“My name is Murray and . . . well, I’m a church hopper.”

Applause broke out in the small group I lead, a support group for church hoppers. There are seven in my group . . . no, six. (One recently left us to join the support group hoppers support group.)

I encouraged Murray to continue. “Tell us your story, Murray.”

“I used to go to First Church, but I really didn’t like the way he preached. He was getting a little too personal, you know? So I went to Lakeside.”

“The one by the lake?”

“Yeah, on the side. Anyway, I liked it at first, but the potluck dinners always had too much spice. Seemed a little Episcopalian. So I went to Grant Avenue Church, but I got tired of the way the pastor’s wife dressed. Fashion did not die in 1978.”

“I left that church because it was too cold.” Leonard interjected.

Lucinda said, “Funny, I left there because it was always too hot.”

Before Leonard and Lucinda got into their usual tirade over the proper reason to leave a church, I said, “Thank you, Leonard. Someone tell me what type of church hopper Murray is.”

A few shuffled their feet. Horton avoided eye contact by staring at the water stain in the ceiling tile. Finally, Alice spoke, albeit hesitantly, “He’s a happy . . . hopper?”

“Now wait a minute there,” Murray protested.

“No, Murray, Alice is right,” I said, “She knows you’re a happy hopper because she is too.  We expect the church to always make us happy. If something isn’t to our taste or liking, we move on to the next church. Until something there doesn’t make us happy.”

Murray knew I was right, but he got a little defensive. “Yeah, but aren’t we supposed to be happy at church?”

All eyes were on me. “Let’s come back to that. Let’s review the other types of church hoppers. There’s the Hungry Hopper who says . . .  what?”

Alice again. “I’m just not being fed.”

“Oooh, that’s a big one. And there’s the Healthy Hopper who leaves a church because he thinks it’s dying. He wants to be a part of a growing church.”

Murray asked a similar question. “And aren’t we supposed to be a part of a healthy growing church?”

FullSizeRender (5)I still avoided the question as I outlined all this on the marker board. “Each of these excuses for changing churches has the same problem. Do you see it?”

“It’s the ‘I.’” Good ol’ Alice.

“Very good,” I said as I wrote the word self-centered on the board.

“We’ll never be happy or content in any church so long as the focus is on what’s in it for me. To paraphrase John F. Kennedy, “Ask not what your church can do for you . . .”

“But what you can do for your church,” the whole group chimed in.

“There will always be little things to irritate us at church because it’s made up of people. It’s like family—no, it is family—and families learn to live together with their quirks. God just might want to use that person who bugs you to teach you patience or forgiveness.

“And this thing about not being fed. Who’s supposed to be feeding me, anyway? I am! If I only ate once a week . . .”

“It wouldn’t hurt Leonard,” Lucinda quipped.

“If I only ate once a week, I’d starve. I have got to feed myself—daily Bible reading, study, and of course, prayer. It also makes an incredible difference for me if I pray before a worship service, asking God to speak to me . . . and then expecting and listening for His voice. God can speak through even the driest sermon.

Picture2“No one wants to be in a dying church, so why don’t we stay in the church and change that? Maybe it’s dying because people keep leaving. A healthy church doesn’t just happen; its members need to continually seek Christ and change those things that need changing.

“Hebrews 10:25 tells us not to give up meeting together, but let us encourage each other. Sure, I go to church for encouragement through worship and Bible study, but what am I doing in the church to encourage others? Encouragement goes both ways.”

Both Murray and Leonard were eyeing the box of doughnuts in the corner, so I knew it was time to close. “Here’s your homework. Ponder this for the week: How does God want to change me through the things I experience—good, bad, and just plain irritating—at church? What do I need to do to feed myself spiritually? How can I help my church grow? How can I encourage others in the church?”

Within five minutes the doughnuts were gone. And along with them, hopefully, the church hopping.