Before I begin, there is an operative assumption in this post. It is that a fitting local church home should offer three non-negotiable elements (sine qua nons). Here are those three sine qua nons: a local church home should offer consistently faithful expository gospel preaching undergirded with sound doctrine, a missional community that seeks to serve its surrounding community and see God save the lost, and a thriving new covenant faith community that provides accountability and edification.
From my perspective, it is impossible for individuals or families to spiritually thrive without having a local church home. Unfortunately, many people get hung up on preferential matters that prevent them from plugging into a church that successfully offers the three sine qua nons mentioned above. There are certainly more preferential matters that prevent people from plugging into a church home, but these four are surefire ingredients to ensure that you will be a perpetual church hopper.
1. Refuse to Give Up Your “Church Shopping List”
Everyone seeking a church has some sort of checklist. If you think a church is going to satisfy your every want, then you will be disappointed and depart before attending your first quarter.
Here’s the deal with church shopping lists. We all build our list on our past or a non-existent ideal picture. However, God takes us to a place that is going to be different from both. Why? He wants us to learn something new about Himself, or He wants us to see something new about our self. Second, your ideal does not exist on this side of heaven. And it could be that your ideal won’t be on the other side of heaven. God wants to show you the varied-colored spectrum of church you will experience in heavenly bliss.
I suggest you throw that checklist away. If your list goes beyond the three sine qua nons, you will never be satisfied.
I’ve only attended four churches in my evangelical Christian experience. Every one of these churches was entirely different in preferential and aesthetic matters. Each church offered unique elements that came as pleasant surprises for my family. Had I a shopping list, I would not have landed at any of these churches. I would not have learned half of what I’ve since learned about God and myself.
2. Refuse to Serve
A lot of people arrive at a new church with the posture that they are taking a break from serving. Some, who are advanced in years, are ready to let younger generations pull their weight. Others are burnt out from a previous experience; they over-committed to their previous church.
I am compassionate towards these two perspectives. Nonetheless, you were made to serve God and express worship through service. In fact, serving God is the primary field of meaning for the word “worship” in the Bible. It is impossible to worship God apart from serving God.
I suggest arriving at a church with a posture of immediate service. This doesn’t mean you’ll serve immediately. It means that you will take immediate initiative to find out how you may serve. Understandably, many churches do not allow non-members to serve. If that’s the case, then you should advance the process towards serving as swiftly as possible.
3. Refuse Community
It’s very difficult to meet people seat-belted to the pew or chair every Sunday. Some people are uber extroverts, but a lot of people do not connect quickly with others. Many people bounce from church to church because they never felt like they “connected” to anyone.
I am convinced that the main reason many are slow to connect to community when coming to a new church is because community is an element of pain for them. They left a church because a past church community hurt them. I sympathize with this reason. Yet, healing of this kind of hurt must come through community.
I encourage those who are working through this dilemma to pray carefully and live courageously. Consult a pastor and find the safest place in the community to go for healing. Let the pastor know about your experience. He will steer you wisely.
A second reason people refuse community is because they refuse accountability. Refusing accountability gives them license to continue in a sinful and broken path. Unfortunately, this means that they are not walking in repentance. They are getting emotional therapy through preaching without the relational accountability to put to death sin.
God will do marvels through the preaching of His Word. This is indeed true. Still, the Church is where confession must take place and issues of conscience must be addressed. This means that people need to be in community with one another.
If you want to continue walking around with unhealed wounds or amble down a path of foolishness, refuse community, and keep hopping from church to church.
4. Refuse to Become a Member
Say the word “membership” to many congregations and you’ll see people run. We live in an age that is turned off to church commitment. I think this is fundamentally because people go to church to meet their need rather than to meet with God. Our culture has so inculcated people with consumerism that they have inadvertently turned the church into another retail attraction.
Church leaders and organizers are not helping this dilemma. With the consolidation of small churches into large churches, everyone is doing what they can to “attract” people to a building. Thus, they’ve lost the element of simply bringing God glory and proclaiming the gospel, giving God the opportunity to attract people to himself.
People often go to a church to follow a preacher, a worship team, a sermon series, or a special event. They safely enter into the cult of a tribe or personality for a time and then disengage and reengage elsewhere. They don’t want to feel attached because they want the freedom to change their commitment. Membership locks people into community, which is not appealing to people these days.
When people refuse membership, then they refuse community and service altogether. They will not long for those components of church because they know they won’t be around long enough to engage in those endeavors. They become enslaved to transience, ineffective in service, and disconnected from community.
Really, the best thing that anyone can do when they find a church that satisfies the three sine qua nons is to move forward with membership. With membership you will lock into the community and launch out into service.
Joey Cochran (Th.M., Dallas Theological Seminary) follows Christ, is the husband of Kendall, and the father of Chloe, Asher, and Adalie. He is the pastor of middle school discipleship and communication at Calvary Memorial Church in Oak Park, Illinois and a PhD student in Church History at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.