The term “church shopping” is high on my list of odious phrases. It denotes a consumer mindset and suggests that you should not settle in a community of believers until you find the perfect match. Since perfect matches do not exist in the realm of community any more than they do in the realm of romance, this is an endeavor doomed to produce restless, unsatisfied congregants.
That said, believers do need to belong to a community where they share the doctrine, vision, and philosophy of ministry held by that local body. Further, they need to be able to respect and support their leaders, who are “keeping watch over their souls” (Hebrews 13:17). It is therefore important that any prospective new member of a local church (or even a fully assimilated long-time member, for that matter) be cognizant of the core values of the body with which they are affiliating/ed.
Redeemer was founded on the principle that “we are not a church for ourselves, but for people who don’t like church.” From the very first days until now, 24 years later, that commitment has been the foundation beneath all of Redeemer’s priorities. We have never sought to gather those who already believe, or take people away from other churches, but to address the secular, skeptical New Yorker who would ordinarily not attend church.
Because of this foundational commitment, God has given Redeemer the rare gift of being able to communicate the gospel plausibly and persuasively to people in the most difficult to reach demographic in the country. But this comes with a price. It means that we must always remind ourselves that we inside the churchare not to put our own likes, dislikes, priorities and personal agendas ahead of the needs of those outside the church. This is difficult to the point of being nearly impossible, as the needs and desires of members (for programs and budget and training and attention from leaders) will always be more visible and voluble than the needs of people who aren’t even there and mostly are unable to articulate their spiritual needs.
Over the years I have talked to many, many people who have said, “Well, I don’t like the way Redeemer does________ (fill in the blank with “worship, music, children’s ministry, support groups,” or any number of things), but I know I can bring my unbelieving family, friends and co-workers here and they’ll hear the gospel in a way they won’t if I take them to the kind of church I like.”
The corollary, of that, friends, is that we must all be prepared to accept a certain level of dissatisfaction with some aspects of Redeemer, if those are the result of our outward-facing stance. In fact, you will only be happy at Redeemer if your first priority is not your own happiness, but the joy of seeing skeptical people encounter the gospel and be brought to new life in Christ. Compared to that we must consider our complaints about not having things all our way as insignificant.