Seven Ways We Keep Church Hoppers from Staying at Our Church

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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 . . .

Name Withheld

 

Here was my response . . .

 

Frustrated,

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.

Thanks!

Brian

 

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.

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18 Comments

  1. While I agree with the overall premise of this article, there were some things that concerned me. Primarily the use of secular music in a ‘worship’ service that is dedicated to God, which is a debate that encompasses much more than just ‘church hoppers’. I can honestly say, if I attempted such an approach to a service my chief complainers would be from the long-time members, not the church hoppers (of course I serve an established, traditional church). Another concern is the insider language. While I agree that there are some terms in the churchianity lexicon that probably should be abandoned, I think we should spend more time defining Biblical terms rather than coming up with new words. ‘Leader’ does not convey the absolute Lordship of Christ and ‘forgiver’ only conveys one aspect of our salvation. Let’s define rather than re-word the Scriptures. Finally, and perhaps my foremost concern, is the assumption that the assembly is primarily for the lost, not for the saved. While I am all in favor of services that welcome and relate to the lost, the assembly is also meant for the edification and encouragement of those who are already saved, and yes, this requires sermons and teaching that are more expository in nature. Yes, mature Christians should be feeding themselves, but they also need to be fed, especially if they are living a lifestyle of service. Even the deepest reservoir will run dry if it is not periodically replenished.

  2. Thanks Brian for reminding us to use our time wisely.
    Those who don’t know Jesus yet must be a priority.
    Time is short.

  3. Brian,

    My humble thanks for expressing some aspects of worship that for many seem to make a difference. However, overall, I am compelled to agree mostly with the above comments from Dave. It is one thing to make us already Christians uncomfortable during worship. It is quite another to follow-up with encouraging remarks backed up with Scriptures to enhance those few precious minutes at the podium where we as preachers and ministers are held accountable first and foremost to the Lord Jesus and HIS Word.

    One other matter that comes to mind is: “What is the central reason for our worship to begin with?” Is it not the Christ of Galilee and meeting with HIM around HIS Communion table? AND what comments are spoken during the brief Communion meditation just prior to the actual partaking of the unleavened bread and the wine [grape juice]?

    As for making impressions either pro or con to those listening—Christian or not—all that is merely secondary. The service is NOT for us; nor is it how we may or may not treat the alleged “church hopper” attendees. It is all about bringing glory to the Lord Jesus. There’s one really big thing that ALL visitors should see before, during, and after a worship service . . . and that is the love of God amongst His people. And if this is not the case, then we are of all people the worse off, more so than a handful of “church-hoppers.”

  4. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts. I appreciate your unwillingness to put up with church hoppers.

    Just a quick side question — when your church performs secular music, what process do you go through to ensure that you’re doing so legally? My students have often asked about using secular music in chapel or other worship services, but I know that our CCLI license does not grant us permission to do so. Do you have to contact each copyright holder individually? How time consuming and/or expensive has that become?

    Thanks for your help!

  5. Greetings Brian,

    I can understand your sentiments concerning “church hoppers.” I am one of them. However, in my “hopping” I am not searching for someone to “feed me.” Though I must confess at times Jesus blesses me with a meal or two along my way. I, on the other hand, find myself seeking what needs to be done and someday hope to be able to do that to the fullest. That is within any said congregation.

    Ought not the shepherds feed the flock? That is, the Flock of God. I have also seen both things occur within the churches I have visited. I see ministers falling short of their abilities to “lead and feed” their congregations. In short, you also are being judged and assessed. I do understand your sensibilities on one hand, yet on another, is it not your charge to “tend the flock of God” not by constraint but willingly and with compassion on those God puts in your care?

    It is my desire that you at least reevaluate your own attitude and take a more humble approach. Jesus seeks that which is driven away. Cannot be driven away if you were never there in the first place. Have compassion on all who attend your assemblies, lest you entertain angels unawares.

    God lets his rain down on the just and the unjust. You do not know what will propser. Be more patient brother.

    God bless

    Wayne

  6. Brian’s fear of church hoppers is imaginary. His real target is Christians who have given ecclesiology some thought. In the interest of brevity I will call them Thoughtful Christians here.

    Thoughtful Christians are not going to be eager to tithe immediately, because they first want to know what they are supporting via their tithe. They might be apprehensive about paying for silk ribbons for liturgical dances, or for the production and/or purchase of paraphrases that dull the edge of Scripture.

    Thoughtful Christians are going to consider it a sign of doctrinal shallowness when they hear a preacher tell his people to stop inviting their Christian friends to church. They will understand it as an admission by the preacher that he is okay with denominationalism, and as implicit acknowledgement that the congregation should be okay with denominationalism too.

    Thoughtful Christians will not be troubled by short sermons. I do not believe that Brian’s claim that preaching sermons under 30 minutes long will drive away anyone (or at least, not any Thoughtful Christians) is grounded in reality.

    Likewise, his fourth point (“don’t sing 9,345 worship songs”) seems more humorous than realistic.
    Thoughtful Christians won’t be driven away by a less-than-one-hour service. It’s not the length of the sermon, or the length of the service, that will drive away Thoughtful Christians. It’s the fluffiness.

    Brian compared a one-hour service to a two-piece chicken dinner. Thoughtful Christians are fine with two-piece chicken dinners. They just don’t want popcorn for dinner.

    Brian is 100% right that when he replaces “Savior and Lord” with “Forgiver and Leader,” it drives Thoughtful Christians nuts. That is because it is obvious to them that such attempts at contextualization are inadequate, unnecessary, and an insult to their intelligence. When Thoughtful Christians come to Christian church services, they look for evidence that the church is influencing the culture, including even the language of the culture. So when the preacher makes a point of conforming the language of Scripture itself to fit the latest cultural trend, under the pretense of speaking clearly, of course they sense that the current is moving the wrong way, and leave.

    Brian is also 100% right about using non-Christian songs in the church service. Thoughtful Christians visiting a church that plays “Are You Gonna Be My Girl” are going to conclude that the service is being fine-tuned to appeal to worldly appetites. Why not put Jet’s video of that song on the screen in the sanctuary, to make the picture complete? Thoughtful Christians observing this sort of thing will conclude that whoever is running the church has little concept of being not-of-this-world. (What was the Scripture-text that day? Colossians 3:1-11?)

    I am sure that most of Brian’s strategies to repel Thoughtful Christians will be effective. I am not so sure that this is really healthy for the body of Christ in the long run.

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.

  7. If I came to visit I think I’d “hop” right on out of there too!

  8. Brian,

    Well done (and humorous, to boot). Church Hoppers (who like to think of themselves as “Thoughtful Christians”, though they look far more like the Older Brother in the Parable of the Prodigal Son) are most definitely lethal to the mission of the church, and the less we do to attract them, the better. Sanctimony and obsessive focus on “insider externals” have given the church, at large, a bad name in our society, where Christians have gained the reputation (to quote Andy Stanley) as “judgmental, homophobic moralists, who think they are the only ones going to heaven and secretly relish the fact that everyone else is going to hell”.

    If we are to minister to the world, we need to stop acting like a club that caters to our own with a tone-deaf ear to those we are actually supposed to minister.

    I especially appreciate that you are explicit that folks shouldn’t be proselytizing other Christians, eschewing the implicit lack of comity and sectarian snobbishness that is inherent in trying to “convert” the already converted. (To wit, when the Smith family transfers from the First Street Presbyterian church to the Second Street Christian Church, the overall population of the kingdom remains static). This does not mean that we ignore doctrinal/denominational differences, but rather that we recognize there is a time and place for discussing those differences in a way that recognizes that the different Christian denominations are all part of the universal church, not fiefdoms from which to poach and emigrate.

    You’re right that Church Hoppers will hate this, because they tend to be so shallow as to think that their “rightness” (in doctrine) trumps basic grace and Christian charity, while mistaking that basic Christian grace for weakness or shallowness, in and of itself.

    I also wholeheartedly like that you mentioned the language we use and how “insiders” (and Church Hoppers) become enamored with the Christianese linguistics (like “propitiation”, “salvation”, “justification”, etc.), rather than the contextual meanings behind them. When you eschew the Christianese, the Church Hopper will mistake it for surrendering to the culture (with all of the accompanying sanctimonious phrases about “selling out” and “conforming to the world”), rather than engaging God’s image-bearers who live in it.

    You might mention, too, that if you tailor the Bible translations you use to the purpose of the passage(s) you are citing, that will drive Church Hoppers away, as well. When you need to dig into a particular word or phrase, in order to examine a nuance in Scripture, you’d certainly want to use more of a word-for-word translation, and probably some Greek or Hebrew words, as well. But the Church Hopper will squeal and run when you want to examine the overall narrative of a passage of Scripture and use a thought-for-thought translation (or even worse, a dynamic translation). [On that note, I would highly recommend the newly-published translation, The Voice for narrative reading. It minimizes transliterations from the Hebrew/Greek, and differentiates between the thought-for-thought translation text and dynamic paraphrase via the use of italics.]

    I also like that you bring up using “secular” music (which is kind of a funny designation, in itself, since “Christian” and “secular” make such poor and arbitrary adjectives) from time to time. [Genilyn - CCLI has a good number of "secular" tunes in its library, and it's not too hard to get permission for non-CCLI tunes, so long as you're not including them in recordings of your services.] Of course, as I understand your context, this is not done willy-nilly, but at targeted times in specific support of a lesson you are teaching. For example, we used the Taylor Swift song “Mean” a few weeks back, when our message dealt with gossip and the use of “mean” words. If the use of such songs induces the vapors and the accompanying complaints of “appealing to worldly appetites”, the Church Hopper will move along.

    In the long run, the favor you will do for your church, and the overall body of Christ, is immense, as you will avoid all sorts of Titus 3:10 issues and the accompanying sanctimony/acrimony such “Thoughtful Christians” bring along with them.

  9. Thanks for the post! I think Church Hopping is unhealthy for both Christians and the local church. Check out my video on this issue:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QDQ3jliRbIQ

  10. I am more confused now than I was when I began reading the article. Is the author actually advocating being so inhospitable to members of the body of Christ? Why? What Scripture does he use to justify such actions?

  11. This actually makes me pretty sad. I am not a frequent church goer, but I really did believe that even though I didn’t go often I was still welcome at any church I went to. Guess I better toss that theory out. I’ll be teaching my children a different way.

  12. In reading this article, it saddens me to think that a church has to stoop to the level of playing secular music in their services to draw in the lost. First of all, church services are for the saints to be fed, to gather and build each other up, trained, restored and to worship God, collectively, in Spirit and in Truth. We are supposed to be going out of the four walls to REACH the lost and bring them into the fold to train them up and disciple them so they in turn can go out and reach the lost. Jesus clearly set the example for us to follow. Bringing a sinner to the cross is ENOUGH! Secondly, we are not supposed to be using the things of the world to entice or draw in the lost but rather we are to preach the Gospel to them, show them the LOVE of Father in how we treat them and treat each other. If a church is having to conform to using secular music or things during service to attract the lost, then I would have to question the condition of the church. Is there truly BREAD in the house or crumbs? Thirdly, worship is important, if not the most important part of a church service because: 1) we were made to worship Him and is worthy of our praise; 2) as we truly surrender ourselves, at His feet, during worship we are allowing the Holy Spirit to move and bring healing and restoration into our lives. Lastly, church hoppers are only hopping because they haven’t found what they are looking for – the real deal! As pastors, we need to create an atmosphere of intimate worship and an atmosphere of true love and concern for one another. Pastors set the tone and atmosphere. It is then transferred onto the leaders, and then onto the flock. The spirit of the pastor comes upon the flock and the church body reflects the leader. Everyone is searching for the real deal because it has been lost in today’s churches. A place where it’s not about the pastor, numbers or finances but about being ministered to, a place they truly feel the love of the Father, not a superficial love. A place where His overwhelming presence dwells; a place that has a love for them and others – that’s what makes the difference!!

    Blessings!

    Francesca, God’s bond servant

  13. I once could have been a so called church hopper. I was looking for a fellowship where man was not the central point and the accumulation of knowledge or doctrine the priority. Having experienced the sweetness and life changing manifestation along with the awesome revelation of the beauty of His person and the love of Christ, how could I settle in a place where the service leader called the congregation to the front to do the Hokey Pokey in the middle of worshipping God. An encounter with God in a corporate setting brings with Him, salvation, healing, revelation, deliverance not to mention a pouring out of His Spirit of love that defies any earthly explanation. Not wanting to offend you pastor but if that happened every Sunday you may be out of a job and that is as it should be.

    I pray for a fellowship where Christ is the Bread, that He is the central point of all things and with that His Spirit shall find favour and pour out upon all who are gathered in His Name. We must be extremely careful to not use the things of the world to please the people, it may bring many but it will not bring maturity and holiness. No point to a big house with no Ark There is no other name by which man shall be saved. The Holy Spirit waits to be invited to our Sunday meetings that He may do that which pleases the heart of the Father. Yours in Christs love, Dawn

  14. We used “Rescue Me” in a service [that was] focused very much on reaching nonchurch folk, and it was so special . . . I can only say inspired. We must do all we can and connect with non-Christians and bring them to Jesus. I’d love to know what other songs you have used!

  15. While I am not a church hopper, and attend the same church faithfully each Sunday. I am concerned by what you are doing. Why play secular music??? We go to Church to get away from the world. I think you need to evaluate some of your methods. How about churches stick to the BIBLE and the LORD’S teachings. We have church-hoppers come through, but I believe it is our job to reach out to them, and make them feel welcome for as long as they want to come. Try to teach and minister to them as much as you can while they are there….you never know what someone is facing!! Also where is the scripture you use to justify all of this???

  16. All at the expense of your faithful flock?

  17. I am writing a book on being delivered from “church hopping.” Thank God that my deliverance came before reading the suggestions in this article. Some churches don’t allow the congregation to be involved past the “pew-warming and tithe-giving” level. Many church hoppers are seeking a place not only where they can be fed but where they can serve.

  18. I discovered your suggestions this morning! Your comments suggest that you do not understand that the church is the Body of Christ. My concern is that our generation of young people IS self-destructing large scale, walking into witchcraft and all forms of spiritual bondage . . . You give the impression that you are clueless about what’s happening in the real world. The PREACHING of the true Gospel is the power of God . . . which is lacking in the 21st century!

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