Hello Church Shopper …

Yes – that’s you. A ‘bunny believer’ – hopping from church to church each weekend. Not too early of course – you like to sleep in and arrive just in time for the church service (or a little later). You aren’t involved in a local church but instead ‘window shop’ the churches in your area. That’s pretty much what you’re doing right? Ok, so maybe you will make the odd purchase (donation to the offering) for the product (music, preaching). You’ll certainly be discussing what people were wearing and dissecting the program and speaker over lunch.  

Church for you is like sitting in front of the TV with a remote control. When you’re tired of one station – you flick to another. How many churches have you been to in the last month? Well you can’t go too often to the same one – they might ask you to do something. To commit. Ooh, there’s a scary word. But what message does your lack of commitment give to your work colleagues, neighbours or classmates?

You might think I’m being a little harsh on you. Maybe, but I need you to know that I’m also one of you – well I have been since the beginning of this year. I’ve almost managed to check out a different church each weekend without having to visit the same one twice!

You know what? We’ve all been sold a lie and swallowed it whole. Consumerism makes us miserable, and we’ve brought it into the realm of our church experience.  We hope for church therapy, attending a program just to see who else has come or what’s new up front. Yet we only stay until it becomes too uncomfortable – till we have to make investments of some sort. We’ve become afraid of intimate relationships, sour looks, stern faces, criticism, involvement and the offering plate. We’ve become really good at picking church to pieces, and then doing nothing about it. We’ve become part of the problem, not the solution.

Church shopping leaves you feeling empty. Church was never meant to be a place to just turn up to. We’re actually called to be the church. The church is God’s family – and without it we’re spiritual orphans. The local church needs you – your talents, gifts, insights and experiences. And you need your church family so you can learn to love, forgive, grow and be held accountable to your walk with Jesus. God wants you to love real people, not ideal people. You can spend a lifetime searching for the perfect church, but you will never find it (I’m sure you’ve heard that before).

I’m sorry if you’ve been hurt in the past – or you’ve burned out. That happens. People are human. People are hypocrites. So are you and I. Lauren Hill said it is fantasy that we want, but reality that we need. You and I are called to love people just as God does. Church’s can be messy, and there will always be setbacks – but when you persevere God makes you a powerful change agent in this world.

OK, so where to from here? Why not choose one church and for the next 6 months make an attempt to get to know the people, turn up on time, get involved in ministry and serve the surrounding community? Alternatively, God may be asking you to join a team of mission-minded people and shape a new group that reaches out to those who’ve disconnected from Jesus and the life He offers. Talk to God about which option He’s calling you to.

Being an active part of a church family that is active in meeting the needs of this world will make you come alive, and to come alive is both what you and this world desperately needs.

So make our time on this earth count for something and get to it!

— Mark Baines

16 Comments Hello Church Shopper …

  1. Anthony MacPherson

    Bainesy, what you say is very, very relevant! The Christian world in the west is profoundly weak for this very reason. Consumer Christians are no threat to the forces that oppose the gospel, because they are already dominated by those forces. This is a challenge to all of us who live in this consumeristic society.

  2. Kent Kingston

    So true…

    Now that I’m living in an Adventist mecca (Cooranbong, Australia), with no less than three Adventist churches within easy walking distance of my home, and another five within a 10 minute drive, I’ve noticed a whole lot of “pew-surfing” going on… or “smorgasbord Christianity”, if you like.

    Whatever the metaphor, it all amounts to the same thing: a focus on “my needs” as opposed to developing a commitment to a church family.

    Basically, Christians are supposed to be the salt of the earth, like Jesus said. Salt gives flavour, yes; but have you ever eaten a dish in which lumps of salt have not been mixed through properly? Nasty.

    That’s what tends to happen when a large number of churches are established in an area of high concentration of Adventists – usually this is in response to employment opportunities at a large Adventist institution(s) in the area.

    Basically, when you have too much choice, you get picky. In my area, there is a lot of church-shopping, and also a fair degree of competitiveness amongst the congregations – jealousy that a certain church with a good children’s ministry program is “stealing our families”, or that the youth are leaving their parents’ church for the more hip’n’happening show down the road. Also a lot of pigeon-holeing about which church is conservative, contemporary, etc.

    It’s not healthy, but I’m not sure what the answer is. Decentralise the institutions? Force everyone into a mega-church?

    Maybe if we started looking at the needs of unreached people who live side by side with us – even in Adventist ghettos – rather than looking sideways at the shortcomings of the other church down the road…

  3. Kent Kingston

    Sorry, one more thing.

    Bainesy, you should try to get this article republished in some more widely read publications – R&H, Record?

  4. Bainesy

    Hey thanks for your responses Ants n Kent-

    I like your comment about the lumps of salt Kent – and I guess we’ve ended up like the Dead Sea – all lumpy with no outlet (outward focus).

    I just got word the article will be in the Record on June 28.

  5. Grace

    Mr Baines! You’ve done it again….. Nice work. Love the article. Church hopping unfortunately is like trying to find Love, a must until you actually find it. Or are our ideals to unrealistic of what we want in a church. Are we trying so hard to find the checklist of what a church should look like, feel like, be like that we’re missing God talking to us in the middle of the service. That’s my thoughts. And I’m an expert on both of the above! I think it’s good to look but at the end of the day, our hearts tell us what we need. More of God and more of people God like people. Hard part is finding people that are like you, as we’re all over the place trying to find the right church we miss each other! Touche!

  6. Hensley Gungadoo

    Thanks for such a good article Bainsy. I really appreciate your reading of this common phenomenon in our society today. I also appreciated how you linked consumerism and our way of doing church.

    Here are some thoughts,
    a. Could it also be that church hopping or shopping is because people are not comfortable with institutions and our churchs are institutionalised.
    b. We all need help to deal with the hurt that comes from “church communities”

    Please write some more.

  7. Julie Munro

    Dear Bainesy,

    Thank you for your article. Here are some of my thoughts:

    I wonder if some of the reason people are church shopping has to do with the reception they receive when they go. As a new christian I can tell you that it can be daunting to go to a new church. I have been blessed that the church I attend has been extremely welcoming. However, I imagine this is not everybody’s experience.

    Perhaps regular church members need to mindful of and attentive to new people. Often people would like to get involved, but don’t know how. Invitations and opportunities to participate may need to be extended.

    While I agree that individuals need to take responsibility for their actions. I also believe that the church community has a responsibility to make the environment welcoming.

    Like any relationship, it takes effort and committment from both parties for it to be successful.

    Thanks for the food for thought!


  8. Ryan Jaxon

    Well Mark,

    Good article. Good points and relevant content…

    It seems most of your readers and feedback has come from those employed by the church. I wonder how it would be received by non-employees. (not that negative reception is a bad thing)

    So the question I have is, if we have have done the 6 months at a church, met ppl, been involved, invested in various ways and are now feeling tired, what do we do now?

  9. Mark Baines

    Thanks to you who’ve commented recently (have been on the road so my apologies for this tardy response) –

    Grace – I concur with your thoughts. I’m no expert on love but have grasped that in spite of the necessary shopping, it is only realised when one spends quality and quantity time with a person. The same is true for a church family. Trials come but the right perspective and approach makes things more meaningful.

    Hensley – Institutionalism is another dirty word for many right now. Institutions are known to tread on some people and ignore others. Yet in spite of this, to not be a part of a church community because they may be represented by an institution is a lame-old excuse. Ultimately Jesus is the head of the church (us) so He is my institution.

    Now, dealing with the hurt that comes from church communities – this is intriguing. The hospital (church) is sometimes more akin to an abattoir. I only know of one-on-one counseling that sometimes happens to those who’ve been hurt. Oh, and books such as “When Bad Christians Happen to Good People” by Dave Burchett! I find so many are hurt – then leave. Many really have no resiliency in this regard. The majority of my hurtful experiences in life have come via people in the church – and I hurt people too! Has anyone got any ideas how we can offer love, acceptance and healing to the injured?

    Julie – it should be a priority of every church community to be welcoming – you’re right. Many church shoppers gauge whether they’ll return to a church on this one factor (and I’m talking more than the door greeting – this is expected). The challenge is to be welcoming but not over-the-top. I’ve met a number of people who are shy and don’t want to have to answer questions or pray in a group. That word – balance – comes to mind.

    Ryan – I’m only aware of 2 out of the 5 responders as being church employed. Feel free to pass it onto anyone you like – and see what their reaction is and ask what they might do differently as a result.

    If you’re feeling tired after your 6 month investment (trial) then it’s probably a good and normal thing. Our bodies need rest after working! Hopefully you’ve experienced the blessings of being part of an active community and of sharing an active faith. If you’re burnt-out then you may have been taking on too much yourself, or you may need to readjust and work according to your S.H.A.P.E (the way God has gifted/wired you).

    So into which community are you thinking of ‘trialling’ Ryan?

  10. peter

    What is church? Would it make any difference if church was more like in New Testament times – always around a meal, a conversation about everyday living as followers of our Lord, in community life, like extended families (oikos), in non-religious places, on the pathway of life (rather than the extra, religious part of life), where every person is involved and shaping the witness and service of the ‘gathering’ (the word for church)? I was at a church last evening that is planting a new church like this each year – with 8 churches so far. None are large – but everyone is involved and friends are coming to know Jesus. It could be a movement. Just an idea!

  11. Lynston Tivuru

    Great stuff!! i like the way you said it….there’s more to it than what it is…the choice of words, etc. very convincing I am sure people with great heart wouldn’t really want to miss the opportunity of having such a ministry “a gospel of second chance” being a churchgoer again…filled with and by the love of God.

    Thanks for your wonderful ministry. keep it up iam blessed so do others that have come your page.

  12. Shannon Richards-Green

    Involvement is the key… and a recognition that, just as you mentioned, church is a messy organisation, precisely because it is made up of human beings with all their failures and shortcomings as well as strengths. The key is to be a part of the solution, take the focus off self and give to others.

  13. Faith Crumbly

    Insightful but loving.
    Some people must be encouraged to look at themselves in a light that is different from that of those who think and hop as they do.

  14. Faith Crumbly

    I’d like to have Mike Baines write an article or two for my magazine, LEAD. Can you have him contact me at the e-mail provided agove? LEAD is also a good read, especially the Conversations and A.M. Buzz sections that address young adult issues. See what we have on line http://www.leadmagazine.org. Request a comp copy from Ms. Chambers at [email protected]

  15. Preetam Beeharry

    Good stuff friend Baines- I think that people leave their churches and visit others because pastors and elders are not experiencing Jesus – Christ in their present life – so they are empty drum and church members are fed-up with them and thus looking for truth in myths -Read the book of Timothy.


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