It is easy to pick out the church hoppers. They are the ones that are easily offended by things that have little or nothing to do with biblical truth and Christian character. They are the ones that show up at a church and everyone already knows them from the last time they were members. They are the ones that contact everyone at the church once they leave searching for people to join them. They are the ones that are at every interdenominational gathering talking to everyone that will listen about the failings of this church or that church. When they enter a church the leadership says, “oh no not them,” and when they leave a church the leadership says, “here we go again.”
These are not consumer Christians, these are people who are not happy in life.
They aren’t looking for the next big thing but rather they are looking for the worst possible things so that they can drive in a wedge as they seek to control. They search for position and influence and when they can’t find it they move on to their next victim church leaving a trail of casualties in their wake.
These issues aren’t isolated to their interactions with collectives of Christ followers. Their lives are littered with the same issues, broken marriages, strained relationships with parents, difficulty at work, trouble keeping friends and most importantly difficulty with authority.
The consumer Christian is different.
They are in the market for the next big thing. They don’t leave a church because they didn’t get control but instead because those in control didn’t get them. They shop until they find what they want or hear what they want to hear. They only contemplate another church if they become unhappy with their current supplier of Christian programing or if another supplier peeks their interest with a new or improved set of programing. Their lives are the same as most people’s. They have stressed relationships as well as long lasting friendships. Any difficulty with authority is situational rather than a general dislike for anyone in charge.
Consumer Christians and church hoppers.
Let’s face it, it’s hard when someone ends a relationship. When marriages end or children break off contact with their parents, when friendships are on the rocks or coworkers no longer trust each other, there is always a winner and a loser and who wants to be a loser?
Things are said, people are portrayed in a negative light and rumours are spread. It is rare that all involved end up looking equally bad or good. If you can label someone as something bad and get it to stick, you win.
Leaving a church is ending a relationship. For some in the congregation it is just another person that has come and gone. For others it is a loss of regular fellowship that can be partially remedied by get-togethers outside of church events. Others are destroyed by events and never get over it.
Where does the pastor and leadership fit in all of this? Often the emotional wounds inflicted are felt not in the loss of fellowship but in the perceived slight on their work and governance. Labels like consumer Christian or church hopper are placed on the offending parties and often stick with them as long as they live in the same town. If you can label someone as something bad and get it to stick, you, for lack of a better term, win.
Whether it is true or not, is getting the label to stick really a win?
Recently I have been reflecting on the things pastors and leaders say in defence of themselves, the things I have said, the things I now try to correct as I work with churches in transition. (see: The Shepherd Focuses on the Sheep)
I have interacted with true church hoppers seeking power and control. I have interacted with people looking for the next big thing, consumer Christians. I have interacted with people who have left for good reasons and have shopped for a new church that fits their needs.
Call them what you want, they are all experiencing a hole in their lives that needs to be filled and as pastors, church leaders and fellow attendees we need to find ways to introduce Jesus into the void or they will look elsewhere. Labeling them before or after they leave is only a superficial win. The hole is still empty so we have lost. We have not addressed their need. Assigning blame is a defence mechanism not a discipleship tool.
As pastors and as leaders we are called to minister to the needs of the congregation.
Grace and mercy, love and gentleness are to be the hallmarks of our calling. Stating that people are sinners saved by grace is the only label we should use. When someone leaves it hurts. Often the emotional wounds inflicted are felt not in the loss of fellowship but in the perceived slight on our work and governance. Will we continue to show grace and mercy, love and gentleness or will we go for the win and pull out the labels?
With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. James 3:9-10 (NIV)
Note: Maybe we are the problem?
When we as pastors and leaders constantly exercise our authority rather than display humility are we not encouraging others to seek the same which leads to church hopping?
When we as pastors and leaders constantly seek to implement the latest and flashiest programs, are we not encouraging others to seek out the same which leads to consumer Christianity?