Friday, May 4, 2012

Church Hopping

For the past 2 ½ years, I have been on a journey that has led me to write this blog entry.

2 ½ years ago I was involved in a church where I was operating in my gifts, enjoying the growth and very much a part of the fabric of the church. Then a leadership change led to my husband and I going to a new church almost 2 years ago to the day.

Many would have seen “Undercover Boss”, where an owner or senior manager of a company gets back to entry level to get a new perspective on their company, and an appreciation of how management decisions affect the everyday employees of the company.

That is how I have found my past 2 years – first the first time in years I was a “new person” at a church and was starting the entire process of becoming integrated all over again! Out of this experience, I have learned some valuable lessons about churches, picking a church, how churches are run and how effective the “program machine” is.

For as long as I can remember, church hopping has been frowned upon. You can’t grow if you’re not planted. You can’t grow properly if you’re always in a portable pot. I agree with that (because the Bible says it!). Yet I have realised that, usually, the new person’s church selection process involves:
1. Turning up on a Sunday morning and sussing out the music and the preaching;
2. If the first Sunday morning wasn’t too bad, go back again.
3. If by the third week, the Sunday morning services are still ok – maybe this is the place for you.

That was my process. However, finding a church using this selection method is the same as going for a job interview and picking the company because you like the foyer. Knowing that the organisation is the right place to invest your life needs more analysis than that. I now think the same thing about choosing the right church to invest your life into.

After time, there may be some areas that are fundamental areas where the church isn’t the right ‘fit’, but by the time you realise the church is on a different page (even when it could be generally a great church!), you have become a regular ‘attendee’ and leaving the church, leaving yet another church, puts you in the ‘church hopping’ category.

Will there ever be a perfect church – of course not! However, I went through a season of ‘job hopping’. I just couldn’t get integrated in for a variety of reasons. Often it wasn’t anything wrong with the organisation or leaders, but rather it wasn’t the right ‘fit’. Now, after an embarrassing number of job changes, I have found a position where my gifts are used, I flourish under the leadership, and have been there 5 years with no intention of moving (a record length of time for me!). Why can’t it be the same way with a church? Is it really so bad trying out a few churches until you find the right fit, even if it appears to others that you’re nothing but a church hopper?

So – after 2 years, we are ready to move again. Only this time, I plan to adopt a very different selection process before I commit. Good Sunday services are a given. Allowing the Holy Spirit room to move is a must. A heart for winning souls - imperative. But I also think the following, for me, are very important:
1. What is the church’s discipleship program? Is it exclusively ‘life groups’?
2. Does the church actively use new technology – including social media – in connecting and engaging? – particularly in light of the recent research regarding the next generation?
3. How does the church select it’s teaching content? Is it strategic or ad-hoc? Does it include foundational material? (ie preaching, short courses on topics such as tongues, attributes of God etc)?
4. How does the church work towards creating spiritually independent mature Christians?
5. How do new people become involved?
6. How does the church identify the gifts and calling of people that are within the congregation?
7. What process does the church have to develop and use/release those gifts?
8. Do people of like-gifts meet and develop the gifts?
9. How does the church integrate ‘new people’? (Beyond the ‘new person’s’ lunch and the free coffee/cake at the first visit – which all churches seem to do)
10. What is the ‘leadership’ path for people wanting to eventually become involved at that level? What restrictions are placed on that path (eg time served, courses, gender etc)
11. Does the church have a ‘human resources’ type role to identify volunteer needs within the church and connect those with available gifts/calling within the church?
12. Is the main ‘involvement’ of church attendees to be ‘spectators’ or ‘contributors’? ie are most of the church’s ‘involvement’ opportunities to come and listen - eg leadership nights, women’s events, men’s events, worship nights.

I appreciate that it may seem that I have a barrow to push and a soap box to stand on. You’re probably right. But the reason for this blog is because, the more I think about this issue and ask probing questions of those around me, I realise I’m not the only one. Lately I have come across quite a few people that, despite usually being solid church members, are leaving their church and, worse, are thinking of not going at all because of the lack of fit.

Now after all of that, I’m sure you are thinking (and it’s been said to me) – “just ask God where he wants you to go and be obedient”. Any decision that is made needs to be committed to prayer – absolutely!

But God gave us a brain that can think and reason – and we use that brain to analyse decisions in most parts of our lives: who to marry? Where to work? How many children to have? Etc etc. Finding a right fit for a church, I believe, isn’t a ‘brain-off’ activity. However, we take that analysis to God and let his peace guide the process.

3 comments:

Suzanne said...

You raise some very interesting points Tracy, and I must admit, we have (I'm sure) been branded 'church hoppers' over the past 10+ years. It seemed for a long time, we never spent more than about 2 years in any church (for a variety of reasons). Now, we are again planted in a church, and finally starting to feel that we are using those gifts and talents that were 'shelved' for so long while 'hopping'. I honestly can say we never intended to be 'hoppers', it is almost shameful to even conceive that this would be the case. There were any number of reasons why we just didn't feel the 'fit' at a certain church, and actually in one case, the church closed, so we were forced to find another 'home'.

Regardless, it wasn't until we actually ventured overseas that we found the 'fit' that we (God?) had been looking for. The church is not perfect, the church is not a mega church, the church has problems, and we are not trying to fix them. But after 10+ years of 'hopping' is nice to actually feel like we have a home again, like we are planted. Will it be forever? God only knows! But for now, at least, there is some comfort in looking back over our 'hopping' years and realising that in it all, while we may not have been utilising our gifts in a way that we felt utilised, and we may have 'sat' for a long time feeling like we were back in the bottom rung, we actually were still learning and growing and moving forward spirtiually. Rom 8:28

Brenda Tough Grimes said...

Tracy,
Was just doing some sorting/cleaning of my favourites in google and came across your blog article - really appreciated it and I want to thank you for your great words of encouragement. I reckon more people would benefit from reading it, too!
I related with what you wrote, very much and having lived in Australia just over 10 years and now attending our 3rd church, I felt like I had let my congregations down for leaving...thanks. A great word! Also, so happy to hear that you are in a church that is allowing you to use your great gifts - You have an awesome teaching gift as I have had the opportunity of listening to your words! Blessings to you and your beautiful family :)

Unknown said...

Tracy,

A highly valuable and insightful article. You have articulated, I believe, what a g8t many people have thought but never put down in words, let alone share.

Perhaps an ebook to follow?

K Rgds,PG :)