A couple of young adults - and good friends - in different parts of the country have recently and separately asked me about church shopping. Honestly, the integrity with which my friends have grappled with a question I assumed many young adults simply dismissed surprised me. In replying to one of my friends, I thought it might be useful to share a portion of my response (below). As is clear in what follows, I have a lot of personal ambivalence about the question, though not without some strong inclinations. That's all to say I'd be grateful for your own thoughts, insights, etc. in the comments at the end. Thanks!
To my friend, just moved to a new city:
"I'll be honest, I find it confusing when the church at large chides Christians for church shopping - not because I'm for church shopping, but because I wonder how else people are supposed to make sense of the existence, for example, of 6 Episcopal faith communities in Madison, a city that stretches 6 miles, end to end. If 2 churches are equidistant from one's home, it seems arbitrary at best to say one is obligated to only attend the church first produced in the google search. I don't have a good reason for why the church is structurally at adds with its admonitions against church shopping, unless the admonitions really mean loyalty to the Episcopal brand, which I'm all for but which is, in practice, increasingly an illusion of vestries and other denominational leadership. Even if that's the case, the idea that church shopping only refers to denominational infidelity is nowhere reflected in the way most denominational churches regard and/or record membership.
"So, yes. Church shop. What it means to church shop well becomes an interesting and valid question for me, and I don't pretend to have anything like a satisfactory answer for that one beyond 'shop to buy.' My own short list would be a community 1) centered on the waters of baptism (i.e., Easter Vigil) and the Eucharist, and their attending rhythms of prayer, 2) with Christ the center of the preaching, related to a love of Scripture, 3) in which the gifts of the laity are visibly lifted up and encouraged, 4) and where youth are visibly valued and invested in. Even there, I'm probably forgetting something that puts me close to heresy. My experience does tell me that when most people talk about 'being fed' they mostly mean feeding others - finding a place for their own gifts to bless and serve others in and outside of the community, which is an important part of finding belonging and is probably another name for the opportunity to love and be loved.
"Pragmatically, studies show that - absent a dogged loyalism - most folks also need 6-8 friends in a community in order to call a given church a longterm (more than six months) home. And all of this assumes a monogamous relationship (one person + one community of faith). My brother and his friends attended 6+ youth groups back in the day, which at least calls into question the assumption of ecclesial monogamy as normative. Myself, I'm all for ecclesial monogamy and I am sympathetic to Brother Emile of Taizé and his contention that 'you are not obligated to be faithful to (the churches') divisions.'"