How to Church Shop Like the First Christians

In an age of virtual worship services, some things should stay the same.

A lot has changed with respect to church service attendance since the COVID-19 pandemic began, and some of these trends are likely to continue this year.

Many believers are still navigating the precarious balancing act between in-person gathering and online streaming, while some are looking to switch churches or denominations this year. Others have stopped going to church altogether.

There are those who attend multiple churches, often via virtual platforms—a practice which intensified last year.

In the summer of 2020, just a few short months into the pandemic, more than one in three practicing Christians—those for whom church engagement is a priority—were streaming services from churches other than the one they were formally committed to.

And while this trend is relatively recent historically speaking, the phenomenon of church hopping and shopping began well before the pandemic—with nearly two in five churchgoers reporting regular attendance to multiple churches back in 2019.

A friend told me recently that when the pandemic first forced churches online, she began streaming services from a church across the country because she had always enjoyed the preacher’s style and his books. But once her county allowed gatherings again, she returned to attend her home church in person. When I asked her why, she said she came to the realization that “watching a service is great, but it isn’t church.”

While we may not all agree on that statement, it is worthwhile for us to discuss what constitutes “church” and what sets it apart—as well as how and why we are called to commit faithfully to one. Whether they acknowledge it or not, some Christians primarily …

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