The end of the Church Hoppers?

Back in March I recommended this blog written by a cadre of unchurched 20-somethings who decided to go visit a string of churches in the Cincinnati area and report their experiences.  They accepted recommendations from friends and commenters on churches to check out, and their reporting was refreshingly candid and honest.  They visited all kinds of churches, from old-school Catholic to ultra-contemporary Charismatic (they even visited Solid Rock Church, home of the unfortunate Big Butter Jesus statue).  It’s the kind of feedback that churches desperately need and rarely want to hear.  I loved it.

It never occurred to me that the Church Hoppers would actually find a church they liked and would settle into, since it didn’t seem that was the goal of the hopping.  Until, that is, about a month ago when they visited a church that elicited the kind of praise and enthusiasm from the hoppers that surprised me and made me really pay attention.  They’ve hung up the hopping for now and are "diving in" at this church, embracing it as a spiritual home for them.

So, what church wins the prize?  Who took the hop out of the hoppers?  Get ready….

Heritage Universalist Unitarian Church.

I know, I know–it’s a tragedy because the UU’s don’t do the Jesus thing and aren’t a real church and are a cult, etc., etc.  But if we will actually listen to the Hoppers, we can learn valuable lessons about what they experienced with the UU’s that they never experienced with "legit" churches.  (There’s a whole post to be written about whether or not "legit" churches even want to learn these lessons, but that’s for later.) 

You can read the posts yourself (the follow-up letters from the pastor and welcoming committe rep are well worth the read), but I think the whole thing boils down to these distinctions:  the "legit" churches offered answers, and the UU’s offered good questions and authentic listening.  The "legit" churches presented Truth, and the UU’s made room for discovery.  The "legit" churches showed that they knew their stuff, and the UU’s showed that you didn’t have to know it all to be one of them.

If those distinctions were presented to me without the labels and I were asked, "Where do you see the spirit of Christ operating?", I’d have picked door number 2. 

There is a tragedy here, but it isn’t that the Hoppers found the UU’s.  It’s that they never found a church that had learned how to listen more and explain less.  It’s that we’ve spent too much time refining what we believe about Christ and not enough time paying attention to what He did and said, and how.

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4 Responses to “The end of the Church Hoppers?”


  1. 1 Mattchews June 18, 2007 at 8:31 am

    I subscribed to the Hoppers back when you first introduced them. The readings were fascinating. I too read that the UU had become a place they would like to spend more time with. If you read between the lines, you can see that some other readers voiced their criticism of the UU to the bloggers. That could not have helped. The “legit” churches, in addition to what you have already stated, need to remember to speak the truth IN LOVE.

    That’s my 2 pennies.

  2. 2 Heinrich June 18, 2007 at 12:33 pm

    Speaking as someone who’s only been involved in mainstream, ‘legit’ churches for most of his life, I find it refreshing to hear that unchurched are even taking the time to hop, much less evaluate.
    I think those like me would do well to do a little hopping on their own. I did, and you know what? Sometimes . . . . SOMETIMES, the grass actually IS greener.

  3. 3 David Swink June 19, 2007 at 6:39 pm

    It seems that the key is to gently assist in bringing others to the point where they themselves are confronted with the: “Who do you say that I am?” The Lord did not address the disciples with this question at first, but later. It is the Lord that they must confront and bow in submission to; not us! We only need to bring them there. But the question still remains; “How do we do that?” I’m not sure. But I do know One who is! We must be led by the Spirit; for He alone knows.

  4. 4 byron June 19, 2007 at 9:36 pm

    Mattchews–I’ve begun to think about the “speak the truth in love” teaching in a different light lately. Instead of “speaking the truth in a loving way,” I now read it as “speaking the truth ONLY in the context of an authentically loving relationship.” In otherwords, “don’t go throwing around truth unless you really know and love the person to whom you’re presuming to teach.”

    Heinrich–I, too, am enjoying my ability to hop around a bit. It’s good for the soul.

    David–Maybe if we didn’t go beyond what Jesus did we’d be in a far better place. Instead of telling people who Jesus, is, what if we actually asked people who they think He is, and let the wheels turn?


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