church of choice

When I was growing up the Saturday paper always featured church advertisements.  In the middle of the church ad page, there was a line encouraging the reader to worship at his/her “church of choice.”  I was always a little amused the the worship service buffet laid out each week.   Somehow it reminded me of the cruise ship commercials where we see smiling people munching at the insanely overstocked buffet.

Last week I heard two Duke professors on the radio talking about their new book on the subject of choice.  It’s called You Choose:  The Habits of Mind that Really Determine How We Make Decisions.   I haven’t finished the book yet, so I hope I’m not getting this wrong, but the basic idea is that we have certain habitual ways of thinking (risk-taker?  independent thinker?  altruist?) that determine how we vote, parent, and live our lives.  The idea left me dumbfounded, sitting in my car and wondering about all the implications.

In particular, I wonder if all our church marketing and outreach strategies are wrong.  What if people are pre-determined to express their spirituality, or relationship with God, in a certain way, and what if we can do very little to change that?

For example, I was just talking to a young man who started his own church here in town, and he was very frank about the church’s “target population” being artists, denizens of downtown bars, and to use his word, “hipsters.”  He was a pretty hip looking guy himself.  (I’m getting too old to tell what is hip.)

So is it true?  Free thinkers go to the church that does what it pleases and has no paid staff?  People who do not enjoy taking risks go to the church with the most solid-looking building? 

In some ways we already quietly acknowledge this form of predestination to be true.  Look around at any church and you’ll see a lot of people who are similar in background and outward appearance.

And yet…

I know a few avant garde kind of people who attend First Presbyterian and love it.  One of them says he needs the structure of a church with a building and a staff and a liturgy. 

I know some people whom I wrongly pegged as stuffy, and they attend the church full of young adults, with the most rockin’ contemporary service in town.

I know people who are politically liberal, yet attend small conservative congregations because they love the tight-knit community.

I suppose the biggest challenge for American churchgoers is that we are in love with the idea of choice.  We worry any time we feel that our choices are being constricted.  We especially want lots of freedom when choosing how to worship or express our spiritual side.

So I guess the church buffet will always be open.  The question is, is something from that buffet calling your name before you even pick up your plate?

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