Rev. Daniel Haas is currently serving as a chaplain in hospice, hospital, and Army Reserve. Rev. Haas loves numbers, manages his own blog, and helps churches with their social media, website, and communications needs.
For the first time in my life, I find myself church shopping. As a pastor I have accompanied people on the most complex of faith journeys, running away from or running towards religious experiences. First, I want to share how I have never shopped for a church, and then I want to summarize some takeaways of my shopping experience so far.
Growing up in Germany I experienced a strictly parochial system. There are no denominations. As a Christian, you are either Catholic or Protestant. Minorities exist but play no significant role in society. So, moving from my childhood home to the home of my youth was just a switch of buildings, most of the church staff were also in charge of the other church. In college I belonged to the church assigned to my residence, no questions asked.
In 2007 my wife and I decided to move to the US. Since the United Church of Christ is in full church communion with the Protestant church in Germany, that was the “natural” place for me to go. Then the UCC also has this policy where pastors are also members of the congregations they serve. So again, no need for me to “find a church”.
Over the last few years, I have transitioned into professional chaplaincy. I am no longer a local church pastor but I am still required to hold membership in a local UCC congregation, my standing, my ecclesiastical endorsement, my professional and ministerial identity depend on it.
When I left my last local pastorate, I moved my membership to the congregation I deemed most worthy of my financial support. The pastor and I had a clear understanding that “butts in pews” would not be a way for me to participate in the life of the church. I attended the Presbyterian church where my wife was the pastor. But that was not all. I also have a recurring donation going to Vet Church and since this church worships on Facebook I attend there faithfully every Sunday as well. Now, that my wife also left the local church pastorate and we moved halfway around the country again, we need to find a local church to attend.
Here is my takeaway: Attendance, Giving, and Membership are not connected. I attend two churches per Sunday these days, one UCC and the other not affiliated. My membership is currently with a congregation states away from me, but my giving is not limited to them. This sounds complex or maybe even confusing but the reality is, I am pretty straightforward and I believe most people are. People attend a church for a season. When life changes, they move on. People give to a church as long as it makes sense for them. When ministry priorities change, so does stewardship. The commitment of membership remains ambiguous. On one hand, a person is only supposed to hold one membership and transfer it properly to a different church as they transition. But Vet Church defines me as a member, as I give and worship there, but this happens outside of denominational accountability. I guess deep in my heart I am still just a member of the one Protestant church, regardless of the various names different settings give themselves.
So, from what I have experienced so far, here is what I am looking for:
- A local UCC church that will accept a member who separates Attendance, Giving, and Membership.
- A mission and ministry that is worth my money. I want to see an impact on the community and the world.
- A program that fits into my family life. Currently, that means a solid confirmation program for our two younger children.
I gained a whole new appreciation for the people I did not fully understand a few years ago. One of my churches had people send regular donations from states away over decades. They never attended and they never showed up on a membership roll. They were givers. We had people who showed up every Sunday and to every educational or service opportunity but they never committed to becoming a member or giving a penny. I used to regard that as deficient – a divided or incomplete commitment. Now I know better, how and to what extent you engage in which spiritual practice depends on unique circumstances.
Now, what does all that mean for the church? – You do you! Most church shoppers including me will look for things very individual. The church does what the church does and I will support that in a way and as long as it makes sense for me. Just like anybody else.