In my 27 years, I’ve been a regular attendee of at least 13 different churches.
I’ve been an unintentional church hopper. Rarely has it been my decision to leave a church, rather it has been dictated by moves. Growing up, my father’s job meant we moved cities, and thus churches, often—before graduating from college, I had lived in nine houses. When I later married a career-minded Air Force officer, I ensured that moving would be part of my future for years to come.
Switching churches this frequently has had its downfalls. I’ve missed out on seeing the normal rhythms of church life and watching a faith community evolve over time. It’s also deprived me of mentors—Sunday school teachers or youth leaders who were there to facilitate spiritual growth. When my husband and I were planning our wedding, we wanted an officiant who we had a relationship with. But when our favorite college professor was unavailable to perform the ceremony, I wasn’t sure whom else to ask.
Even with these difficulties, I have found numerous benefits from moving churches. Each switch has broadened my view of the universal Church and given me a great appreciation for ecumenism. I’m not advocating “church hopping” or “church shopping,” but when you find yourself in a transition period or a time when you have to change churches for one reason or another, here are a few lessons you may find helpful:
Don’t Put Off Getting Involved
Knowing I would be moving every few years, my college mentor gave me sound advice when I married into the Air Force: “Three years might not seem like much time to make a difference, but remember that Jesus’ entire ministry on earth was just three years long.” Her advice isn’t just true for my family though, it works for all of us.
There is never going to be a perfect time to find a church, join a small group or start volunteering. Life is always going to be complicated and busy and get in the way. And that’s the way it should be. When we neglect church responsibilities until things are perfect, we’re not living an authentic Christian life and we’re missing out on people who can walk with us through the messy times of life. As you search for a church, remember that you’re not just looking for a place to go on Sunday mornings, you’re looking for a community to join. Make it a priority to get connected quickly and you’ll soon reap the benefits.
Realize the Importance of the Central Creeds
Doctrine alone does not make a good church. Instead of looking for a church that perfectly aligns with your views on every issue, focus on the most important parts of the Christian doctrine: the creeds. For centuries, the creeds have been used as the framework and the basis for our beliefs. While secondary issues, like modes of baptism or the role of women in leadership, are still weighty doctrines and deserve careful consideration, there may be a time when you need to set them aside. This is especially true if you know you’ll be at this church for just a short time. Search for a faith community where the Gospel is preached, where people live honestly and authentically in community, and where you are compelled to live out your convictions.
Learn to See the Beauty in Varying Worship Styles
Attending multiple churches exposes you to a smorgasbord of worship styles. Rather than dismissing another denomination as too stiff or too emotional, you can learn from brothers and sisters who worship differently than you do. At one church, you may be moved by the quiet, yet poignant celebration of the Eucharist. At another, you may find the freedom to raise your hands and dance in exultation. We must look for Christ-followers in every setting and realize that though they worship differently, they worship sincerely.
As you search for a church, look for one that recognizes the beauty in other styles of worship, instead of divisively teaching that their own practices are supreme.
Be Willing to Learn About Different Theologies From the Source
Sadly, Christians often misrepresent the theology of other denominations. Whether they do it accidentally or intentionally, issues like paedobaptism or speaking in tongues are easily caricatured by people who don’t understand them or who chose not to practice them. This isn’t a just way to treat fellow Christians—we owe them the honor of explaining their views rationally even if we disagree.
Switching denominations helps alleviate this problem because you’ll be learning theology first-hand. When you hear the subtleties of different doctrines directly from their source you gain a fuller understanding and appreciation for exegesis and for other views of the text.
So whether you’re a student looking for a church in your new college town or a longtime member of one church who is considering leaving, don’t be intimidated by the change. Moving churches has its downfalls and difficulties, but, if done correctly, it can also be a tool to bolster your faith. As you worship and serve alongside a variety of believers, you will become a more robust and faithful follower of Christ.
Callie Glorioso-Mays is on an uphill journey to learn continually, love freely and live vulnerably as a writer, a military wife and mama to one. She is a member of the Redbud Writers Guild and blogs at cglorioso.blogspot.com.