Church shopping

Building on yesterday's post about whether we should market the church or not (if you didn't read it, then read it now!), another question that the believer must answer is what church he/she should become a part of.  There are lots and lots of churches in all shapes, colors, and styles to choose from and most of us have an opinion about what we like and don't like in a church.  Just how in the world are we choose where to go with so many options out there?

Unless you've been in a coma, you've noticed that the look and sound of the church has changed dramatically over the past few decades.  The Leave it to Beaver idea of families showing up together in the family car all decked out in their Sunday finest as the church bell tolls an ancient hymn is for all intents and purposes a thing of the past.  More and more we are seeing hip new churches springing up everywhere from store fronts to warehouses to bars, each one complete with a kickin' band that rocks out worship tunes right before some "this-guy-looks-too-young-to-preach" pastor in jeans and an untucked shirt stands up to preach a "relevant" sermon from his slimline ESV/NLT/NIV Bible. 

Of course, that's not the only option out there.  Many churches have "upgraded" from a traditional style of worship to a more "blended" approach, carefully crafting a mix of hymns and contemporary praise music in an effort to appeal to everyone's taste.  Space has been made on the stage for a praise team that bridges any gaps between the congregation and the still functioning but less-utilized choir.  The neck tie has become optional for the pastor, but the sport coat or sweater vest reamins standard issue.  The pastor still delivers his eloquent 3-point sermon, but the backdrop surrounding it all has changed.

With this seismic shift taking place all around us, larger churches have chosen not to choose one option but rather offer them all to their congregants.  Depending upon what hour you want to arrive, you will have the choice of attending the traditional hymn-driven worship service, the contemporary service (which usually gets relegated to the gym or fellowship hall), or a blended service.  With all of these options on the menu, it can be hard for the church consumer to make the best choice.  Paper or plastic is suddenly an easy choice.

From my experiences as a staff member and as an observer of cultural and church trends, I have seen the rationale that many undertake when choosing which church they desire to be a part of.  See if any of these sound familiar:
  • Worship style is important to me.  Music speaks to my soul.
  • I need to be somewhere where I feel like I'm being fed.
  • It's so important to go where there is something for my children.
  • The preaching is so good, that's why I go there.
  • I need to feel as if I'm in an authentic community of believers.
  • They care so much about missions and I have so many mission trips to choose from.
I could go on and on but I won't.  And before you think that I'm casting too many stones, I am totally guilty of basing my church opinions on at least a couple of those.  Isn't it okay to base your church attendance on any of those points?  After all, no one wants to attend a church that they feel is a mismatch for them.

The problem with basing church attendance and membership solely on the above points is that each one is directed entirely on self.  Church becomes a matter of what I can get out of it, not of what I am willing to give back to God.  It's not wrong to want my children to be in a healthy church environment or to have mission opportunities open to me, but they can also become points of convenience that draw us to church more than a sincere desire to glorify God.

There is no such thing as a perfect church, but there are places of worship and service where God can most certainly use each one of us.  The church does not exist for us.  We exist for the church.  It belongs to Jesus and He invites us to be a part of His body.  If your reason for attending the particular church that you do has more to do with what you are getting out of the experience than what you are investing for the kingdom, then your motives need a spiritual checkup. 

One last thing.  If you are frustrated with where you are and are wanting to bail out in order to begin attending another church, stop for a few minutes before you make that decision.  If you are unhappy with where you are, then chances are you will be unhappy with the next place that you go.  Before you make that decision, ask God how He can use you where you already are to change the culture and DNA of your church.  Sure it will require hard work and could bring with it even more frustration, but if Jesus cares deeply enough about His church to make it His earthly representative until He returns, shouldn't we be willing to roll up our sleeves and work to revitalize the body Christ as well?

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