Seven Ways We Keep Church Hoppers from Staying at Our Church
By Brian Jones
I think two of the most dangerous influences any church faces are (1) spiritual leaders who have lost their first love and (2) the onslaught of church hoppers.
Having wavered before in my faith and flirted with losing my first love with God, I know firsthand how dangerous the first one can be. But that’s something we spiritual leaders have control over. The second one . . . not so much.
I call church hoppers “connoisseurs of fine churches” because they’re continually on a quest to find the church that is spiritual enough for them, will endlessly gorge themselves on the “services” of the churches they attend, and always have a critical word to say afterwards whenever “church” doesn’t meet their standards.
Here are seven things we try to do to change their mind-set (or keep their butts from staying in the seats of our church for very long):
1. Ask church hoppers to commit to tithing and serving. That usually takes care of it right there. Because church hoppers are consumers by nature, anything that strikes them as sacrificial will surely turn them off. As a ministry friend of mine used to tell me, “At the first sign of trouble, raise the bar.”
2. Tell your people to stop inviting their Christian friends to church. Right before Christmas, I may have been one of the only pastors out there who stood up and said, “Please DO NOT invite your Christian friends to our Christmas services. We want other churches in the area to know we have their back. Also, we want to grow this church through conversion growth, not transfer growth. Let’s pack this place out with people who are keeping God up at night because they are living far from him.”
I strategically do that three or four times a year.
3. Preach short sermons. Howard Hendricks used to say, “Keep them longing, not loathing.” I buy into that philosophy. I try to speak anywhere between 24 and 28 minutes max (my staff will read this and say PLEASE . . . OK, I TRY to preach 24-28 minutes!).
Shorter sermons drive church hoppers nuts because they want to “be fed” (i.e., listen to long expository sermons). I’m not interested in “feeding people” unless they are in the early stages of their spiritual journey. Church hoppers, as well as Christians further along their spiritual journey, need to be feeding themselves. Anything I provide on Sunday morning is in addition to their own self-directed spiritual nourishment.
One point, one Scripture, 24 to 28 minutes, that’s it.
4. Don’t sing 9,345 worship songs. Church hoppers, 9 times out of 10, came from a church background where they were taught to need five or six worship songs to really connect with God. That needs to be retaught.
Where did we get the idea that worship = singing anyway? That’s part of it, but only a small part of it. Every part of the service is worship. Every part of my life is worship. Limiting your worship songs, except for occasions when you are led by God to expand the repertoire, forces people to recognize this or leave.
5. Keep your services short. We keep our services to 55 minutes, period. That’s it. That’s because we believe “church” is more than the official service that happens on a Sunday morning. It’s what happens before, during, and afterwards. It’s what happens during the week when two or three gather.
For the church hopper, experiencing a well-conceived, 55-minute service is like spending one’s whole life overeating and then sitting down for a healthy, well-proportioned meal that someone else serves you (“Hey, I’m used to eating 16 pieces of fried chicken! Why do I only get two?”).
6. Eliminate Christian “insider” language. The fact that I say “Leader” and “Forgiver” from the stage drives church hoppers nuts. “You meant to say ‘Savior and Lord,’ didn’t you?” At issue is an old missions word called contextualization, which basically means we need to speak in the language and culture of the hearer, not the speaker.
The Greek word kurios doesn’t mean “Lord” in 21st-century American idiom. Your old Bible translation from 50 years ago may read that way, but people aren’t talking that way today. Challenge your “insider” language and watch how church hoppers and their friends file right out of your services.
7. Sing non-Christian songs in your services. Trust me, that will weed them out. A few years ago we opened a church service with Jet’s “Are You Gonna Be My Girl” The theme of the song perfectly set up what I was going to teach on later in the service.
On Monday I promptly received an e-mail about it . . .
This past weekend, I could not believe my ears. When worship opened up, I heard the opening chords for Jet’s “Are You Gonna Be My Girl.” I was expecting the Apologetix parody version, “Are you gonna be Ike’s girl?”
But in listening to the lyrics, it sounded like the actual Jet song—a song about figuring out how to get a one-night stand, for a girl who came to some club or party with another guy.
I am hoping that I was mistaken and they were playing the Christian parody version because I am having a real issue with wrapping my head around why it would be remotely “OK” to play this content in a worship service.
There is a line between having a light fun service to reach the new/nonbeliever and cheapening the value and truth that the gospel can stand alone to reach out to someone. This may have crossed it.
Frustrated . . .
Here was my response . . .
I got your e-mail and appreciate you taking the time to shoot me your thoughts.
I must say that while I appreciate your concern, this is certainly not the first nor will it be the last time we sing non-Christian music in our worship services.
We do this because we are trying to reach both non-Christians as well as Christians in the same service, and playing a non-Christian song up front in the service, we have learned, puts people who are far from God at ease and can powerfully illustrate a teaching point.
Our philosophy has always been that Christians should be the ones that should be made the most uncomfortable in church, not the non-Christians. The way I put it is this—we will always choose to offend the Christians before the non-Christians.
Seeing that you are frustrated, and given the fact that I talked with a bunch of people far from God on Sunday who loved the energy of the song and felt connected to the service because of it, it appears that we have achieved our goal.
My suggestion is this—weigh carefully whether or not you want to be a part of a church that sings music like this, and plays difficult-to-watch video clips, and a host of other things to reach people who are far from God. If not, then now would be the time to look for another church before you put down roots too deep.
If, on the other hand, this is the kind of church you want to be a part of, I would welcome you to join in with everything you have and start reaching out to people far from God.
I hope this helps.
Church hoppers can be a lethal bunch, so don’t make them too cozy. However, please remember that God can also be leading some of those people to your church too. But that’s a topic for another day.
Brian Jones is the author of Second Guessing God and Getting Rid of the Gorilla, available at StandardPub.com. He is senior pastor of Christ’s Church of the Valley in Royersford, Pennsylvania. This essay first appeared on his blog at BrianJones.com.