The Church Member Migration (AKA Church-Hopping) Phenomenon in My Community (Part 2)

This is a continuation of my thoughts on the Church-Hopping Phenomenon in my community, which is the greater Greenville, South Carolina area.

It’s probably obvious that, as a pastor, I really struggle with this, especially when it’s such a common occurrence. And I think it’s unusually common in our area. Maybe I should try to put myself in the place of people who change churches. What would I do if I weren’t a pastor, and if I or some of my family were struggling with the church we attended? It’s hard to say. But I want to learn as a pastor, and I want to encourage and challenge people regarding the issue of church-hopping.

What are people thinking when they decide to change churches?

Some tell you what they’re thinking, but many don’t. Some tell their friends. Some drift away silently. In my experience very, very few will initiate contact with a member of our pastoral staff and explain their reasons for leaving. Some will play “hide and seek” with the pastors – they withdraw from ministry involvement, gradually stop attending various functions and services, then don’t return phone calls or emails when we try to find out what’s going on.

So it’s not always easy to determine what people are thinking. But here’s what I have learned.

There are people who think their current church is not meeting their needs. The youth ministry, singles ministry, family ministry, benevolence care, etc., isn’t fulfilling their expectations. They leave to look for a church that will meet these perceived needs.

Some are looking for a different kind of preaching – more practical, more confrontational, more dynamic, more evangelistic, more relevant, more helpful for new believers, more nourishing to mature believers.

Some have a hard time being “connected.“ They are not making friends, not growing in relationships, can’t find where they fit. So they float elsewhere, looking for that connectivity.

Sometimes people leave because they disagree with changes happening in the church. This is usually not over doctrine. It’s almost always about personal preferences. Often there is not just one issue but an accumulation of issues that leads to someone leaving. When the church, or the leadership of the church, refines their philosophy, develops new elements of church life or ministry, updates the look or makes adjustments to the culture of the church, some people will adopt and others will depart. Or, on the other hand, there are people who don’t think enough changes are being made, or the changes are not happening rapidly enough for them.

A few times families have left over what I’ll call a counseling issue. In these cases, we’ve provided counsel through a difficult situation, often involving a problem between family members. The family has strong negative opinions about the counsel we’ve provided, and leaves the church over it.

Many instances of church-hopping happen because of conflict. One member has an interpersonal conflict with another member. There is disagreement, hurt, cold-shoulder treatment, and hard feelings. There may be a perceived offense and no effort to talk with the offender about the issue in order to resolve it – the solution is to leave. Or a person has a conflict with ministry workers, over how their child was treated by a teacher or nursery worker, for example. There are people who have a very shallow commitment level to the church, and one offense, disagreement, or instance of perceived neglect is enough reason for them to leave and look elsewhere.

Interpersonal conflicts are frequently business-related. Christians like to do business with other Christians. It feels safe and it’s nice to support other believers. But if there’s a disagreement, it can get extremely messy. Construction projects and investment schemes turn into major sources of conflict between church members. I have seen this happen in the Greenville area more than anywhere else I have lived and ministered. When this kind of conflict happens, it’s rare that both parties will be satisfied with the outcome. If both parties are members of the same church, one often leaves.

And finally, some are recruited, or at least invited, by their friends who have migrated to another church.

Here are some of the concerns our pastors have with the church-hopping phenomenon:
I’ll state them in the form of questions to be considered. I hope they will challenge people who might be part of this phenomenon to evaluate what they’re really doing.

  • Are you avoiding needed personal growth in your own life by leaving your church and going someplace that you think will better fit your preferences and perceived needs?
  • Are you more committed to your own preferences on non-essential issues than you are to the body of Christ, the absolutes of Scripture, and your relationships with the members and leadership of your church family?
  • Is it right for you to run from conflict and disagreement with others (whether they are other church members or leaders) rather than do the hard but God-honoring work of walking through problems with them, having some uncomfortable conversations that result in growth for yourself and others?
  • Have you considered that other members or leaders in your current church may need to hear your input so they can process your concerns and possibly make changes in their own lives or in the life of the church?
  • Should you learn to live with people who are different, who apply truth to life in ways that don’t align with your own lifestyle applications, but who love and serve Jesus Christ with dedication and passion?
  • Have you considered how your decision to change churches will impact others? Will your leaving potentially influence others to respond to problems by leaving also? Will your friends make your problems their problems and follow your example?
  • If you have a family, what will your actions teach your children about how to respond to conflict, disagreement, or differences among Christians?
  • Do you realize that you may find a church that seems to fit your list of criteria for a desirable place to attend, but that will one day disappoint you, just like we have? What will you do then?
  • What is your decision really about? God? Others? Or you?

In the next article I’ll make some constructive suggestions for addressing the issue of the church-hopping phenomenon in our community.


The Church Member Migration (AKA Church-Hopping) Phenomenon in My Community (Part 1)

I realize this is practice is not unique to my community. But I think it happens in the Greenville, South Carolina area at an unusual level. Too much, in fact.

According to City-Data, there are 473 Evangelical Protestant churches in Greenville County. This does not include mainline denominational churches. Recently a visitor to our church told me she was looking for a church and had attended over 50 so far! (She was not church-hopping, she was church-shopping. There’s a difference.) There are many, many church options with varying degrees and shades of distinction. If a church member becomes disenchanted with his current church, he can most likely find another one that promises to match his preferences in a particular element of church life.

As I said, I know this isn’t the only locale where people frequently change churches. In searching for relevant information, I found an article on Church Hopping in Kenya! So the phenomenon is universal. But during the nearly 12 years I have pastored in the Greenville area, I have observed this taking place more than anywhere else I have ministered.

There are legitimate reasons for people to change churches within their current community. But there are also reasons that are not so good, and there are ways of doing it that are potentially harmful to the individual and the churches involved. I want to understand this phenomenon better. I want to make some observations about it. I want to state concerns. And I want to suggest, for myself and others, some positive steps to consider.

I’m probably opening myself up to hearing some difficult things. I probably need to hear them. I’ll try to have thick skin. One of the points I will make later is that as pastors we should be providing venues and building relationships with our people so that when they have concerns they feel comfortable expressing them rather than just disappearing. So I’m ready to listen as well as talk.

Maybe some local pastors will find this and want to make some observations and suggestions. Please do.

This post is just to get started. We’ll explore the thinking behind changing churches, some pastoral concerns, and constructive considerations in future posts.


Sunday evening services are dying.

I’m speaking of a national trend. Many churches that used to have a Sunday evening service don’t anymore. There is much theorizing about reasons for that. Thom Ranier wrote about it last year. His article, along with the comments, is very helpful in understanding this trend.

Our pastors recently spent time analyzing, discussing, praying about, and planning for our Sunday evening gatherings at Calvary. We believe there is great value in what is provided during our second Lord’s Day gathering. This service is a vital part of our church’s life. We are refining the service’s focus and content and encouraging our people to make the effort to avail themselves and their families of what we prepare and offer. We want to give our people good reasons to make the second trip.

One significant change we’re making is the start time. Previously the evening service has started at 6:00 pm. Our new start time, beginning this Sunday, is 5:00. We plan to finish by 6:00. This enables families with children to get home, have some family time, and get the kids in bed at a decent hour. It also allows people to have unrushed fellowship during the evening. There’s time to get together at someone’s home or go out for a snack. This is a great opportunity to grow closer to one another.

Another adjustment we’re making is the content focus of the service. Our second Sunday service is not a repeat of the first, and it is not just another of the same kind. We will still give praise to our Savior in song, but our singing time is a little less formal, with more of a family sing-a-long feel. We will often have times of testimony, either from people who are asked or open sharing from our church family. The content of the preaching and teaching will be focused on passages and topics that relate to daily life and our walk with God in practical ways.

We want everything we do to have purpose and be shaped by that purpose. Some people may ask, “Why would I add another event to my day? Why should I make another trip? Why go to church twice on a Sunday?” Here are my answers to those questions.

  • God’s Word is infinitely rich with truth and wisdom, and we can always learn more. The second time we gather to learn from the Word is an opportunity for us to grasp more of these wonderful truths and apply them to our lives.
  • Jesus is worthy of praise because He is Lord and because He loved us and gave Himself for us. During our second Sunday service, we praise Him with our songs. We also give thanks to Him with our testimonies. These personal stories of God’s blessing and working are encouraging to all.
  • In the evening service you learn what the Scriptures have to say about topics that relate to your daily life, your family, and your walk with God. It is the goal of the pastors to make the Sunday evening messages practical. We will explain the Word and talk about how to live by it in specific areas of our lives. The upcoming topic relates to how we communicate with one another – we all need help with this!
  • If you stay for a few minutes after, you can converse with others and get to know members of the Calvary family. You might even decide to go out for a bite to eat together. People are in a little more of a hurry to leave after Sunday morning. In the evening, there is more time to just sit and talk, to meet that new person or hang out with your friends.
  • If you have children, they will be learning and growing in groups designed for them while you do the same. Truth Trackers for kids and Youth Group for teens is going on at the same time. Don’t just drop them off and keep going. There’s something for you, too!

We always find time to do what we value. I look forward to spending time on Sunday afternoons with the Calvary family.

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Posted by on August 28, 2015 in Church Life, Pastoral Ministry


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