The Painful Reality of Church Shoppers

The pastor announced to his peers, “It’s National Church Shopping Month!”

I love the community at our coaching and consulting site on Church Answers. Over 1,600 church leaders interact in significant numbers every hour of the waking day. They ask questions. They seek examples and stories of God’s work in churches. And, on occasion, they vent. I love the fact they feel the freedom to express themselves in a safe place.

Recently, one pastor lamented how many members start shopping for other churches in the summer months. His peers immediately joined the conversation with a number of similar concerns and observations.

For those in church leadership, this pattern of members deciding to leave is far too common and almost always painful. Here are a few observations from both the Church Answers’ community and me.

  1. You are not alone. In fact, I’ve never known a church leader who has been in a church three years or more and not faced this reality.
  2. It is not always bad. Sometimes members are simply not aligned with the ministry of the church they are leaving. It could be a doctrinal issue. It could be a philosophical issue. It is not always bad to release members to a church that better fits their convictions.
  3. It is an opportunity to learn and to be pastoral. I rarely hear from a pastor or other church leader who really enjoys interviewing or talking to departing members. But those who do share that the experience is typically one where they learn something they can do to improve themselves or to lead their church to improve.
  4. Some church shoppers have a me-centric view of church. They see church as a place to get perks and benefits. They have no concept of the giving and sacrificial nature of church membership noted in 1 Corinthians 12. They have a consumer mentality and, unless and until they change, they will not be satisfied.
  5. Some church shoppers have been hurt and/or been in conflict in the church. First, awareness of this pain provides church leadership an opportunity to be pastoral. Second, it is not always bad for these members to get a fresh start elsewhere. Sadly, it is common to see at least one party leave a church after a divorce.
  6. The issue for some church shoppers is to find a place where their children will want to go. This issue had all types of implications. I may pursue it in detail in a later post.
  7. You will never please everyone. The late Steve Jobs is probably not the best source to quote on a blog about church life, but I still love his words, “If you want to make everybody happy, don’t be a leader, sell ice cream.”
  8. Take the pain of church shoppers to review your expectations of membership. How do you assimilate new members in the church? Do you clearly communicate what is expected of them? Why do exiting members have a consumer mentality?
  9. Accept that many church shoppers will migrate in pack to the latest “hot church.” Many church shoppers will go to the church that has the most buzz at the moment. The buzz never lasts, and the members move in pack again to the next hot church.
  10. Pray. In importance, put this issue at the top. Seek God’s wisdom and strength to deal with these painful issues. Seek Him to understand how to deal with departing members. Don’t worry about pleasing everyone as long as you are striving to please Him.

Is it National Church Shopping Month in your church? Let me hear from you about this reality all church leaders face.

Posted on July 1, 2019

With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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  • Joe Smith says on

    Do you have any recommendations for spouses that have a “consumer mentality” spouse? I was involved with the same church for over 10 years but when I got married we have now gone to 4 different churches. Someone does one little thing to piss my wife (pastor, church member, etc…) and then here we go again visiting churches. It just makes me want to give up and protect any more churches from my wife’s toxicity.

  • Curt Gardner says on

    In your book Becoming a Welcoming Church you list the top ten reasons visitors do not come back or a second visit and the top ten things that encouraged them to come back for a second visit. Preaching is not included in either list. I have a member who says you purposely excluded all the comments on preaching because it did not fit the purpose of your book. I believe you did not include preaching because it did not come up enough with visitors to make either list. Could you clarify this?

  • What do you do when your church leaves you? After attending an Episcopal church and participating as a children’s Sunday school teacher, my wife sang in the choir and all was well until it suddenly went downhill after changing their doctrine on marriage. Members left, there were few children in Sunday school, the choir was disbanded and the worship services were lame. My wife and daughter and I attended more than a dozen different churches evaluating each one on a spreadsheet our middle school daughter put together. We settled upon a UMC church and have been very happy there for a dozen years but it looks like that church might be on the cusp of a big change. Deja vu. Might have to dust off the old spreadsheet.

  • Where I live there are often 3-4 churches of the same denomination within a 10 mile radius. Every public school campus has a new church plant. The impression we give to the world is that pastors run off to do their own thing as soon as they don’t get their way. Get your kids involved where they really like the youth pastor, and he’ll be gone to plant his own church after two years. Lay people watch this stuff happen.

  • We’re struggling in our church because we’re burned out. Our church has lost two thirds of the congregation in maybe the last four years and yet we’re not willing to reduce programs. I’m the nursery manager and I’m simply tired. My kids are unhappy. I may go a month or more without attending service. I have great volunteers (I’m also a volunteer) but we’re an aging church and don’t have enough able-bodied people. Because our church won’t give up anything, our members are stretched too thin keeping the inreach programs going to look at outreach. We are dying and yet have a nominating committee trying to staff the flower committee. Seriously.

    I wonder if you lose some members in the summer because the church goes on vacation during the summer and they can finally get a break from their multiple church jobs to attend another church and actually be in the service and hear the sermon.

  • Chris C. says on

    So if I’m following this conversation correctly, there are some ‘rules’ that we have to follow to be ‘good’ christians. Funny thing is, I’ve missed the scriptures that support these rules.

    Yes, yes yes! Gathering together is the rule. (but it doesn’t count if you’re not doing it in one of our clubs). Loving one another only can be done with the same group and not with any other groups (at least not at the same time, if ever, well maybe annual club conference is ok, associated club conference that is). Private club with dues based on income seemingly too (well, that’s not been referenced here specifically this time but…) Once one has attended some certain number of times they would be ‘bad’ if they wanted to associate with another group across town (too).

    Once you attend regularly, there’s rules beyond dues, such as; You got to do work around here. Well, at least the only ‘work’ that really counts is if it directly benefits the club. Work for the club owner elsewhere is, well, ‘nice’ but doesn’t really count as much as work at the club site.

    These private clubs seem to be competing for ‘followers’ for bragging rights and to increase overall dues receipts, cuz, you know bigger and more means the club president gets the ‘good feels’. (I mean, like if he’s a ‘good’ club president, cuz being a good talker about the owner is apparently the primary definition of ‘good’).

    It would be ‘bad’ if the club owner asked individuals to actually follow his directions and go where he asked, cuz the club president would feel bad. Seems like the club presidents might be forgetting who is the owner and that they are really answerable for making members committed to the owner instead of club members committed to their club first. According to my understanding, there is an equating that club members who are most loyal to their own club instead of the owner of all the clubs make the best ‘disciples’ and by definition some follow-on loyalty to the owner gets imputed. I think that equation suffers a little in the bigger picture.

    Sorry guys, I know this post may seem a bit unsympathetic and over generalizing, but there is a truth that maybe could sting a little… Sometimes it really helps to step back and take another look at what is driving the conversation. Bubbles tend to isolate and often need to be poked a bit to enable new perspectives when warranted. If you’re more focused on the club owner rather than your own local chapter, you won’t be much bothered by this comment–carry on.

    • Christopher says on

      So, what I gather from your post, which was a little hard to follow, you like to travel around and take advantage of what all these different churches have to offer while leaving the commitment and work that makes these programs possible to everyone else. I guess us poor dumb shlubs who think it’s important to commit and serve just don’t get it cuz we ain’t woke as you.. The fact is, if everyone took your approach there would be no local churches to visit.

      I also like the not so subtle implication that anyone who disagrees with you is not a real Christian. Well, whatever-carry on.

    • You’re right: the truth does sting, so let me tell you a stinging truth. You sound like one of those self-centered ingrates who’s more interested in what the church has to offer you than in what you have to offer a church. In fairness, I think you’re doing churches a favor by not joining them. You sound just like the kind of pompous, know-it-all windbag most churches can do without.

  • Ronald Welch says on

    Until recently I have never left my home church except when my job required I move out of state. I just moved after 32 years and it was not an easy decision. I am a deacon, I do lay speaking, jail ministry, and have served in many different offices within the body including teaching for 50 years. Pastor and I spent a lot of time together in his 20 years there. I wont go into it here, but there were a number of reasons why I left, and I am very happy in my new church. I will say the Lord will lead when the time comes to move. PRAY and go with the vision He has for you, no matter how long your may have been in one location.

  • Gunnar says on

    I am a church shopper, am I? I moved 7+ times with my wife, got to know and cherish different traditions and flavors of church. And I am volunteering at least 2 of 4 Sundays a month. My daughter loves our church, it’s where she meets her best friends. No chance to miss a Sunday service during school.
    So summer is best and obvious to go to other churches, meet old and new friends, get inspired how to love and serve better.
    I will never pledge guilty for visiting other churches – even for the probability of willing to permanently swap.
    Do you pastors pray for other churches or invite to theirs events? Rarely! In this world you have fear…

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