Dwindling church attendance has another wrinkle. A growing number of people who do attend are spreading their attendance among multiple churches.
Mom and dad may like the ambience and friends at First Church, but their teenage kids like the youth ministry at Second Church. So the family attends both churches at different times. Their neighbors have a slew of other reasons for playing “musical chairs” among various churches.
Is this a bad thing? Apparently, if you check with church leaders. Steve Hewitt at American Church magazine surveyed pastors on their churches’ rules concerning membership. He found that 71 percent of churches prohibit their people from joining other churches.
Why do you suppose that is? Is it a fear of mixing a dangerous theological cocktail? Is it contributing to the dreaded consumer mentality? Is it a concern about diluting the home church’s volunteer pool? Is it a sign of paranoia over church comparisons? Or is it simply a resistance to dividing the tithe?
What subtle message does this jealous rule send? That one’s faith should be exercised in only one location? Might it be healthier to be thankful, especially in these days of declining church involvement, that people choose to plug in somewhere–or multiple somewheres?
Like denominationalism, exclusive church membership will continue to slide. Whether we like it or not. People today are culturally less likely to join or reserve their loyalty to any organization.
Perhaps this is the time for the church to shed one of its man-made rules. And show the world what it means to belong to the Body of Christ.
A dangerous mindset has crept into the ‘church’, that is, ‘ownership’. Too many ‘church leaders’ speak of those who attend their ‘church’ as ‘MY MEMBERS’. These ‘MEMBERS’ are necessary to feed the beast, ‘their church’, to keep it alive. They want ‘loyal’ members – translated – they want people who come – don’t ask questions – enjoy the religious show – and pay their tithes. The ‘MY MEMBERS’ mentalilty steals what belongs to Christ, and uses it for their own benefit (2Peter 2:1-3). On the other side, I sadly hear people saying that they belong to ‘so and so’s church’. Especially among the mega-church crowd. They have submitted themselves to a personality. When will we wake up to realize that we are the Body of Christ, not the ‘Body of First Baptist, or the Body of Holy Pentecostal, or the Body of ‘so an so’s church’?. Okay Thom, I’ve vented enough for today! Keep writing your thought provoking posts! Blessings!
Funny you should mention “ownership,” Tim. I know of some churches that now officially refer to their members as “owners.”
Yeah–it’s about the tithe, in my opinion, Tim. Although I don’t go to a mega church.
In other thoughts: I was discussing with my parents that I feel the more effective Bible studies I’ve led with people at my (somewhat Biblically bereft) church are the ones that AREN’T written by or linked to a known personality–it’s like the person becomes a distraction. I have my favourites myself (Tim Keller and NT Wright), but even I’m aware that I have to be more intentional about focusing on Jesus and not how brilliantly those guys talk about him.
It’s something I think about a lot, as someone who is trying to break into the writing world . . .
It is true that members are owners. The institution side of the church is a business built to give a place for Christians to gather and worship and do other things. There is nothing wrong with this IF the people running the show are honest and everyone understands the cost of everything and the churches financial needs. But when they use the bible to support and push membership, tithing and serving the business as though it is commanded by God, that is deceptive and wrong. This is where you see the need for money has corrupted the institutions theology it teaches.
You are the first person I’ve ran into besides myself to reference this machine as “the beast”!!!! Not Book of Revelation type beast but a ravinous monster that eats everything! I worked in the pastoral ministry for 16 years – 10 of which I served as a “sr. pastor”. I’ve closed that church and never opened another one….I’m content with the Body of Christ as God has planned it!
Back on point – yes the major fear is the splitting of resources (money, and volunteers)! It feels soo good to be free!!!
Even after all these years, we still find so very much to agree upon!
However, one of the truly life changing things about my worshiping community is that giving participants “ownership” is empowering to them, in an environment where virtually everything else is not their own.
Grace and Peace † † †
Pastor Rob Nedbalek
Freedom in Christ Prison Ministry
Offering offenders at Montana State Prison a genuine worshiping community, within the network of Christ’s church, engaging, equipping and empowering them with the transforming Good News of Jesus Christ.
We fall into the category of MULTIPLE CHURCH Family and I’M A PASTOR! My high school-aged kids have connected with a great local non-denom church and my son is on staff there. I pastor a church 10 miles away and in any given week, my wife floats between the two – sometimes three ministries.
While I’d love to have all of us together, I am extremely grateful that all of us love the Lord and are being fed and challenged.
Pastor – Trinity Hudson, WI.
We’re not a church that places a huge emphasis on official membership. For me, wanting people to commit to one local body of Christ-followers isn’t about increasing our numbers or our tithes. The benefits of being committed to one local church are for the attendees. I’m saddened (and I’ll admit frustrated) when I hear from people that they don’t feel “connected” to our church family, or that they just don’t “fit,” or that their children aren’t making friends, and when questioned, they admit that they’ve attended our church twice in the past six weeks, plus two other churches on Sundays, have sporadically attended two different small groups at two different churches, and their children attend a mid-week program occasionally at yet another church. How are people supposed to build community when they “church hop?” Being committed to one church fosters community, allowing people to both know and be known. Commitment deters a consumer mentality. The local church is a family, and like any family, it has its ups and downs, good and bad days. Commitment to one local assembly means people develop a love for their “family” that transcends warm, fuzzy feelings and only happy occasions. When tragedy strikes, who will grieve with the individual who has loose connections to three or four churches? Who will stand alongside them in the long-term grief process? Who will provide stability and unconditional acceptance for children reeling from divorce? Commitment to one church is for the benefit of the individual; it’s not about the church trying to “own” or control people.
I get what you’re saying, but I think it depends on the churches. My husband and I attended the same church for 10 years, and I was never able to truly connect with anyone. Even plugging in to various ministries really did nothing. Now, there’s a church just up the road that we pop in at maybe once or twice a year (my husband’s home church, actually), and those folks are more open and caring than most of the people at the church we had been attending.
Yes totally agree. Now that you mentioned “family” I also want to point out that behind a stable and strong family is a stable and strong marriage. How can a marriage be strong if one spouse has other “spouse(s)” to attend to. Behind every growing church are committed members willing stick with the growing pains of a small church. A lot of the comments that i read here have principles that only benefit the believers “individually.” How about the work involve in growing a church? I agree with you Commitment is important!!!!!
Tom I don’t think you would have written this if you were a pastor?
How do we fulfill John 13: 34 – 35 if we are bouncing around? We can’t. No commitment and no accountability to each other. Can’t be done. I am a pastor and where people tithe is secondary to the above. We need to forget about convenience, our rights and commit ourselves to a group of believers and sink in. That is how God planned it! Thanks for getting us thinking Thom. God bless you!
Generally when we do that, we think exclusively of that group of believers Rob. I tends to breed schim in the Body. My wife and I “target” our giving – by giving to those directly in need (in some cases it may be directly to a pastor…because they’re in need). We have great fellowship with several church (and the pastors don’t have to look over their shoulders thinking I want their position…I don’t). We generally attend Bilbe Study vice Sunday service – there’s more interaction, and ability to admonish one another in this activity than a Sunday service. I’ve done the sinking in thing and I’ve been a part of it. Now I just want to know Him, and the rest of His body ….even if they don’t go to “my church” as some people say 😉
Talk about it prerich! Let every person be honest enough with themselves to know how church is for them….and every pastor take responsibility to fully over see your church by engaging with the congregation and praying and fasting to God for answers to why people are leaving, people not returning, seats are empty, people are not getting involved, the lack of interest to be involved in any ministry, are the current ministries needed -if so why are the numbers low for involvement within those ministries, are there ministries to add and old ones extinguished based on the needs of the congregation and not the business of church, is there a heart condition, pride in the way in those ministries and business side of church, hidden agendas and motives within the church and apart from it, is the word actually being taught, is the pastor actually relying on the Holy Spirit to have His way within the church and in oneself, is there repetition within prayer as a whole before the church……the list can go on and on
Be actively involved not just in the elementary truths of tithing, teaching kids to respect authority, marriage counseling, and financial cares, and being involved in the community…..ughhhh are you really a teacher, pastor, preacher, teacher?…….or just a community elementary conselor? If you see that church is reverting back to elementary truths and stays there….while coming so far from there just to go backwards…..there may be a serious problem recognized within the church as a church which affects the business side of church…..just saying but I’m not the judge…. Thank God
Wheeeeeeeew okay done
As a pastor the reasons you have listed above is long, overwhelming, and yet should not be disregarded. Together with other pastors we need to totally rely on God for the results of our work at the same time look to the remaining leaders and members of the church for their help in the actual work.
I am wondering if it is a good thing or not to float from one church to another. My two daughters attend churches in our community and I enjoy visiting each. They are both awesome churches. My concern is from watching people that go from one service to another is that they are not connected to a group of believers. I am sure there are those that would argue me on this. I wonder with all of today’s technology and lack of talking to one another face to face that maybe this is just another way our society is sliding into being alone. Most people and youth who do this never serve at one church. When there is a crisis who would they turn to that knows them. I have seen this as a children’s director at my own church. It is usually hard for people to make friends build a place spiritually they can call home.
Kate wrote: “It’s SUPER frustrating. As a “smaller” church CM, I already have a very limited pool of investors. We have seen this trend happening for a while now. People’s time is already limited and this just splits it even more. We’re trying something different this summer by engaging our community at our soccer camp. We have people from several different churches serving in order to have a successful event for the kids.”
Steve wrote: “I believe Dallas Willard called this Church Consumerism…”
Steve H wrote: “Well it is certainly one way to break down walls which have been formed. I think everyone wants freedom, not exclusivity. You may go to one church for the good teaching, another for the children’s program and another for special events. Its quite common. Then again, there are people like me to pity my denominations falling membership, so I joined 4 to keep the numbers up! :)”
Sheila wrote: “I was faced with that same dilemma. I was on a church staff that I had been a member of all my life. Another church would not let me serve unless I did not have “dual citizenship.” It is hard when you are tempted to lie to serve God. I wanted Jesus to give me some great parable about him serving in two temples on a Sabboth and how that worked for him.”
Cheryl wrote: “I use to go from church to church when I was very young, searching,now that I am grown I have one, for over 10 years, thank you Lord,just sayin!!”
Lorene, I agree that floating isn’t good… no sense of centeredness or belonging. But Let’s put the onus on church leaders to lead so that people want to follow.
Ed, I agree with you to some great extent, but even when you have great leaders people still do not want to commit. I think to the heart of this for many is that they do not want accountalbillity to others or to God. I am sure even mega churches deal with this.
If everybody floats, who prepares the worship space, who sings in the choir, who takes care of the children, who plans and executes summer programming (VBS and other camps), who teaches Sunday school, who plans and executes mission/outreach opportunities, who takes care of the property, etc. In our church, it is the members, not the floaters; and we have our share of floaters. They are welcomed and we want them to get them plugged in so that they become part of our family. The cafeteria line approach to church attendance is here to stay and it certainly has its benefits. However it’s great to have a home cooked meal with the family. Especially with Jesus as head of the family. Church membership is place to call home when the rest of life is constantly changing.
Now, if we could just do away with denominational differences, think how strong the body of Christ could become?
Although I am a member (and on the leadership board) of our local Presbyterian church I love floating to different churches. It opens my eyes to the many different ways people see, worship, communicate with and find God. My husband is Episcopalian and my daughter leads worship at a local Baptist church. I would NEVER be a member of a church that didn’t allow me (and my family) that kind of freedom. I believe God blesses me by nudging me forward to experience all kinds of wonderful new situations where I can thrive, learn, contribute and spread God’s love.
Floating may be a way to hide from spiritual formation. I’ve observed friends who are loyal to their flock but have children or teens that their flock can not/will not serve effectively. Rigid control based upon envy or high theological walls is destructive to Kingdom mentality. Insensitivity to family circumstances can have long-term adverse effects on family members and the flock’s leadership.
We are a sent people – who is to say that God is not sending people to different churches to share their gifts/passions as he sees fit? If we try to control the spirit – all is lost. We need to relax and let the spirit work through us and welcome folks as they journey, for as long as they journey!
This brings back a memory of third grade, when a classmate (we’ll call her Jamie) came to me torn because one of her friends said if Jamie remained friends with some other girl, friend #1 wouldn’t be her friend anymore. I told her you should never be friends with someone who tries to limit your other friendships.
While I personally want to be committed to one church, I don’t think I would go if I knew they had a policy prohibiting me from also attending other churches. That’s just too controlling.
Writers have noted that scripture does not supply concise guidance on church membership. But, the apostle Paul seemed to attend numerous churches himself.
Good call on that Paul attended numerous churches! I myself actually go to 3 different churches and I actually see myself growing that way. Someone has talked to me about that you should have a “home” church to which will be your family church. When I heard that, I think that its just being happy with what you get in that church. But what about the other churches? When I stay in one church, in my observation, they’re seem to be happy with the one particular type of teaching and not open to different avenues. The current church that I’ve been attending (Hillsong Sydney) is mainly focused on self-motivation and community. There are some prosperity stuff (not $$ prosperity) here and there, but more of motivation of what to do within the community, and stick verses that mainly involve about motivating self and community and magnifying Christ. There’s nothing wrong with that at all. Its good to plan things out when it comes to bringing Christ into community. But that’s all I’m going to learn if I stay there. I want to know more about God and if going to 3 different churches will do that for me, I’ll have to do that. I asked God if I’m doing the wrong thing, to help me learn from this mistake. But this is just me. I don’t expect all Christians to do the same. Some churches require members to keep the body maintained and should stay there.
Paul was a church planter and evangelist. Poor comparison. Cafeteria Christianity is a sign of self-centered consumerism. To steal a thought from Gary Thomas – church doesn’t exist to make us happy, but holy. As a pastor I can tell you that floaters contribute the least to the body of Christ overall because they’re too busy looking to feed off of the the committed ones. Read Acts 2 and tell me how the New Testament young church could hold all things in common if they were so busy jumping from house church to house church. Where is church discipline and accountability and genuine discipleship when Joe shows up one week and you don’t see him for 3 more weeks?
I’ve been throwing around going to just visit a church in the last few years often but never get myself out. Since either I don’t see myself sticking to going or even being a regular attender, I just keep throwing out the idea. If I’m just going to be someone who might or might not show up either for church or someone’s group, I figure I might as well no go at all to begin with than have people disappointed I didn’t show. Anyway, what do you think of people who are working service jobs who are stuck working Sunday’s often. They might want to be there but can’t or even can’t get involved in weekday ministries because of the odd hours service jobs work them? I’ve been there in the past when I was going. Now days, you just can’t squeeze everyone into one church mold because everyone’s lives are so different. I would think it would be better to encourage and teach people to integrate God into there lives as-is than have them feeling guilty and discouraged because their lives are not fitting the old Sunday morning service mold.
You are assuming a “church hopper” is an infrequent visitor. But there’s clearly multiple circumstances for someone attending a second church (in my case for the ‘during the week’ events where there is annointing and good teachings).
If we are instructed to be “built up” with one another, how can this happen if the building material keeps jumping from building site to building site?
We are working on recalling that we are all the body of Christ in the world and getting our folks out of the building to be the church. Now the creative thinking can flow as to how to move forward and build the church (whole body). It is a process and journey!
Am I missing something? It appears that bouncing around is a a way to watch and not participate. Shouldn’t we seek to serve as much as be served?
We are to be salt and light in our communities. Service should be an everyday thing, not just something we do once a week. I like the jumpers (and when I was pastoring others in leadership didn’t like this…because it made the offerings smaller). …one leader was upset becasue i never “opened the doors of the church” my response, the doors are always open, whosoever will let him come.
71 percent of another churches prohibit? This information is Correct? If yes, what a shame.
You hit the nail on the head with this one. My experience is that you may be able to merely “attend” or “worship” in more than one church, actual membership or confirmation is limited to one denomination. Clergy who oversee the rite of confirmation see it as being confirmed in this particular church or denomination (whereas baptism may be seen as the entry point to Christianity as a faith tradition). The problem arises because in many churches confirmation is required for certain ministries or callings or even volunteer opportunities — you cannot do X unless you are a confirmed member. In my case it was doubly worse because I was also not properly baptized and therefore, if you are not Christian at all, you are severely limited in terms of ministries (BTW I consider myself Christian — I have Quaker roots and Quakers do not baptize with water so not having a water based baptism also put me on the outs. The local Quaker meeting only met once per month so I was looking for other experiences on the other 3 Sundays a month). A similar experience befell a good friend who was Mormon or leaving Mormonism but still maintaining ties to the Mormon community. Her baptism was not recognized either and because many consider Mormonism to be a cult she felt that she either had to leave it entirely or stay all in. There were few opportunities to explore her questions as she was deciding what she really believed and this was true not only of the Mormon church but all the Christian churches she attended as well.
I am so glad that i found this because I gave been struggling with this issue for 5 years. I retired to this rural community where there are many small churches. I happen to love two churches here, one a non denom and one with a traditional service. My problem with attending two churches is the aspect of serving, which I strongly believe in, and bonding to the church members. I believe in becoming an active part of church rather than just attending, worshipping and then coming home. This blog has helped me at least get past some of the guilt. I thank you, Thom, for the courage to open this discussion. And thank you each one for your comments. I found this extremely helpful.
This article does a good job of outlining the personal and spiritual VALUE of committing to a single community, with all it’s joys and imperfections, to contribute, serve and grow. There is a value in commitment.
Article below: The New Testament does not directly address the subject of attending two or more different churches. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians begins, “To the church of God in Corinth” (1 Corinthians 1:2), indicating one church, whereas the book of Galatians begins with “to the churches in Galatia” (Galatians 1:2), indicating more than one in the area. In any case, either people did not attend more than one gathering, or the issue did not warrant Paul’s attention. Today, however, with multiple local churches in cities—and even in small towns—the question of whether to attend more than one church on a regular basis does arise.
First, it is important to understand the purpose of church attendance and/or membership. When Christians unite with a local body of believers, they are following the model for the local church as seen in Acts 2:41-42: “Those who accepted his [Peter’s] message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” These early Christians met in the temple courts and in their own homes to continue in praise and worship (Acts 2:46-47). In addition, believers came together to minister to one another the gifts of the Holy Spirit, who distributes those gifts to His people in order for us to edify—build up—one another in the faith (Ephesians 4:7-13).
The question becomes whether we can effectively pray, fellowship, sit under teaching, and use our spiritual gifts with two or more groups of Christians at the same time. Because the Bible is silent on the issue, we cannot be dogmatic about it. But what we can do is address the issue of motivation—what prompts Christians to feel led to spread their church attendance around to multiple churches and what are the effects and implications of doing so.
Sadly, too often people “church hop” to more than one local body with the intention of picking and choosing something from each one because they feel they cannot find one church that “meets their needs” or gives them everything they think they should be getting from a church. They may attend one church for the music, another for the preaching, and a third for the social gatherings. The problem with this line of thinking is that Christians are to align themselves with a group of believers in order to give, not to get. We are to be actively serving and ministering to one another with the spiritual gift we have received from the Spirit, and when we spend minimal time in each group, we cannot do that effectively. In addition, we give the impression that we are not committed to the believers or the leadership in any one church, and that is a poor witness to others.
While there may be legitimate reasons for someone to attend two or more churches, and nothing in the Bible forbids it, it is hard to see how such a practice could fully benefit either the believer or the local churches he or she attends.
Presently, I attend two different churches. I live in a city with my family, and we all attend a church in that city.
…then I got a job in a different city, the nature of the job demands that I stay through the week. Now that I spend my weekdays in a different city, and I love to be in the company of believers, I decided to join another church in the city where I now work, in order to attend weekly services.
…I return to my family every weekend to attend my family church.
…this situation I found myself has limited my involvement in church activities because I’m not mostly available for unit meetings, which I’m not comfortable with.
…I have been alternating my tithe between the two churches but I noticed that both congregations are not really showing real concern about me, and seen as a church hopper.
…I’m still studying the situation but I really need advice.
“Perhaps this is the time for the church to shed one of its man-made rules. And show the world what it means to belong to the Body of Christ.”
So is this the time to have one budget for all the churches and share in it? The members commitment to a home churches gives birth to the budget of that church. The budget is formed based on what members are willing to give. Committed members commit to support in prayer, attendance, giving, volunteering, etc. Anything better is always preferred and one can always find a better church considering what they are looking for in a church. Are smaller congregations suppose to remain as small and bigger ones to keep on growing?
When I retired and moved to Henderson, NV in 2014, I began attending the non-denominational church my daughter and son-in-law attend. I now have two grandsons, ages 4 and 5. I will continue attending and tithing to this small church because my family goes there. Every other Sunday I teach 3-year-old children’s church, and belong to a small group that meets in someone’s home on Monday nights for fellowship and Bible study.
Because church attendance has grown smaller due to several pastoral changes over the past six years, we have no women’s Bible study and no Wednesday evening service. Because I needed this additional study and fellowship, I attend a women’s weekday Bible study at a Baptist Church, as well as a women’s Bible study at Calvary Chapel. I also go to Calvary Chapel on Wednesday night and Saturday night for their excellent through-the-Bible teaching. I have developed a much closer walk with my Lord and a better understanding of His word since starting this in early 2019.
My tithe goes to the first church because it is a small church and needs the money the most. My service to the children’s department is also at my first church. Our pastor is great, but I still need the additional teachings I get at the other two churches. I regret I cannot tithe at the other two churches, but try to give a little when I can. They are both large churches with several services each Sunday morning and on Saturday evening. My first church has only one service on Sunday morning, which I miss on the Sundays I teach my three-year-old class. I can however watch it online. I have been very blessed by all three churches, and in my life have needed all three.
I don’t consider that I’m church hopping. I have friends in all three churches and attend regularly each and every week. I’m retired and no longer babysit my grandsons, so I’m blessed to be able to do all this. I believe the Lord has met my needs in a very special way. As far as serving in the two larger churches, being part of the Bible studies is a type of service as we enrich each other’s lives.
Of course, during this time of the coronavirus lockdown, all our services and Bible studies are done online. Aren’t we blessed to have the technology for this.
Thank you for opening up this topic, and allowing all our responses.
Faithfulness is required of a steward.
God places much importance on our being faithful..
I am of the opinion that we really need to seek God’s face to know what to do in these times.
How can I truly be faithful engaging in several assemblies of God’s people? May God lead us and help us to be truly faithful all the way in Jesus name.
The ideas of “Freedom” and “Floating” and spreading yourself around to multiple churches for your own satisfaction goes right along with “Just do what makes you happy,” or “If you aren’t happy, quit!” That is great if you are serving at the alter of self. You are telling all the bodies you are attending that you are only there for what they offer you. You do not bring anything to the table except to grace them with your presence occasionally. You are telling them that as long as they can figure out how to have enough resources – money and volunteers – to keep you happy, you will be happy to occasionally show up. Possibly contribute a portion of your tithes, maybe volunteer for an occasional event, etc. They cannot count on you for anything. You are not committed to them. They are “enough” for you. They are there to be used. A church family is set in place so that you can have a reasonable assumption that those who hitch their wagon to yours will be there to support what that body is endeavoring to do. If everyone were that selfish, there would not be any place to “float” to. No place to go and entertain yourself. This is just another aspect of Humanism.