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Another thought on church shopping and polarization

Yesterday’s post on church shopping and cultural polarization reminded me of a question I’ve been cogitating on for the past week or two.

What would it look like if we were forced to go back to attending local community churches? How would it affect our view of what was necessary in a church and what things were “essentials”?

Say gas prices spiked to the point where we couldn’t afford to drive the 10 miles each way to our church of choice. Our choices are now walking or riding bicycles on Sunday morning. In my neighborhood, that would limit my choices to four churches, one Catholic, one United Church of Christ, one “Community of Christ” (which I know very little about) and one Lutheran Church Missouri Synod.

In our 2008 church search (not limited by driving distance) we didn’t really consider any Lutheran churches; would a walking-distance limit change my mind? Probably, given my options. Another possibility: would we canvas the neighborhood to see if there were other like-minded evangelicals who wanted to meet in a house church with us? Seems like an option, but it also seems somewhat fractured and silly given that there’s a LCMS church in the neighborhood.

See how quick the criteria changes? All of a sudden I’m thinking about what might be “good enough” rather than finding the church that’s exactly what I want. So what I’ve proved (to myself, at least) here is that in my non-distance-limited church choosing I’ve unconsciously made a tradeoff, choosing a church that more closely aligns with my doctrinal and worship style comfort zone above a local church that would have me going to worship with my neighbors.

This isn’t an unusual trade-off; it’s one that our suburban culture has widely adopted. Gas is (relatively) cheap, driving everywhere is natural, and so we spend time in the car to associate, or shop, or worship, with those of our choosing rather than those of our neighborhood. And this post isn’t really all that different from a slew of other blog posts and books wrestling with the suburban culture and longing for a true local community.

But it’s a challenging exercise to think through. What churches would you have as options? What would you do?

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