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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  • I am finding that we are rebuilding our youth program but starting with our new preschool. And I am planning on it taking time. It seems when there were youth (they are now in their late twenties, some married) there was a lag in programing for the next group when the pastor suddenly died. Two pastors later, I am working with those who want to be there, trying to encourage those who aren’t all the while the Lord is bringing new people to support the school. I do have an ordained pastor and his family (who I would have thought would be understanding) who has decided to go elsewhere for a couple of reasons, namely comfortability with other church’s liturgy and children’s program even though they do not participate outside of worship. Good stuff to chew on!

  • Ken MacAlister says on

    While I agree with a lot of what you have to say in this column there’s also something else going on, especially in mainline Protestant churches driving people out too. Rejection of God’s Word in attempts to appease & win over the radical homosexual & transgender movements, especially in the UMC. The church wants them to join, but they will not share The Gospel with them & instead make excuses for their lifestyle choices & actually are encouraging them to continue in lifestyles God has already declared an abomination. I left the UMC over this issue & will not attend a church where The Gospel is not taught, but sin is encouraged. So there are a lot of people trying different churches trying to find a church home that puts God’s Word & The Gospel first & does not condone sin. Sometimes it’s hard to find one & those searching should not be considered church shoppers.

  • I’m sure many of you are familiar with “The Babylon Bee”, which is a satirical site. This article sums up the problem quite nicely.

    Many churches today are filled with people who know what needs to be done, but few of them actually want to DO it. Thus, they look for bigger churches where someone else will do it for them.

  • Guy in the Pew says on

    I really don’t want to be a church shopper but we recently moved to a new town and tried a nearby church. The kids immediately made friends and like it and the people in general seem to be very nice. However, the church is without a pastor and the Bible teaching in both small groups and the sermon is very lacking. I’m not sure what to do except “shop around.” It’s very frustrating.

    On a related side note, speaking to SBC churches, can we please get rid of quarterlies and printed curriculum? There’s nothing worse than going to a small group and listening to the teacher read out of a quarterly or trying to study a lesson that crams 14 chapters into three “points.”

    • That girl in the pew says on

      I’m happy to see a comment from someone else in the pew.

      I pray about my church often because I don’t connect there. My kid was kicked out of youth group for not wanting to play a game of charades, so my kid doesn’t connect there either. Other family members do connect there so we go. I feel like church overall is designed more for the unbeliever than the believer.

      I am the type of person this article is geared to, the church shopper, always looking.

      My church, Bible study happens in small groups half the year. The other half of the year people are too busy so no Sunday school. No Sunday night services. No Wednesday night services either. I guess only my grandparents went on those days. Super Bowl Sunday, no study that day, just football and food if we get together at all. Serving others consists of hosting parties and festivals for the community. Maybe they’ll see we have fun at our parties and want to come to church?

      I tried hopping over to another church for a Christmas service a few years ago. There was no sermon. It was a play with flirting elves and a mention of Jesus being the reason for the season. The pastor came out in a hover board and stocking cap with pajamas as part of the play.

      I think I am a serial church shopper, never happy at church, always looking.

  • Vickie Howell says on

    I am really interested in you discussing # 6 more. We had a family go to another church because Dad felt they needed a more active, bigger youth group. We saw a family that used to come to Sunday School and worship, fragment as the kids walked home after Sunday School because they didn’t like the preacher and the parents didn’t like SS so they just came to worship.
    Is the family worshiping together also important?

  • See “Church Hunters” on U tube. Its a spoof on church shoppers that uses the show “house hunters” from HGTV.

  • Edward says on

    Dear Thom,

    You are correct on many things in this article. Many of our folks leave due to military and corporate transfers. Most of the time it is sad to see them off. Fortunately, we also get some transfers in as well to balance things out.

    The hardest part is to keep the established flock from acting like church owners and to keep their welcome mat out.

  • It is an opportunity to learn and to be pastoral. If there is an exit interview, you may hear things that you did not want to but need to. You might also find out just what is going on within the congregation of which you were unaware. Now, you as a church leader are going to have to decide if you want to do anything about the supposed problem.

    As to a place where the children would want to go, that is important to consider. Parents will put up with a lot and donate if the kids are happy there. When I was a kid, church swapping, especially in a small town where it would have meant denomination swapping, was very rare and kids were told to just endure things. Today and where there are more churches, it is far more common.

  • Andrew says on

    I truly appreciate this piece. We have such members who are in today and out tomorrow. They have not really left the church but they’ll go for prayers in some prayer houses, then come back. as you mentioned in No 3 above, I’ll try to use the opportunity to learn and be pastoral.

  • Had one church shopper who left our church because she thought we should have communion every week. I said that’s not going to happen…yada yada…she’s been at the church she moved to going on four years. Worked out well for her and us.

    Also had another church shopping couple who left because I told him not to yell at his grandfather-in-law during our Bible Study. They are now our neighbors. There’s an interesting blog post: How does church shopping effect the rural church/pastor?

    • I am a small town pastor in a rural area. Because small communities are a. highly interrelated (i.e. High on Relationship) and b. are closed loops and c. are HIGHLY conflict avoidant when people leave the issues seldom get address because people simply will not talk to you\deacon. You only find out there is a problem when things are close to exploding. The church then becomes a revolving door. I resonate with everyone of these points. Because many times the pastor doesnt have the social capital (because they are not from here, young, or clashing personality) to actually deal with the issue. Eg. I have had members born in my town (pop. 4000) LITERALLY say say, “you may have come here. You may be serving the church, but because you are not from here, and not a social player in the community you will never be accepted. Even if you live here 30 years.” This highly affects the way the churches operate. In our town we have 3 different churches that if you walked into them they are EXACTLY the same (decor, layout, worship style, polity) because people never dealt with the issues while so many people go unreached for Christ in the community.

    • What’s interesting with rural churches, at least in southern Virginia, there isn’t a lot of church hopping/shopping. Because this community is generational folks will attend one church across generations. A lot of times, there’s only one church of a particular denomination or convention in an area. Since there are few people coming to the community there isn’t a huge influx of people shopping for churches. Typically, rural churches aren’t filled with hoppers/shoppers – if people are disaffected with church they just don’t go.

      However, your mileage may vary.

  • #9 is happening at our church right now. It’s hitting us as well as many of the surrounding churches in our city.

  • I definitely would like to your thoughts on #6 in a later post. Thanks the blog post!

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