I've been either a member or regular-attender at several different churches, over over close to thirty years. (Put that way, the "church hopping number" doesn't sound all that bad, especially since two of the moves were because I moved to a new state.)
Church hopping has a definition that doesn't fit my whole experience: First, a working definition: church hopping is going from one church to another without committing to any one church for any significant period of time (which makes it different than legitimate church “shopping”). (definition from Crosswalk)
I am reading "Grounded in the Gospel" - a book about the Christian tradition of teaching through catechism. One thing led to another in my brain and that led me to this post. Going over what led me, and kept me in various churches.
So let's take a walk. I'm not going to name the churches, unless they were spectacular.
I had taken a few years off from church and I can remember so very clearly the day I knew I had to return. We had taken a vacation and had ended up in Nauvoo, Illinois. Nauvoo is a Mormon settlement on the Mississippi River and they have a beautiful "monument to women" (I am *NOT* pro-Mormon; we were there for the history).
Being what Mormon is, the statues not only had Book of Mormon references, they had Bible references also. As I walked through this garden with my two children (then ages 5 and 3) I knew that if I wanted to be what God wanted me to be, I had to return to Him.
In my church hopping experiences, each church that I've been in has led me to a deep topical study, and that's a good thing. Even in the churches that suck...something good came of it.
My mom had told me that one of my dad's friends was the worship leader at a large church in my town (Grand Rapids, MI) so I asked her where it was. She said to go south on Kalamazoo Ave and it was a big church on the right.
Keep in mind that I grew up in a church where the congregation numbers about 100 and anything bigger than that was "big". So...I stopped at the first "big" church on the right. It was the wrong church, but ended up being the right church for me, at the time.
I grew up not knowing terms like "Arminian" or "Calvinism" or "Reformed" or "Wesleyan". Doctrine wasn't a big thing in my little church, so I didn't know what to look for.
Grand Rapids First Church of the Nazarene (Now Grand Rapids International Fellowship) was where I stumbled into.
What I learned (the good): It's hard for a woman to be faithful to God when her husband refuses to be faithful to God. And a strong women's ministry, with tons of support, will go a long way toward helping "spiritually single" women.
What I learned (also): doctrine matters. I did grow up with the teaching that you cannot lose your salvation. I asked my dad why our church didn't teach more on election, etc. and he said that it was divisive so they didn't touch it. GRIF (being Nazarene) is Arminian and teaches that you *CAN* lose your salvation. I asked my kids if they remember when they got saved - my son could. My daughter said, "do you mean the first time, or all the rest of the times?"
After my first husband died, and after this conversation with my kids, I wanted a fresh start, and also wanted to examine denominations against the Bible to discover who was the closest to what I found in Scripture.
The Study: Reformed vs. Arminianism - key book: "Easy Chairs, Hard Words" by Doug Wilson
It took a couple of years...I landed at
Sunshine Community Church (a Christian Reformed Church)
What I learned: being inside a denomination is not necessarily a protection from bad doctrine.
What I learned (also): this episode triggered a deep study into Pentecostalism, the Trinity (and anti-Trinity Oneness), prophetic gifts and so forth. I went from a "what is that?" to "whether or not speaking in tongues and the gift of prophesy is for today, I *KNOW* modern day Pentecostals are doing it wrong."
The church went "all pentecostal" after the one of the lead pastors told me that the church was not going "all pentecostal" and the other lead pastor was forming a relationship with a Oneness Pentecostal church in New Orleans. The last straw was the Sunday that an "Apostle" spoke from the pulpit and afterward his wife (the "prophetess") laid hands on people have gave personal revelation. The pastor and board (well, the whole board never got the letter I sent) were blowing smoke.
(Here is the search results of mzellen.com that shows more of the story - there are a few posts)
The Study: Pentecostalism, continuationism vs. cessationism (whether or not the "prophetic gifts" - tongues, etc. have continued to this day or ceased with the age of the apostles)
Key book: "Are Miraculous Gifts for Today? (four views)" edited by Wayne Grudem
So I went "church hopping)
I stuck with the CRC (Christian Reformed Church) for one more church
My personal beliefs were still evolving and the next church I attended had a husband and wife pastor team.
What I learned: There's a big difference between masculine preaching and feminine preaching - Masculine preaching starts with the Bible and facts and affects the emotion. Feminine preaching starts with the emotions and moves (maybe) to Bible and facts.
I never joined the church, never got involved and moved on pretty quickly...
The study: Complementarianism vs. Egalitarianism (whether or not women belong in leadership over men in the church and home.) Key Book: there really wasn't a book - but lots of internet search and "Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood"
to another egalitarian/liberal church.
But this time with a purpose. Knowing that this Lutheran church was not a good fit for me, I attended with good intention.
I had never attended a service at a Lutheran church (except for my uncle's funeral service) and I wanted to try something unknown. I still had the Masculine vs Feminine preaching (there was both a male and female pastor) but this time I was aware of it ahead of time.
This was the first time I had *EVER* attended a church with an intentional liturgy. Each and every week we recited the Apostle's Creed, the Lord's Prayer, did a conventional confession of sin and took communion.
What I learned: There is beauty in the liturgical rhythm. I became familiar with the Apostle's Creed.
I didn't intend to stay there long, and then one day a postcard came in the mail about a church plant very close to where I lived.
so I went church hopping. 😉
New City Church (Grand Rapids)
What I learned: this was my first experience with expository preaching. I drank deep and long at the well of Bible-preaching (vs Topical preaching using the Bible as a source) NOTE: there is a place for both, but New City is where I learned what expository preaching is and how to sit under it well.
What I learned (also: It was at New City that I took on the challenge of critiquing sermons using 2 benchmark questions: 1) did the grave need to be empty for this sermon to be true? and 2) did any unsaved person who happened to walk in...walk back out knowing what they need to know in order to be saved.
And J.T.Richards (pastor) hit those two nearly every single week.
The Study: A more in depth look at Reformed theology and coming to a firm foundation of what I require in a church...
and then I got married and moved to California.
Silicon Valley Nondenominational Church
What I learned: Community matters. This church excels at the small group model. So much so that that's what I miss most now.
What I learned (also): Music matters.
I'm not talking about the year it was written. Is the music God-centered or man-centered?
There's a story that I'm not using the right words to find, but here's the gist of it:
two men were sitting on a hill admiring the sunset. One man noticed how the other's words were profound and described perfectly the Creator's work...and told him so. The second man returned the favor and soon...there were two men sitting on a hill...admiring each other's admiring of the sunset.
If we're singing about me, singing about God, then God is no longer the point...I'm admiring myself for admiring God.
There's also a lot of difference between performance music (that is written for a concert and one person's voice) and worship music (that is meant to be sung as a group and is written for a wide variety of voices)
and...volume matters. In corporate worship, if you cannot hear the person sitting next to you singing, it's no longer corporate.
The study: The theology of worship and congregational singing
We love the pastor, his family, and the people of this church - hands down, no question. And then we moved to Nevada.
And we did the church hopping (SHOPPING) before we made the final decision to move.
I'm not saying we moved here because of the church, but the church is part of the reason we moved here.
The Current Church
What I've learned: Deep, Bible-based, intellectual, expository preaching is wonderful!
but...keep in mind the two questions and sometimes they get missed.
and...while I really like the preaching, God designed us to be in community and we're struggling to find our place.
Still: I have NEVER been in a church with this level of congregational-based, God-centered worship. All around me, I hear the saints of God raising their voices in worship. The first year, I cried all through the music part.
My dad had died shortly before we moved and our church sings old hymns and I could hear them in my dad's voice and cry and cry...good tears.
Our pastor is not ashamed to address current events, to pray against agendas from the pulpit.
Each week the benediction we are prayed over by the pastor.
The teaching is expository and I like that...but the pastor excels when he pauses and series and delves into a topic (this week we're starting a series on praying the imprecatory Psalms - I expect it to be good.
What we call "the COVID series" are among the best sermons I have heard...*EVER*. (I'm not inclined to share the church name, but if I have actual readers who want to know, comment and we'll figure out a way)
The Church hopping experience
So, over 30+ years, I've been in 6 churches, and two hopping experiences involved moves to a different state...not real "church hopping" but where I've been and what I've learned...and the knowing that each church taught me good things...brought me to where I am.