christ.
In their book, Finding a Church You Can Love and Loving the Church You’ve Found, Kevin and Sherry Harney describe what its like to find a church where you belong:
God loves his church, and we should too! Jesus calls us his bride. That one pure moment of joy and celebration on a wedding day can be yours and mine. And when we become part of his church, this rejoicing does not last for just an hour, a day , or even a lifetime; it lasts for eternity. You see, the Bible talks about a marriage supper in heaven. This same inexpressible joy will be enjoyed forever4.
That is why you church shop. To discern and find the place where God calls you to be in community with him and his followers. To become apart of the celebration, not apart of a consumeristic culture. Richard Mouw sees church shopping exploration as “an exciting feature of contemporary religious life.” He claims that “we should celebrate the diversity of our Christian landscape” and that “if such diversity encourages a consumerist approach to the spiritual quest, so be it5.” Rather than getting caught up in the tiny superficial details, allow your church shopping journey to blossom through prayerful conversation. Celebrate the differences you notice, enjoy the experience, all while knowing that the finale will bring you into a place of community where God’s love is increasingly abundant.