Only Americans could actually "shop for a church". Phrases like this make me wonder if I should be agreeing with Dennis Leary when he writes "Why We Suck". Applying shopping to church seems about as appropriate as parents "shopping for a kid to adopt".
We're trying several kids out, seeing which ones we like the best, and narrowing it down to the ones that best suit our family. We're really hopeful that we get a good one. What's the return policy, again?
Slate.com's Andrew Santella recently explored "The Church Search" through the lense of the first family's pursuit of a church home DC. I get the concept--landing in a new city for a Christian means looking for a new faith community to identify with. And there's this necessary "we're here" part that the church plays and this "we'll visit and see" part that the newcomer plays. It's an important process that allows the person to find if they feel at home with that church's teaching, people and environment.
But calling it "shopping"? That's the thing that makes me other than gruntled. Its like being called a consumer--I hate that too. I'm not a consumer and neither are you--we're people. Identifying humans as units of purchasing distorts humanity. And the reason it offends is that its not true.
And I guess that's what bothers me about the term "shopping" when applied to church. Its not true. Shoppers compare prices, check their budget, buy an item, bring it home and use it. If it breaks or wears out or is used up they replace it somehow. When you buy something you simply demand that it perform for you whatever function it was advertised to produce--you don't share your feelings with it, listen to its problems, figure out how you can build a friendship with it, pray with it, get offended by it... Stuff is stuff and it can be bought and sold.
But churches are foundationally built off of people and relationships and you can't pay for and then demand that a relationship perform a function while still expecting to be a healthy person. The relational elements of church are many. There's the relationship with people you meet in the church, the relationship you have with the people who lead in singing or speaking or praying in a church, the relationship with Jesus for whom the whole thing exists, relationships with teachers who work with your children, relationships with people in your small group, relationships with people you serve with and with people you serve... Churchs are giant relational webs--some healthy and some unhealthy.
So I propose that the words used to describe the process of a finding a church home should be relational. What are the terms then? Here's a few ideas:
- "I'm dating a church right now"--maybe, but that sounds pretty weird.
- "We're meeting and getting to know some churches right now." That's a little less weird but not totally natural.
- "We're looking for a church and praying to make the right decision." Better. Sounds both spiritual and natural.
But whatever is used, please, no more church shopping. We're not a product. We're a bit of an overgrown dysfunctional family with a great Father.