Church Shopping: Blessing or Curse?

In last month’s Christianity Today, Richard Mouw wrote an article titled, “Spiritual Consumerism’s Upside: Why Church Shopping May Not be All Bad.” (I would explain the thesis, but I’m pretty sure you get the gist from the title) A short excerpt:

I see these vocational explorations [church shopping] as an exciting feature of contemporary religious life. We should celebrate the diversity of our Christian landscape, manifested, for example, in the existence of Lutheranism, Vineyard Fellowships, and Stone-Campbell congregations. If such diversity encourages a consumerist approach to the spiritual quest, so be it.

He also sees Protestants’ church shopping as a parallel to different orders (Jesuits, Benedictines, Franciscans) within the Roman Catholic Church.

Then today I came across this article, “My Church, My Strip Mall,” by Anthony Sacramone, the managing editor of First Things, which he wrote in response to Mouw. He has different ideas:

Because we are faced with the fact of ecclesiological chaos does not make it healthy or desirable. I would argue that it may even be spiritually corrupting. Look, I’ve been there myself. As I wrote a while back in this space, I spent a good, long time—years—collecting church bulletins like frequent fliers collect air miles. But I never considered potluck Protestantism a great good.

In the last eight or nine months, I have found myself reaching for a lot of the same justifications Mouw is in his article, but none of them were satisfactory. And I don’t find Mouw’s satisfactory either. The two problems I see with Mouw’s article are (1) the parallel he draws between Protestant traditions and Catholic religious and lay orders is a huge stretch (Sacramone calls it “daft”) and (2) Mouw baldly equates any move from one church tradition to another with “church shopping” in all its various forms and contexts. It seems to me that the sociological phenomenon of church shopping refers not to people moving – out of moral or doctrinal conviction or something similar – from one tradition to another but to the ease with which modern North Americans float from church to church, depending mostly on whim, convenience, and personal taste. This has little to do with moral or doctrinal conviction. As Sacramone says, “Mouw’s celebration of ‘cultural diversity’ isn’t even doctrinal minimalism—it’s doctrinal irrelevance.” In essence, it should matter where we go to church as Protestants, because there is not necessarily a consensus among us on what one should believe.

I’m interested to hear other responses to these articles. Give me some feedback.

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