Is it OK for me to church hop?

December 14th, 2014

“I’m going to tell you the truth. And because I’m not your pastor, you can know for sure that it’s the truth.”

This is how I started answering the question I was asked a few weeks ago by an intelligent, high-achieving young woman, “Is it okay for me to church hop?”

I was quite surprised when she asked me this after I’d just given a lecture on the role and function of the book of Judges in the Christian canon. Her question didn’t seem to be connected at all. But, then, maybe that was the point. She saw me as a straight-shooter, and since she doesn’t attend my church, she thought I’d have no problem giving her a straight answer.

And my answer was, “I’m going to tell you the truth. And because I’m not your pastor, you can know for sure that it’s the truth. No. It is not okay, not now, not ever, for you to be a church hopper.”

I went on to explain to her that there are multiple pragmatic reasons she shouldn’t church hop. First, by avoiding committing to a local community she is unintentionally limiting the prophetic voice that speaks up only when someone knows you well. And second (in an attempt to appeal to her ego), I told her that she was robbing a local church somewhere of the opportunity to benefit from her spiritual gifts.

But at the heart of all this, I have the firm theological belief that there is no such thing as a lone Christian. Rather, Christians only exist in families (not all families are biological). And, to turn a cliché, it really does take a village to raise a Christian. Church hopping is like family hopping. It’s just a stupid idea.

This is the way I’ve felt every time I’ve ever left a church — like I was leaving family. Except for one church, my wife and I have always left because we were moving somewhere else and were going to need to attend a church closer to our new home. But even the time we didn’t leave because we were moving, it was still like leaving family.

Occasionally as a pastor I have people set up appointments with me to tell me that they’re leaving my church. I always try to inquire as to why, especially if they’re staying in town. Sometimes I get brutally honest answers. Sometimes I get answers that tell me they’re unwilling to tell me the truth. And sometimes still I get answers that tell me they’re leaving for a seriously superficial reason.

But no matter what the reason, I always tell people this: Don’t mess around in looking for a new church home. Find a place, get involved, and don’t leave. No place is going to be perfect, and if you go looking for perfection you’re going to end up missing what God has for you in the imperfections of the church family.

Some people, in their presumption of their own holiness, leave churches because the churches aren’t good enough for them anymore — the preaching isn’t good enough, the community isn’t perfect enough, the people aren’t holy enough. But these people, if they continue in this spiritual presumption, will end up destroying every community they participate in. Their expectations of perfection — or even relative goodness — fails to take into account the bent and broken nature of the church of God. Their spiritual pride blinds them to their own imperfections while it exaggerates the imperfections of those in their church community. And this is nothing short of destructive.

The only hope the church has is that these people will bounce to another church before they destroy their current one. In this case, church hopping may be good for the church even though it’s a sign of spiritual ineptitude on the part of the individuals. I have a sickening feeling when I think about how often churches just swap out each other’s members. It disgusts me how often we just accept people into our families without any knowledge of how they may or may not have destroyed another family or hopped around destroying several church families. And this doesn’t even count the fact that many churches celebrate as “the win” of gaining the majority of their new members from transfers from other families.

Because of my general distaste for such things, when someone wants to join my church I like to ask them privately why they’re joining — especially if they’re transferring membership from another church. More specifically, I ask to hear the story of how and why they left their former church. Recently when I asked a couple to tell me their story, I finally got an answer to the question that satisfied me. They told me that they’d attended their former church for years. It was a great church with a great community. It was imperfect in many ways, but the church was kingdom-focused and striving for holiness (already you can see here that their attitudes toward their former church are still godly). But the problem was that their own personal views on the issue of women in ministry started to shift away from the established teachings of their church. Initially this wasn’t a problem because their former church allowed for a multitude of perspectives amongst the parishioners, even though it adhered to a strict male-only pastorate in practice and polity. For two full years this couple stayed with their church, feeling like the voices of women were silenced and disempowered. For two years they tried to have private conversations with the elders of their church to figure out how they, as egalitarians, fit into the life of the church. For two years they tried to stay within a structure they increasingly disagreed with all because they loved the members of their former church like family.

This couple has been attending my church for several months now. They found us within a week or two of being released (by God) from their former church. They didn’t hop around. They didn’t act like little consumers who evaluate churches based on “what’s in it for me.” No, they found us, they immediately started making community, expanding their friendship base and even serving. We are quite different from their former church. They won’t agree with everything we teach or do. But I know that they will make family out of us, and we will accept them into our family.

That’s the true nature of church. Church hopping is like family hopping. It’s just a terrible idea for both you and the family of God.

Your turn: What do you think? Do you think church hopping can be a good thing? Do you do it? Why or why not? 

Tom Fuerst blogs at You can subscribe to his blog via email here.

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