By Grace Gaddy
As the academic school year takes off, one point on the to-do list for many incoming Baylor students includes finding a local church, a task often known to stir up anxious thoughts.
But church hopping, as many refer to the mission of exploring and trying out various congregations, need not be an intimidating or prolonged experience, according to members of the Baylor Spiritual Life staff.
Jared Slack, pastoral resident in worship at the Bobo Spiritual Life Center, said he always encourages students to “hop away” their first semester.
“Go to different places, experience different churches and allow yourself to go to a place where you don’t know anybody, but just try it out,” Slack said.
Students should explore with humility and pray throughout the whole process, he said, noting that the key rests in a willingness to serve and get involved, not “just be a spectator.”
“You have to be part of the creation,” Slack said. “You have gifts and talents that you have to offer this church, this community that you’re going to be journeying with over the next four years of your life. Don’t keep those gifts to yourself — pour them into the church that you find yourself in, and go to some place where you can be used to do good things in that community.”
Ryan Richardson, associate chaplain and director of worship, said that church-hoppers often go about it with the wrong mindset.
“We tend to approach church like we approach the movies, which is, ‘Hey, there’s a really entertaining place to go!’” he said. “In that, how many people go to movies by themselves? Very few. So you typically go with a bunch of friends, and that’s fine, nothing wrong with that, but you go to the movie that you really want to see, so you go to this church that’s really self-gratifying.”
Richardson said this proves detrimental in the long run, as students hope to be served instead of to serve.
“All you do is sit there in your chair, and you watch what’s happening on the screen, and you’re never personally effective one way or the other,” he said.
Slack said this approach mirrors a consumer-driven society, as church hopping becomes more like “church shopping.”
“Sometimes students look for a church in the same way they would a new outfit at the mall,” Slack said. He said students often ask themselves which church is the perfect fit that they will “look best in.”
Slack remembers asking himself in college what churches would give to him and what he could get out of them.
Such an approach opens the floor for futile exchanges of differences, Richardson said. When a church-hopper rejects a congregation simply because the “band was bad” or the pastor had a different preaching style, the consumer cycle repeats. Thus, church hopping turns into an egocentric quest centered around the person searching, Slack and Richardson said.
San Antonio senior Grace Bono said she chose a church her freshman year because of a person she was dating at the time. While she felt like the Lord still used that experience, she said this was not the best idea. A student should make a personal decision and go where they feel they can experience the greatest growth — not based on friends’ choices, she said.
“Don’t spend a whole year trying to find a church for your friends,” she said.
Matt Andrews, ministry associate for worship and a student at George W. Truett Theological Seminary, said a student looking for a local church must listen to the Holy Spirit’s leading.
God may be calling them to a church that fits outside of what they had envisioned and may or may not have a college ministry, he said.
At some point, students need to make a choice and stay committed, Richardson, Slack and Andrews said.
Andrews said he imagined God might tell the habitual church-hopping student, “Just choose one. I didn’t call you to church-hop all four years.”