My background is sales and marketing. Adding a new customer to your company often means that one of your competitor's just lost one; the reverse is also the same. There are many variations of this model, but for the sake of the discussion, let's just keep it to that. Of course, the taking of someone else's customer to gain a customer is based upon the idea that the market is tough with many competitors. That's often the commercial competitive environment, (except, it seems, for Starbucks™). I wonder sometimes, why are there are so many Christian churches? If there truly is a point of market saturation, there would be just too many people for the churches and the churches would start to go broke because they would not have enough members. Then why do Christians keep building them? This is just market economics and arithmetic.
It's actually the Starbucks™ challenge; so many customers and potential customers that you cannot build enough churches fast enough. In the United States, less than 20% of the people go to religious services, (so sayeth Google™), and there are other more credible sources that would put Christian service attendance much lower. The percentage of people who declare them as practicing Christians are even lower. This means that there is an ENORMOUS market for Christianity. This means the spreading of the Good News is important.
This brings me to my conundrum, as a person who practices sales and marketing- why is there so much church swapping rather than church growing? Put another way- loyalty to a particular church inside of the religion would be stronger when compared to the effort to expand the total number of members.
Why do people join one church over another?
• Better Show - Music, dancing, video and, of course ”THE SERMON"
• Better Location - Closer to home, school, parents
• Better Feel - Welcoming, familiarity, similarity, friends there
• Someone feels ignored or insulted by the pastor
Why do people leave a church and then seek another?
• Pastor - Sermons no longer connect, there is a feeling of disconnection from the pastor, “the church seems to have changed," the pastor does not anchor in the word, he does not believe the word is inerrant
• Location - You move, friends move, service times change
• People - Too many, "wrong types," don't know anyone, politics in the church, disciple a mission inside a church, (race, language, economic, and diversity), moving someone away from the church
• Plant a church elsewhere in order to give strength to those early steps
First thought is that you are not in the business of finding a church that fits you. You are to seek a church that God calls you to. That's great if you are that connected to God that you can hear the Holy Spirit. Just a quick aside about my relationship with the Holy Spirit; if I can use an analogy the Holy Spirit and I are like overseas pen pals. It seems like I write a lot of letters and then I don't receive anything back. Then it is a trickle from the Holy Spirit, maybe a letter a week. Then no letters followed by a bundle all at once. Some of the letters are responses to my letters from months ago, so long ago I have to work hard to remember what I had written him about. I wonder if my prayer letters show up at the Holy Spirit's address out of order or the Holy Spirit's desk is just disorganized. Of course, over time, I have come to understand that the Holy Spirit has a great mailing system. The system seems to work that I get a letter back when I need the answer to my mail, not in the order I sent it. Sometimes the Holy Spirit does not answer the letter because He knows that the issue in the letter is already being answered as a part of another plan.
What does this have to do with shopping for churches? Your job is not to shop; your job is to be called to a church. Yes, you should go to a church in the time that you are waiting to be called to a church. You may find that the church you attend is the one you were called to attend. You may not. The point is that selection of a house of worship is not to find a place of comfort for you. This is not picking a place of education as if you were picking a school based upon your major and eventual career path. It is not attending a concert by your favorite band. Church is about worshiping God in community. Whoa, whoa, whoa…what community? Do you then shop for communities? I talked about that in the chapter called "Green M&Ms." Communities are very hard to shop for without just settling into the same problem you left. You joined a church for the reasons listed above and you are still the buyer. That means that more than likely you will use, consciously or subconsciously, the same criteria for choosing the next church. Goes to reason that you are at risk for leaving for the same reasons listed above.
I asked a number of people that I know who have successfully had to find new church communities for various reasons including moving or due to family or work. It is not a great big research study, but I found some of the answers compelling.
1. Churches are about people not pastors.These people would go to the services and meet as many people as they could. They sought out a genuine feeling of love and authentic welcome.
2. They attended the prayer meeting(s) to hear what those were like and how the bible was discussed as a part of the prayer meeting(s).
3. They asked about how the church served in the community. Was it active, regular, and diverse? They were seeking a home that wanted to have the hands and the feet of the Savior as a part of the worship.
4. They prayed for guidance of the Holy Spirit. This often showed up through the invitations of people to visit those people's churches and go through the first three steps.
5. They listened to some sermons.
I think what the people that I talked to have a good approach. Actually, it’s a great approach for some, but not the only approach.
That's not how my wife and I found our church; we shopped. Then our son started skate boarding with some other kids who were excited about a newer church. They had joined that church's youth group. We decided we would try ANYTHING that would get our son interested in going to church. We have been going to that church for over ten years. I've got lots of great answers that do not follow my own story. I tell other people's stories.
There are a lot of ways in which people find the church to which they attend. Prayer and listening to the Holy Spirit are the best ways to start. Attending a church that friends of similar beliefs to yours go to is another. The point is that if you do not have a church, you need to have one. Being intentional in your seeking with the Holy Spirit leading you is the best of all systems.
I know a lot of shoppers. My church is often frustrating. It has people in it, so it has to be frustrating some of the time. If it was not, then we would be in heaven and worship would be perfect. My family has thought about shopping more times than my pastor knows for many of the reasons on the list above. He doesn't know, so please don't say anything. We stay because he is not the church. He performs a sermon on Sunday. The church is so much more than that. When it is not, then I get together with some members of the congregation, we pray for God's guidance and we go to work on whatever we are led to do. We are called to grow the number of Christ’s followers through spreading the Good News, not to focus on ourselves and shop.