by Ken Gardner

That's the title of a recent newspaper article. "Experts," according to the article, say that "comparison shopping for churches" is now common. People shop for churches much the same way they shop for new cars, "rating places of worship on everything from clergy charisma to music to child care." Many "compile a list of candidates," some by asking friends and co-workers, some by looking through the phone book, and some by driving around. One lady drew a circle on a map and visited every Episcopal church within five miles of her home. (She was faithful to her denomination, but left her home congregation, where she had been a member for fifty years, because of "congregational politics." Is there a lesson to be learned here?)

After shopping around, how do people decide on a church? Here's the main deciding factors: clergy, "quality of worship, with music a big part of that," friendliness, programs, driving distance, parking, congregational size, physical plant, fees and finance, and child care. But this is not to say everyone is looking for the same thing. "Some want their music contemporary, others classical. Some like worship reserved and ceremonial, and others direct and emotional." And some take a long time to decide. "About two of five church shoppers take a year to decide." And even then the level of commitment is not very high. "We may stay, we may not," is the attitude of many.

As New Testament Christians we must understand that we don't have what many people are looking for, and never will! We are not in the business of catering to what people think they want or need. We do indeed have what people truly need, but unfortunately many do not recognize the answer to their problems, or that they even have a problem! Although we do sincerely love and persuade others, we are not involved in buying and selling, posturing, manipulating, maneuvering, negotiating and compromising. We instead "speak the truth in love" (Ephesians 4:15), we "persuade men" (II Corinthians 5:11), we pray "for all men" (I Timothy 2:1), we "preach the word . . . in season, out of season" (II Timothy 4:2), we "reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long-suffering and doctrine" (II Timothy 4:2), and we "earnestly contend for the faith" (Jude 3). But we understand that there are many who "will not endure sound doctrine," who have "itching ears," who "heap to themselves teachers," and who "turn away their ears from the truth" (II Timothy 4:3-4). Our goal is to "preach the gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15), not so that "church shoppers" can be catered to, but so that those who "hunger and thirst after righteousness" may be "filled" (Matthew 5:6). Jesus condemned the "church shoppers" of his day, telling them, "Ye seek me . . . because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled" (John 6:26). Our Lord did not run after them when they "turned back, and walked no more with him" (v. 66). We won't either.