In Defense of Church Hoppers
They irritate many pastors, who label them "consumers." Church leaders have characterized them as immature, shallow, goosebump-seekers with a serious case of arrested spiritual development. Are church hoppers people with commitment issues who sample the congregations as if they were visiting one free-range church potluck?
Church hoppers get a bum rap, and it's time for us to seriously consider these believers and why they struggle to maintain a long-term relationship with a local body.
Yes, there are some church hoppers who fit the consumer stereotype, imbibing from a variety of different churches according to their felt needs rather than committing themselves wholeheartedly to a single congregation. There are plenty of church hoppers on a quest to find the mythical "perfect" church.
C.S. Lewis' scribe demon, Screwtape, offers this bit of coaching to his young protégé on how to sabotage the life of a believer: "If a man can't be cured of churchgoing, the next best thing is to send him all over the neighborhood looking for the church that 'suits' him until he becomes a taster or connoisseur of churches."
Experts offer church leaders advice on how to assimilate these wandering sheep. Others recommend ways pastors can rid themselves of church hopping "parasites." Through the years, I've heard pastors ascribe church hopping to character flaws, discipleship failures, lack of maturity, or flaccid faith.
But curiously, congregants aren't the only ones moving around. Various studies cite the tenure of the average senior pastor ranging from two and a half years to seven years or more, and the reasons pastors leave their churches frequently echo the reasons given by exiting congregants.
There are church members with shallow, immature belief whose faith may fade when faced with a church split or disruption. They've decided the mess and stress of body life is more trouble than it's worth, and the hop stops.
Our perseverance is the context for Hebrews 10:24-25, often used by pastors to challenge members to commit to a church: "And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching." The passage refers to some who have downshifted to church-free lives, but also offers us a helpful way to support other church hoppers.