ST. PAUL, Minn. — Sarah Koscielniak of St. Paul might worship in an Ethiopian church one Sunday morning and a Lutheran church the next. Then, she might decide to visit a church that’s affiliated with the Christian and Missionary Alliance denomination.
The 22-year-old is part of a growing national trend — she’s a "church hopper," people who sample a variety of worship styles. They could attend one church because they like the preaching or the style of music, and move on to another one for Bible study and youth programs.
"I didn’t want to necessarily tie myself to one specific denomination and church," said Koscielniak, who attends all three churches. "They’re (denominations) important and distinctive, but in this time and age, it’s less so, especially for young people who didn’t grow up thinking their denomination was the absolutely correct one."
So-called church hoppers typically worship at multiple Christian congregations, often of different denominations, according to a Minneapolis Star Tribune report (http://bit.ly/SqSXLU ). It’s a trend that worries some pastors, who say church hoppers miss out on a vital sense of community.
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Christians have traditionally worshipped at the same church week to week, but churchgoers are beginning to show less loyalty in their quest to meet their spiritual needs, said Scott Thumma, a researcher at the Hartford Institute for Religious Research in Hartford, Conn.
"I think that whole consumer and individualistic impulse in our society has also lapsed over into our religious life," he said. "Denominational identities still exist and people still think of the differences. But in fact ... that is breaking down, the power of that identity to shape the person."
Evangelical Christians tend to be particularly active church hoppers, Thumma said, but mainline Protestants and Catholics do so, too.
Koscielniak, who was raised in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, said she enjoys see seeing how different churches worship, even when their theologies and doctrines are similar.
Pastors might find it challenging to build relationships with parishioners like her. Religious scholars also note that church hoppers are less likely to volunteer or donate time or money.
The Rev. Henry Williams, pastor at the Five Oaks Community Church in Woodbury, doesn’t think his congregation has many church hoppers, but he does worry that the practice can hurt parishioners.
"It’s not the way it’s designed to work," Williams said. "... At what point do you say, ’Where are you connecting and where are you serving and where are you giving and where are you connecting with people?’ "
Nondenominational congregations have been growing in recent decades, with more than 12 million adherents in the United States, ranking as the third-largest religious body, according to the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies. Nondenominational congregations are the fourth-largest religious body in Minnesota, with about 130,000 adherents.
Over the past few years, Dan Frankot has attended three different metro churches.
When he’s looking for a "contemplative" and "Quakerish" type of worship experience, he attends Missio Dei in Minneapolis, which is linked to the Mennonite faith. He also goes to Woodland Hills church in St. Paul, because he enjoys the "charismatic" services. And when he’s in the mood for "laid back" services, he goes to Solomon’s Porch, an emergent Christian church in Minneapolis where congregants sit on sofas around coffee tables.
Frankot said he wouldn’t feel nearly as fulfilled if he limited himself to a single congregation every Sunday.
"By being broad like this, it’s a richness," he said. "It’s like, would you rather be narrow and have two friends or have a lot of friends in your life? And that’s kind of where I’m at. I can’t be narrow anymore."