Sunday, August 07, 2011

Shopping for a church

In "Church Shopping: Why Do We Do It?", blogger Jamie Lath lists a few reasons:
  • Fewer people are tied to a denomination.
  • More people are looking for a sense of community -- a place to feel at home.
  • There are more church choices today.
  • We fail to first go to God for direction.
A church friend told a business acquaintance and I that he and his wife were changing to a different church. The other guy said, "Wow! What did they do to make you change churches?" He was thunderstruck at the action. That was the way it used to be. Today, if we get upset at someone in a church, don't think a preacher's sermons will be YouTube hits, or decide that we want to be on a better church sports team, zoom -- off we go to a different church to fill our "needs".

We don't want to help establish or even improve a children's ministry at a church, we want it all provided already. We want a concert every Sunday -- with music that fills our exact preferences. We want to be handed a multimedia extravaganza week-after-week. We want to be fed a perfect sermon every Sunday, but we hesitate to spend any time to "feed ourselves" though personal and group Bible study. We don't care as much about a church's theology; it's more important that we"feel good" about being there.

Jamie's last point may be the most important. It seems that many shop for churches because they are not looking upward (going to God about their choice) or looking inward (examining our motives) or looking outward (how their spiritual life might improve by focusing on and helping others) but rather about their personal wants without regard to any of that.

Our modern society has changed quite a lot in the last 50 years. Is it much of a stretch to think that these changes have had an impact on church selection and even church attendance?
  • Families live further apart thanks to ease of transportation. Some rarely see each other. Some rarely talk to each other.
  • Mobility of the workforce means more changes of location due to job changes.
  • Two-parent families are declining.
  • More kids are left on their own at a much younger age due to working parents.
  • We may not even know the people who live next door.
  • Computers, which were supposed to give us more free time, have really just added stress -- we can get more work done in the same period. We work faster and as hard or harder. Computers have added stress to the workplace.
  • We multitask more and think we are being more efficient. Yet studies show that multitasking actually reduces efficiency.
  • The explosion of use of the Internet has resulted in a lot more communication, but in a much less personal fashion and with a drastic increase in trivial communication.
  • We tend to fill our days, adding stress upon stress. Many people feel bad if they are not always busy.
Easier, faster transportation has "freed" us to travel wider in attending a church. We can no longer assume that someone will attend the nearest church of "their" denomination. Parents can no longer assume that their children will be the same denomination or even religion as they are.

Another issue is denominational identity. With the glut of types of churches, it's sometimes hard to see how they differ.

There is also significantly less relating to people face-to-face today (... no, Skype or Facetime don't really count as "in person" communication). An online "friend" may be someone we have never met, don't really know, and have no deep personal relationship with. We don't even know for sure the gender or age of most people we "meet" online (as some teenagers find out the hard way). Perhaps this lack of personal contact is part of what leads some people to prioritize community in selecting a church.

Our hectic lives remind me of a fire ant mound that someone has just stepped on -- swarming all over the place in a seeming random pattern. So we get home and collapse -- grab a meal and become a couch potato to try, often in vain, to relieve the day's stress. Many may lack the energy to delve into Bible study or church work of any sort.

We work hard to feed ourselves food, but we fail to put as much effort into feeding our souls. Jamie Lath suggests that we need to become less hedonistic in selecting and supporting a church. The result could be great soul food. That's food for thought!

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