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 ...

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