I guess I’m a “church hopper.” I never meant to be. I never set out for this like some sort of goal.
In fact, I consider myself a “church stayer”, even though the past several years of my life don’t reflect that. Growing up I attended, basically, the same church. And when I was an adult able to decide where to attend, I stayed at that same church until I finished college. I then moved to Dallas, TX for seminary and quickly found a church I loved and stayed there for six years until I moved back to Portland. That’s when I became a church hopper.
Read all the articles in the “Leaving A Church While Loving The Church” series.
Church Hopping: Churches 1, 2 and 3
When I moved back I was 29, nearly 30, and single. I fairly quickly found a church, well, more accurately, a group in a church that I really enjoyed. Especially great was the small group/bible study I attended. It’s still one of my best church experiences. But, most of us were single and within a few years, many married, moved or had a variety of other life changes and the group disbanded.
During this time I met the man who is now my husband. He’d started attending this church before I had, and by the time we started dating, had transitioned to another church. So, when we got married we had to choose where to attend, and we chose to attend the “other” church.
The transition to this new church was hard for me. I had to adjust to being “Aaron’s wife” and to attending a church that someone else essentially chose for me, the first time I’d done that since I was a child.
I had always attended megachurches, some more mega than others, but this church was very small. It is also a Vineyard church, a bit out of my doctrinal wheelhouse and I’m still not sure if I agree with some of their doctrine. On the other hand, I’m also not sure I disagree. I attended this church for just over a year and never really felt connected with anyone. Everyone was nice, but I really didn’t have any friends.
My husband and I were planning on purchasing a house in what’s basically a suburb of the suburbs and decided, because of this combined with some of my other hesitations (as mentioned above) and some of his own, that we would transition out of this church to another one closer to our new home.
Since I’d already switched churches a few times, I really wanted this next church to be our “church home.” After a couple months we finally attended a church where everything came together.
I liked the first sermons I heard and they took communion often. It was a smaller church, but operated more like a larger one with several different activities and ministries. The doctrine aligned well with what I believed and it seemed like a place we could make good connections.
Both my husband and I got involved and were happy to do so, but about eight months into attending this church it was announced that they were looking to merge with another larger church in the area. The two churches had already been partnering on many tasks, so we as a congregation were not unfamiliar with this church.
My first significant concern (and still my final significant concern) with this merger was that of doctrine. The church I was attending was generally non-denominational with very strong Baptist underpinnings. The new church was an Assemblies of God church.
I knew many differences in doctrine existed, especially in relation to what’s considered the sign gifts (prophesy, healing, tongues and such). Not only do Assemblies of God churches believe in the sign gifts, but they also believe in what’s called the “Baptism of the Holy Spirit.” While I may be open to sign gifts being used today, I don’t believe in the Baptism of the Holy Spirit.
Also, AG doctrine is much more of the persuasion that a person is able to lose their faith, as opposed to the view I believe which is commonly referred to as “once saved, always saved.”
I firmly believe that, for some reason, people that are God-fearing, Bible-believing, mature Christians can, and do, come to all sorts of different beliefs on non-essentials. (See part 1 for the essentials.) And I have no animosity for those that believe differently than I do. But, I also firmly hold that I can’t go against my convictions on what I believe to be top tier theological issues. (I’ll talk about this more in my next article.)
So, unfortunately, we recently left this church as I just couldn’t get my theology to align with theirs and be okay with it.
What I learned in leaving
Each church I’ve left offered a very different leaving experience.
The first church, one of the largest in the area, didn’t even notice I left. Many of my friends knew, but with many services and a very large sanctuary, some of them didn’t realize it until I specifically told them. It left me feeling very unconnected to that community.
The second church, the smallest by far, was very gracious. Both my husband and I still have good relationships there and even help occasionally with special projects. When I started my web marketing/design business, they were the first ones to hire me for a new website. How they’ve responded says a lot about them.
Leaving the third church, the most recent, has been different. There seemed to be a strand of thought that anyone not supporting the new merger wasn’t spiritually mature. Both my husband and I were, in round-about, good Christian ways, accused of this. Thankfully, though, some people were supportive and really understood our decision. But, overall, it left a bad taste in my mouth.
Am I an arguer or consumer?
There seems to be two common accusations of church hoppers—you’re either too much of a consumer or you have a divisive, argumentative attitude. I’d like to hope that I have neither, but in reality I’m sure I have some of both.
I’m sure these attitudes are the case for some, but I think for most it’s not the main issue for hopping. People aren’t caught up in “consumerism” just because something may not be working out for them.
I believe everyone is in search of a place where they can find family and feel welcomed. Isn’t that a large part of what the church does for it’s congregants? If a person doesn’t get that feeling somewhere (given time), then maybe they should change. As I mentioned in my previous article, we are all part of “The Church.” Why does it matter so much if we switch churches?
What does matter is if we do it in a contentious, hurtful or immature way. I just can’t see how it matters if we have real concerns, issues, needs or desires that we have prayed about, thought about, talked with mature friends about and then still feel switching is best.
I think it’s like dating. You might not know until you’ve been “going steady” for awhile that this isn’t the church for you. You need time and you need freedom to choose.
The new search
Now my husband and I are on a search for our new church. In my upcoming articles for this series I’ll write more about this searching process so I hope you’ll stick around and read those.
Do any of you have stories about leaving a church and why?