Confessions of a church hopper

2016-10-07_12_fullWe were loved. Important. Respected. We belonged. No doubt about it- the Trout family was a major part of the Celina First Church of God from 1982 until we moved away in 1996.

And I haven’t felt like I truly belonged at a church since.

Hi. My name is Natalie. And I’m a church hopper.

Here’s how it usually goes: I start attending a church. It’s exciting. I like it. I like the people. I learn from the pastor. I decide to get involved. I start to feel like I don’t belong. I convince myself that I don’t belong. I leave.

Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

“It’s not about you,” I’ve often heard from blogs and articles I’ve read and comments from friends and family. “It’s about God. People are messy. No church is perfect.”

Because, you know, I wasn’t aware of those things.

I’m not looking for perfection. I’m looking for belonging. And I’m not alone. I have a number of amazing, Christ-following friends who change churches every year or two. We just keep moving. We can’t find a place where we really belong.

There are many of us who could win a gold medal in church hopping.

Part of it is my fault. Part of it is the fault of the church and other Christians. My biggest takeaway from my year and a half at a Christian college was that there was no room for sinners among Christians. I now know that isn’t true, but I carried it with me for a long time, and still often struggle with, “I’m not good enough to be here,” no matter how unbiblical that is.

It’s interesting. I hear family members and friends talk about “church hoppers,” and they roll their eyes, not even taking into consideration that I have lived in Fort Wayne for ten years and been a regular attender at four different churches in that time frame.

I left the first church because they royally screwed me over financially concerning a mission trip. Trust me, it was bad. And they knew it, but never made it right. Someone can only say, “We’re sorry you fell through the cracks again, we’ll be sending you the money we owe you this week!” so many times before you give up.

My next church was heartbreaking to leave. I begged and begged to get plugged into a small group for years, but was repeatedly told that there were “no openings.” I had to start my own group or wait for an opening if I was to be in a small group. I prayed about it, was not even remotely led by God to lead or start a group. So I was pretty much out of luck. I decided I needed to find a church that DID have room for me in a small group.

I searched all over the city for months until I found the most recent church I left. It was dynamic, exciting, they were doing so much to reach the unchurched! But as time went on, something was… off. I can’t explain it. I’m sad to say that most of the people I got to know there have since left as well. I believe it’s a good church. I believe their mission to reach the unchurched is needed in our community. But for me, I wasn’t getting what we call “spiritually fed.”

Time once again came to go church shopping. Ugh. Finding a church where you fit in is no easy task. While I feel like I have found one now, I am fearful and guarded.

And like most things, the internet makes you feel like an awful person because of it.

“Church hopping is dangerous and will cause injury to your spirit!” one article says.

But so many of us keep doing it. And here’s my take- isn’t it better to church hop than to give it up completely? Should those of us searching for belonging just give up? Because if we don’t, if we keep looking for a church where we belong, we’ll continuously be judged and labeled as a church hopper.

Grace for the broken. Grace for those with addictions. Grace for the pastor who has an affair. Grace for the pregnant teen. What about grace for the church hopper?

I’d rather jump churches for the rest of my life, hearing God’s word at each one, than to give it up completely. And no matter where I go to church, I do have Christian community and accountability in my friends and co-workers. I simply need somewhere to worship and hear God’s word.

I will say this about the most recent church I left- they are the only church in my 38 years on this earth that noticed I stopped attending. They have reached out to me multiple times to welcome me back, say they missed me, etc. etc. WE NEED MORE OF THAT. Jesus talked about leaving the flock to find one sheep. Shouldn’t churches be doing the same to some degree? To at least say, “We miss you?” All it takes is a card or an email.

The truth is I realize, I don’t need to “belong” to any church. I belong to Jesus, no matter where I go.

If you’ve got a church home that you love, good for you. If you haven’t experienced the discomfort of not belonging somewhere, consider yourself lucky. And please, have a little grace for those of us who are still searching for where we belong.

“For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.”
Matthew 18:20

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To my new church “home”…

architecture-1868940_1920Dear my new church “home,”

I wanted to write you and be up front with you about a few things. It’s kind of like on The Bachelor when a woman tells the man, “I think there are some things you need to know about me before we get more involved.” And then he ends up sending her away. Not immediately, he would look like a jerk, but eventually, he sends her packing. Her baggage is too much.

Well, that’s me. I have a lot of “church” baggage, and I want to be up front about it.

There are gory details that I won’t share, but I will say this: my heart is broken. It’s been beaten down. Sometimes it was my fault. Sometimes it wasn’t. But overall, I am wounded. I have been wounded for years. And let’s face it, while your gym or internet provider wants to know why you left and begs you to stay, people in churches just don’t do that. They often take more of a “don’t let the door hit you on the way out” type of stance.

I was to the point a few months ago where I had given up on church. Not on God, I’ve never given up on Him. But I was at the point where I decided I didn’t need a church family. I simply could not put myself through the hurt again of trying to find a church and not being accepted. The idea of trying to fit in and being rejected was too much to handle.

Then, on Valentine’s Day, I read Kelly Minter’s blog post “Valentine’s Day from a Single’s Perspective,” and she spoke of how important her church community is to her. How its made her singleness less lonely. How it’s encouraged her.

“I want that,” I realized. And I decided I wouldn’t stop until I found it.

My church hurts run deep. Really deep. Like many, I’ve been pushed around, beat down, judged, ignored, given empty promises, and flat out lied to by people in the church. Because, let’s face it, churches are made up of people. People are flawed. There will never be a “perfect church” until we get to heaven.

Still, I desire a church that will at least accept me and all my baggage.

A church that will help me grow in my walk with Christ.

A church that will treat me as more than an unmarried woman.

A church that will realize I have things to offer, even though I don’t have a husband or children.

A church that will challenge me to spread God’s word and to go outside of my comfort zone to do so.

A church that will wrap its arms around me and see that I have value.

Despite my greatest efforts, I haven’t felt valued by a church in years.

So, new church home, I hope you will accept me. I hope you will let me be of service to you. I hope you will value me, and I will value you. I will let your pastor and people guide me. I will use my God-given talents to help the church.

I am scared. I am skeptical. I don’t want to get too excited. But I am hopeful that God has a place for me in your church. I hope you will be my church family. I pray I have found where I belong.

Sincerely,
Natalie, a very broken church goer

“We have created being married with children
as the superior status in the church,
but we serve a Savior who was single.”
Panelist at IF:Gathering 2017

 

 

They just don’t know what to do with us…

It was a glorious Sunday morning when I walked into a potential church home. I was excited at the new friends I would meet, the great sermon I would hear and the spectacular worship I would experience. I was there by myself, of course, I was a single woman with no children.1308201_objects_of_propaganda

I looked to my right and saw a man in a suit with sunglasses on and a walkie-talkie. He looked at me and frantically muttered something into his walkie-talkie. I looked to my left and saw three other men in suits and sunglasses running towards me. Not knowing what to do, I ran down the nearest hallway only to be pulled into a dark room by yet another man in a suit and sunglasses. They shut the door, set me down at a table and put a spotlight on me.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

“Well,” one of them said. “You’re single.”

“Yeah,” I said, not understanding what the problem was.

“This is church,” he said.

I was even more confused.

“We don’t know what to do with you,” the man said. “Single people in their 30’s scare us. We don’t know where to put you.”

“Could I start off by just going to church?” I asked.

They laughed.

“Who will you sit with?” one of then asked.

“Myself. It’s not social hour, I’m here to worship and learn,” I said.

“But then what? Then what do we do with you?” one of them said. “Where do we put you?”

“Well, is there a place for me?” I asked.

The men all shouted in unison, “No!”

“Can we create one?” I said.

They all just looked at each other before one of them spoke up. “It’s just easier if we ignore you.”

My heart broke, but I wasn’t surprised. It was the same story at every church I’d ever been to.

“We do have a women’s group!” one piped up. “It’s for ladies in their 30’s, just like you! They meet every Tuesday morning at 10 a.m.”

“I have a job.” I said.

“Well most of these ladies are stay-at-home moms. Don’t you want to be that?”

“No,” I said without hesitation.1379514_a_lonely_chair_on_white_background

The men were so baffled that they removed their sunglasses and rubbed their eyes.

“There has to be a place for me!” I screamed.

“We have a great college group,” one began.

“I’m 32. I’ve been out of college for 9 years,” I said.

“We’ve got a phenomenal group of singles who are divorced or widowed,” one spoke up. “They like to get together and talk about their hurts and how hard it is to move on.”

“I’ve never been married,” I said. “Can’t I just join a group that focuses on my relationship with Christ?”

No one said a word.

“Isn’t that what it should be about?” I asked.

Finally someone spoke up, “But we still don’t know what to do with you.”

“Would it be easier if I just left?”

“Yes!” they all said.

So I stood up, walked out of the room and out of the church. They just didn’t know what to do with me.

———————-

1354792_churchThere’s a spot for everyone at church, or so they say. But I think being a single person above the age of 30 is the worst thing to be at a church. Even a drug addict can walk into a church and people will know what to do- they will pray, help the person find addictions counseling, sign them up for Celebrate Recovery, and get them well on their way to a better life. You could be someone who just lost their entire family in a horrific shark attack and the church would know more what to do with you than it does with a single person.

Why do you think so few single people go to church? It’s because we don’t fit in. People think you aren’t married because you must be some sort of demonic person or partier, or that you have absolutely no social skills.

Women’s groups are all focused on being a wife or a mother, or both. Men’s groups are the same way, you’re a husband and/or a father. Churches have tried the whole, “people in their 30’s, no matter what their situation” type of groups, but they don’t work. It always turns into talks about being moms and dads. Plus then the women get catty when you have more in common with their husbands than you do the them. Sorry gals- I can’t talk breast feeding and potty training with you, but I can talk about last night’s IU game with your husbands, and it doesn’t mean I’m trying to steal them away from you.

I wish it would just be about God. I know small groups are intimate and women will share sdetails of their lives with each other- that’s to be expected. It just seems like so many groups are solely focused on being a spouse or a parent.

The church just doesn’t know what to do with us. I can’t say I blame them, and wish I knew of a solution. While my story above is obviously fictional, I have been told by multiple workers in various churches that they really don’t know what to do with us. This isn’t all in my head!

I’ve resorted to having my own Bible studies… with myself. I guess that’s fine, at least I’m getting spiritually fed. I just hope that maybe someday churches will figure out what to do with all of us crazy single people.