Home > Church, Culture, Faith, God Project > This Is How You Church Hop

This Is How You Church Hop

Throughout most of my life, I’ve attended one church.  Besides for a couple of years, where my family attended Covenant Baptist Church, or followed my Dad around as he subbed in at a variety of churches, I spent my childhood at Shepherd Fellowship Church.  In college (arguably, the more formative years than our formative years), I didn’t attend church.  Not because I hated Jesus, but every Sunday was a seeker service, and every “Grow more with the Lord” group scheduled meetings during my night classes.

And not to be crass, but Science Fiction films is more exciting than listening to you debate whether we should pray to God or Jesus.  Here’s a hint: they live together, and they pass along the phone messages, in fact they’re so close together it’s almost like they’re Father and Son—honestly, they’re pretty much the same guy.

During my time Church-hopping with Dad, we’d usually go back to the church when someone else talked.  I’m not sure if this was intentional—letting my Dad get the feel of the place—or just because when you’re churchless, why not?  But even when we only hit up a place when my Dad showed up, you learned a lot just by the way people reacted at the end.  Their interpretation of the Bible, their view of life, their fashion sense, and what TV shows they watched on Thursday night.  Just by how they reacted to someone different talking about the Bible.  I didn’t realize at 10, 11, 12, 13, or 14 that church-hopping revealed a whole backside of Christianity that shapes the way we see things: interpretation.  Christianity all comes down to how you view a certain passage: do you take into account the social forces at work when the writer’s wrote it, and the social forces at work when you read it?  Or read it as a stoic piece that exists outside of social forces?  The Bible means different things to different people, and you shouldn’t accept what you hear blindly, and the world won’t end when some disagrees with you.

Because God has spoken, and everything else is commentary.

Church-hopping taught me about conflicting views on salvation, the role of the Old Testament, introduced me to fundamentalism and legalism, social justice inspired outreach, and that you can be a democrat and a Christian.  Why Jerry Falwell rocks, why Jerry Falwell sucks, what happens when you sin, and what happens when you believe, why doubting is good, why doubting is bad.  I learned some people are crazy, and I don’t agree with them, but some people I agree with are still crazy.  I strongly believe that if you stay at one church for to long you and the rest of the congregation get groupthink.  I’m not saying change Churches every few years, but every few months go to a different Church and see what they say.  You learn a lot, even if it’s just how to tolerate crazy people.  But the most important thing you learn: God has spoken, and everything else is commentary.

Church-hopping creates a dilemma, it undercuts the main function of a church: community.  It also highlights the main problem in the church: community.  A successful church (and let’s not judge that by a money or attendance metric) has a strong community.  A community that accepts people, addresses the pink elephant, and accepts that not everyone in the pew will get to the same conclusion.  An unsuccessful church ignores their community, scares people away and never addresses the pink elephant, and makes it pretty clear that if you don’t share that view you might as well commit suicide—because you’re going to hell anyway, and doesn’t quite matter how you get there. (Note to the literalist: I might be exaggerating to make a point, I might be simplifying to address the broader issue.  But if you replace “might be” with “am not” it might make a good way for you to take me to town on this.)

Now, I like the now clichéd phrase “building community.”  The job I’ve enjoyed the most (and talk about the most, which I know annoys the shit out of people) involved 9-months of building and fostering community in a college dorm (Oh sorry, residence hall).  One year, I fostered a great community; the second year, I created a mediocre one.  So, I’d never discount membership in a strong community.  People do better with a strong network—my second year, my floor’s GPA and dropout rate was worse than my first year.  A lot of factors go into this: my first year I had a mix of upperclassmen and freshman, the second year I had two upperclassmen and the rest freshman.  Some people didn’t study, and probably would’ve failed anyway, and some residences were genuine assholes.  But I know that if I didn’t get wrapped up in other issues, and focused on creating a better community, more of my kids would still be there.  The same phenomenon happens in a Church, if a healthy community exists, people come, people enjoy, people struggle, people break, but they have a group to call their own and rely on.  If the community sucks, people leave, people drift, people struggle, people break and don’t come back.  Church-hopping is great, you learn and discover, but you also don’t have a community to fall back on.

But my most spiritual and faith-affirming conversations have been with atheists, agnostics, and pantheists sitting in the lobby of my residence hall in the middle of the night.  The struggle for community exists outside the Church, and its creation doesn’t have to exist in the Church.

So here’s my next project: I’ve left my church.  When you realize you’re more tied to the soundboard than the community, you might need to bail.  Just to be clear: I don’t hate the church, there are people attending who I think are “cool”—I enjoy their company and counsel.  Unfortunately for them, I’ll probably continue to seek it.  They’ll survive.  My current “church”?  The Mars Hill Bible Church Podcast. Notice how I put church in quotes, mainly to be a pretentious ass, but also to highlight the fact that church without a community is pointless.  I can’t truly call Mars Hill my church, since I only go there digitally, but it will be my point-church for Biblical teaching (you may have noticed my blatant thievery of Rob Bell’s writing in this post.  Remember: Good writers borrow, great writers steal [and the nice people source].  I have to start the march to greatness somewhere.)  Over the next year I’ll be attending a different church for two weeks and writing about my experience.  My experience with the teachings, my experience with their community, and my journey in establishing my own.

The Awesome God Project (Thanks to Sean for the name) will start the 17th, at Kensington Community Church.  If you have any churches you think I should check out, leave a comment or click my e-mail link on the right (Facebook people: messaging would be your other option).  I am open to going to another faith’s service, so feel to drop any suggestions in that vein too.

  1. Shley
    October 7, 2009 at 1:32 pm

    You do realize I’ll probably be commenting on every single post making very devil’s advocate statements, comparison between religions, and just over all things that Religious Studies majors say. For instance, the beginning of your post made me want to say something about Islam.

    Anywho, try out Kirk in the Hills (BEAUTIFUL!), Little Flower (BEAUTIFUL and extremely Catholic), see if Sacred Heart has anything (it’s my alma mater and I’d be horrible not to suggest it – they do a great Candle Ceremony for the holidays), and Holy Spirit Lutheran Church (where yours truly was baptised, had communion, and decided that she enjoyed sleeping in church better than listening).

    Have fun!

  2. October 7, 2009 at 8:03 pm

    I’m totally cool with that, the more interesting and informative the dialogue the better. While the project is skewed towards Christianity, I’m all about comparative religion observations.

    I’ll definitely check those places out. I’ve driven by Little Flower, and immediately wanted to go one day just based on the look. Gorgeous place.

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