Pastor's Blog

Church Shopping, Hopping, and Should It Be Stopping?

Church Hopping 2

If you lived 2000 years ago and were in the city of Corinth, you didn’t have 800 churches around you to choose from like you do today in Austin, Texas. Now, I am not trying to say that all 800 are true churches or that all churches are the same, in fact, that’s one of the reasons I thought it might be helpful to write here. While some people are saved in a local church and then continue serving there until they are called to glory, most Christians have been on a church search before for one of three reasons: doctrine, ethical matters, or preferences. 

Contrary to how some view the church today, leaving a local church is no small matter. It’s a family where you’ve invested in others and others have invested in you. It’s a community united to Jesus Christ, gifted in a manifold of different ways for service, for the purpose of displaying Christ to others and becoming more like Him (cf. 1 Cor 12). 

We live in a day and age where church hopping is relatively normal and accepted. According to a Barna study from 2020, nearly 30% of practicing Christians claim to be attending multiple churches. It seems more and more rare for a family to commit to a church for years and years of ministry, baring exceptions in the Lord calling someone away for work in job relocation, a need to be closer to one’s parents later in life, or another circumstance that’s quite out of one’s control. I once heard a pastor ask, “What happens when you re-pot a plant over and over again?” For the gardening experts out there, you know that it won’t grow as well as if it stays in the same place. 

The church in the days of Corinth wasn’t plagued by church hopping. They didn’t have the means of transportation that we do today or the technology that so easily shows us where churches are. Given where things stand today, a question arises, what makes a church “leave worthy?” When should you church shop, hop… and should you stop? 

–A quick Public Service Announcement: Not everything you’ll find below has a chapter and verse that can be attached to it. Some of what you’ll see is what I’ll call Scripture-deduced counsel. If you don’t see the concept from God’s word, don’t listen, but if you can’t refute it, please consider it.–

A “Leave Worthy” Church: What is a “leave worthy” church? Well, before we answer that question, let’s address what is a church. That will help us define what makes one worth leaving. The primary way the Greek word for church is used in the New Testament refers to those who are Spirit-filled believers who are in union with the Lord Jesus Christ. What that means is that just because a building has the name “church” written on it, and there are many here in the South, it doesn’t mean that it truly is one. A name doesn’t make a Christian, God makes a Christian. 

So… Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Back in 2005, Al Mohler preached a sermon entitled “A Call of Theological Triage and Christian Maturity.” After visiting a hospital emergency room, Mohler said, “Given the chaos of an Emergency Room reception area, someone must be armed with the medical expertise to make an immediate determination of medical priority.” The word triage refers to sorting, in this case, who was in the most danger and needed the most help medically. 


For over a millennia, all the way back to the Scriptures, then proceeding to the earliest church councils, the need has arisen to articulate the truth over and against error. Paul did it with the churches of Galatia, the early church did it time and time again. Different statements have been made, and at present, when it comes to doctrine, most will settle on three lenses of urgency: primary, secondary, and tertiary doctrines.

Primary doctrines pertain to the heart and kernel of the Christian faith. If you deny these, you show that you are not in union with Christ at all. These doctrines include but are not limited to:

  • Salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone (cf. John 14:6; Acts 4:12; Rom 4–5; Eph 2:8–9)
  • The reality of man’s sin, that Jesus is God who became man, to die on the cross to pay for our sins, and then rise bodily on the third day (cf. Rom 10:9–10; 1 Cor 15:1–3)
  • The return of Jesus to judge the living and the dead (cf. Acts 1:11; 2 Tim 2:16–19)
  • The nature of the Trinity (cf. Is 44:6; John 1:1; Acts 5:4–5)

If you find yourself in a church where one or more of these truths are not believed then you are not in a church at all. While you might be in a building with the name “church,” you are not in a place that holds to Biblical truth concerning the things of first importance. It would be prudent to not only pray for the leadership, that they would turn to the Lord but also to show them their error and call them to repent. 

These aren’t peripheral matters. They identify the Christian faith. Jude says in Jude 1:2–3, “May mercy and peace and love be multiplied to you. Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you exhorting that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints.” God’s people must know the truth, love the truth, contend for the truth, and gather with the people of the truth. Heb 10:24–25, “And let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” This is a “leave worthy” situation because you are not in a church. 

Secondary doctrines pertain to church worship and function. These reveal whether or not a church is healthy or how healthy it is. As I say that, I recognize that there has been variance in belief concerning these doctrines not only historically, but at present as well, among those who truly love Jesus. Augustine once said, “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.” This quotation is correct, but it does beg the question, “If I am in a church where there are secondary doctrines which I believe are incorrect, then what should I do about it?” 

While some may view Augustine’s statement “in non-essentials liberty,” to be regarding secondary doctrines, it would seem it deals more with matters of conscience and preferences. Charity is in view toward different matters on these types of doctrines. Maybe the local church you belong to changed its stance on a position, or you did personally. What now? Before we approach answering the question, what are some of these doctrines?

Secondary doctrines include but are not limited to:

  • The nature of the millennial kingdom
  • Mode of baptism (immersion versus sprinkling/credobaptism versus paedobaptism)
  • The nature of communion practice
  • Church polity
  • Nature of the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit
  • The age of the earth (days of creation)
  • Covenantalism and Dispensationalism

In Christianity and Liberalism, J Gresham Machen said, “Indifferentism about doctrine makes no heroes of the faith.” He said it in the context of Martin Luther and Ulrich Zwingli’s debates about the practice of communion, with regard to how Luther didn’t back down from his convictions. This quote is often used in conversations pertaining to secondary matters, and it brings about a necessary word of caution. Do not mistake secondary doctrines as being “unimportant.” They are quite significant––ultimately because of God who speaks about such topics (cf. 2 Tim 3:16–17; 2 Pet 1:19–21). They affect church structure, practice, and future hope. In many ways, the gospel is the fountainhead out of which these topics flow (remembering the Lord’s death, the sending of His Spirit after the resurrection, the hope we have, knit to the gospel, of what the future holds). 

So… should someone leave a church over these matters? It depends. In some ways, this will be on a case-by-case basis. Some of these have a greater effect on church life and worship. The age of the earth, for example, isn’t as forefront as having individuals standing up at each service claiming to speak in tongues and then having those who claim to be interpreters present who later declare what was said.

Regardless of which doctrine is in question, if you believe that the Scriptures present a particular view on one of these teachings (or one that I haven’t listed), but the church that you belong to doesn’t hold to the same view, before getting out of Dodge, talk with your elders. It’s the most loving thing that you can do. If you believe that a brother or sister is in error, go and show them. It might not be the most comfortable thing to do at the moment, but how would you like it if someone knew that you were in error but they never told you about it, only to find out ten years later that you’re in error and no one loved you enough to tell you? What’s paramount isn’t our comfort in sin in this life, but walking in Christlikeness. You should desire to be like Jesus so much that having someone confront you isn’t seen as a curse, but a blessing because there’s more of Christ to know and treasure in this life.

Go to your leaders who are going to give an account for your soul and speak with them. Heb 13:7 says, “Obey your leaders and submit to them—for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account—so that they will do this with joy and not with groaning, for this would be unprofitable for you.” It is a joy when shepherds don’t have to chase sheep down who departed without letting anyone know (or without sharing the real reason for leaving). 

Just to be clear, at this juncture, we aren’t speaking about correcting preferences here or matters of conscience, but secondary doctrines. These matters have various implications that affect church life and practice. We should absolutely show charity, speak with one another with a spirit of gentleness as brothers and sisters (don’t leave out the last part), and stand firmly in what is written. God is able to change the hearts, even of those who have held positions for years.  

This category I view as sometimes “leave worthy.” Speak with the leadership, get counsel from those who love Jesus in the church family and outside of it, and pray. Don’t make a flippant decision. 

I would also add one final consideration here. In 1 Cor 1, in spite of all the problems found within the church of Corinth, before Paul ever got to their sins… Paul spoke about their status. More than that though, he rejoiced at God’s word in them. In fact, it’s because Paul loved the church of Corinth that he wrote the letter that he did. He cared about their relationship with the Lord. 

Not once in that letter does Paul tell them to find another church. Admittedly, to circle back to where we began, you couldn’t just find loads of churches around Corinth. In saying that, however, Paul’s expectation was that they would seek to trust in the Lord and work through these matters as a church family. The standard off which they would work, were his writings which were Scripture. That should be the primary objective in these matters––to work through them. 

The final section on doctrine refers to tertiary matters. These are the furthest ring away from the bullseye if you want to think of it that way. These matters, I don’t view as preferences, but as matters of conscience. Tertiary doctrines include but are not limited to:

  • The celebration of holidays (eg. Christmas)
  • Type of worship (acapella, instruments, liturgy form)
  • Who the author of Hebrews is
  • When certain books were written in the Bible
  • Should Sunday school classes be interactive versus monologues
  • Children’s ministry or not

These matters aren’t unimportant. But, in terms of degrees of importance, they are less vital than other matters. You don’t need to go to the Emergency Room for these, but they are fine discussions to have. It is not worth leaving a church, in itself over tertiary matters. These do not make a church “leave-worthy.”

Many Christians each year leave churches over doctrinal matters. Some of these moves are justified. We don’t live in the days of Corinth where there’s only one local church and it’s sink or swim (cf. Rev 2–3)¹. There may be many churches in your area who love the Lord, are preaching the true gospel, are discipling believers, and are engaging with the lost. 

But… my concern is that there are also a number of Christians who appear to be leaving churches prematurely either in making a mountain out of a molehill, or possibly over a misunderstanding over what the church believes or teaches. That’s a tragedy. If you are in a congregation and have been there for years or decades, make no mistake about it, God has you there for a reason and it might just be to turn the ship in the right direction.

On the back of Banner of Truth’s publication of John Bunyan’s work, Come and Welcome to Jesus Christ, it reads, “This work could be said to have given rise indirectly to the modern missionary movement, since it strongly influenced Andrew Fuller, the first secretary of the pioneering Baptist Missionary Society, and helped him to set his denomination free from the grip of hyper-Calvinism.” That’s wonderful. The point in quoting it, there’s no telling what God can do with one saint who is faithful to Him, and how many people will be saved by the glorious gospel of our Lord in the process or even are just corrected.


Ethical Matters

But sadly, doctrine isn’t the only reason that people leave churches. The story does not nor can it stop there. There are also moral reasons why people leave churches, particularly concerning moral failures with those who are serving as elders. 

The Scriptures are clear about what a man’s lifestyle practice must look like if he is to be an overseer (cf. 1 Tim 3:1–7; Titus 1:5–9). The man must be marked by a love for Jesus––seen in his godly conduct. When moral failures happen, the question is, should I leave the church right away? 

Possibly (please hold your stones). Sometimes churches will split or immediately dissolve when a tragedy like this takes place and all of the congregation is forced to go looking for another church family. Other times, church discipline is practiced and the elder who is walking in continued sin is removed. While at times, the inability to see sin, or non-confrontation of it in the past might teach something about the elders who have served alongside the individual in sin, other times, it might have been completely unforeseen (no red flags).

My encouragement in this situation before jumping overboard right away if there has been a moral compromise is to look to the remaining elders. How do they handle the situation going forward? How do they speak to the congregation, what do they say, and what is the plan and direction as they are seeking to shepherd the congregation through an extreme trial? If the elder who teaches during your main service is the one walking in sin, be reminded that he isn't your only pastor. The elders (plural) are your shepherds. Look to them. And I would be remiss for not adding that you should pray, pray for the leaders, pray for the church family, pray for the elder who was removed. This is a case-by-case “leave-worthy” situation.



Lastly, we arrive in the arena of preferences. They aren’t on the target at all. They aren’t directly pertaining to the doctrine that Christians believe but sometimes are treated at the same level or even higher. Preferences include, but are not limited to:

  • Do they play the songs/hymns I like?
  • Is the temperature too hot or cold?
  • Does the preacher talk too little or too much?
  • Does the church have a coffee shop AND donuts?
  • How many ministries does the church have?
  • Does it have all the ministries I want?
  • Is the building old or new?
  • Is it more than 10 minutes away?
  • Public versus homeschool kids?
  • Pro or anti-vaxers?

Now… some of those may have made you smile, but these are real preferences that determine where many go to church. To be clear, while preferences may be a distant peripheral matter to consider in choosing a church, I don’t believe that preferences are a reason to leave a church at present that you are serving in. There’s certainly no Bible verse that can be used to justify such a conclusion.

The purpose of the local church isn’t to make you comfortable or meet all of your preferences, and quite frankly, that’s a good thing. Because in life what matters most isn’t what you or I want, it’s what does God want? I am not saying that the Bible speaks to all matters of preference, but it should inform how we approach such matters. We should leave our preferences on the altar, they aren’t what matters most. What matters most is what a church believes about God, seen in what’s taught, and then how the truth of God’s word is lived out and applied through hearts that adore Him. These are not “leave worthy matters.”


With all that has been said, church shopping, hopping, and should it be stopping? Some people go from church to church and never plant. Others get to a church and are regularly looking for the next best thing. The grass always appears greener on the other side. We certainly live in an “I want it now culture,” but my encouragement is to be patient in matters that aren’t primary. You may need to leave over a secondary matter, but please be in prayer about it and talk with the under-shepherds who have discipled you in the faith. Change in a local church takes time. It might just be that God has you in a season of change or trial so that He will accomplish a work in you and in those around you.

If you’re in a local church that loves the Lord and is living out His word, don’t leave readily. Again, leaving a church is no insignificant matter. You’re leaving behind family that’s closer than blood, brothers and sisters who love the Lord, your shepherds who care for your soul, those who you’re investing in personally in discipleship, and those who have invested in you and your family. My encouragement is that if you leave, please make sure that you do so for the right reasons and in the right way. “And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” 

What if you do need to find another church home? Consider some of the above principles and I encourage you to please consider reading Eric Davis’ article that is related entitled, “How to Recognize a Spirit-Filled Church.”

¹ By the time Paul writes Rom 16, it does appear that there are other house churches in and around Corinth. We see Phoebe served in Cenchrea. Prisca and Aquila had a church in their home. 

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