'I want to visit another church'

Would you be shocked to discover a member of your church is also attending services elsewhere? Here’s why it may be a good thing – for the individual and for your congregation

Church leaders may be surprised to learn that it’s common for people to attend more than one church. How would you react if you learned that members of your congregation were also attending services elsewhere – regularly or occasionally? Would you feel dismayed, betrayed and see it as a negative comment on your leadership? Would you be fearful that they’ll leave your church for another, or suspicious of what they might encounter in a different church tradition? Or would you view it as a positive thing that could benefit the individual’s walk with God, and be good for your church?

Many Christians attend more than one church – for instance, a morning service at one, and an evening or midweek service at another. Anecdotal evidence suggests it’s more common among singles (although people of any relationship status may do this). However, many people report feeling guilty or disloyal, meaning they visit other churches in secret – or at least discreetly. Others have no such qualms about enjoying the benefits of what different Christian communities or traditions have to offer, and do so openly and without any negative reaction from their churches.

Why do people attend a second church? 

Many Christians have a strong loyalty to their church, but also feel the need for more (or something different) in ministry, worship style and teaching, in order to thrive in their faith. No church can be all things to all people, so visiting another church need not be taken as a threat. It can allow individuals to gain from a breadth of Christian experience. It can also benefit churches, as people pick up and share good ideas from other faith communities.

In the case of single Christians, they may attend a second church for a number of reasons. They may seek out one that offers ministries and events specifically aimed at single people – in the same way that parents look for a church that has good children’s work or youth ministry. People may also visit a second church for a different style of worship, such as quiet, reflective contemplation if their usual church tends to be loud and exuberant (or vice versa); or to access teaching from another perspective (this is relevant to both single and married people).

If there aren’t many singles at their church, people may feel isolated in a sea of families. Visiting a larger church can offer opportunities to meet others in the same situation, who they can relate to, and with whom they can share fellowship and learn how to live well as a solo Christian.

Visiting other churches is also a way for people to broaden their social circles and meet potential marriage partners. This is a sensible choice if they want to marry a fellow believer, but find few suitable prospects in their own congregation. Leaders should encourage this – not least because marrying another Christian means people are more likely to remain within the church and raise their children there.

If members feel able to visit other churches without guilt – and even with encouragement – they may be more likely to remain in a congregation, rather than feeling they have to make a choice. This can strengthen the individual’s faith, and benefit the whole community. So we encourage church leaders not to react negatively if members attend a second church, or make them feel they can’t return or must choose between churches.

‘There’s nothing wrong with two loyalties’ 

“At a recent event, I met a woman who is still attending the family church where she grew up,” explains Jackie Elton, founder of Single Friendly Church and Christian Connection. “There were no other young people in her congregation, she wasn’t thriving spiritually, and she wasn’t meeting any other single Christians. Yet she felt that to move to another church, or even visit one, would be disloyal and attract disapproval.

“I’m personally very involved in my local church, and I want to continue serving there and helping to maintain it as a valuable resource for local people. But spiritually I need more, so I visit another, larger church, where I enjoy worship that lifts me up and good teaching. We need different things from church at different times in our lives, and we shouldn’t feel guilty about that.

“I know leaders who are very relaxed about people also attending other churches and finding God in different places, without feeling the need protect their position or control their congregation. As human beings, we often need a variety of experiences – it’s better than getting stale, bored and resentful. Trying different churches can also help people better appreciate the good aspects of their own church.”

What single Christians say…

We spoke to some of our members about their experience of attending two (or more) churches. Here’s what they had to say…

“I struggle with going to a large church as a single, older woman (I’m widowed), because churches are full of people like me and nobody notices me – to be ignored is crushing. So I like going to a smaller church, where I have a role and feel part of the family. Unfortunately, as smaller churches can be limited, I sometimes need to go elsewhere to experience different worship and teaching. I don’t think people in either church know I’m attending elsewhere, although I’ve not deliberately kept it secret.” – Anne.

“I’m Anglican by background, but I’ve always visited services of other denominations. When my 30-year marriage ended, friends at church supported me – and through friends of friends, I was invited to events at a Free Methodist church with a thriving women’s ministry. I started attending evening services there. I love the lively, Spirit-filled worship of the Methodist church, but I teach Sunday School at the Anglican church, and we’re short of leaders so I’m committed to both churches. I’m not looking for another relationship but at the Methodist church, there are events and weekends away just for ladies, which is lovely.” – Meg

“Sometimes you need more than one church. My main church has a good pastor and great teaching – but at the same time, I feel out of place because there’s no one in my age group to interact with, which is important when you’re single and lonely. Although people are friendly and nice, they’re all older than me (I’m in my 30s) and I don’t have much in common with them, so I go to another church mid-week, where there are people like me.” – John

“I’m 55, single for 11 years, with grown-up children. My church is great, with fab worship, good teaching and lovely people. But for a divorced single, there’s no specific support or understanding. It’s very family orientated and divorced singles don’t easily fit, so I currently only go once or twice a month. I have a group of single ladies with whom I go for walks, and twice a year we visit another church for singles events, which provide teaching, assurance, worship and fun. Some of the ladies have started relationships and seem to integrate much easier as couples, as they’re invited to parties and nights out with other couples. My leaders don’t know I visit another church – I do feel a sense of betrayal, although it’s not logical.” – Irene

“Both churches I attend have their pros and cons. The small church accepts people as they are, and is great with things like Mother’s Day – I’ve felt very included there, whereas I’d avoid the big church like the plague on Mother’s Day! The big church assumes that normal people get married and have families. However, it has lots of connections, an internet message board and a wide choice of mid-week activities – but you can get lost in the crowd. On the other hand, the small church has very few members and therefore single people. Less people to do all the jobs means it’s easier to muck in. You can’t hide there and it’s more reliant on the Holy Spirit. The small church knows I also attend another church, but I don’t tell many people – I do feel a little guilty.” – Lisa

“Finding a single-friendly church is a challenge. In many congregations, you’re very much reminded of the fact that you’re single. It’s strange that churches don’t see singles as being people of value, given that God does. I go to one church for the good Biblical teaching, and another to find people who are friendly and inclusive.” – Jeff

“One church I go to is very cosmopolitan and I enjoy the atmosphere, but it doesn’t have any women’s or singles ministry. Everyone just leaves after church and there’s no real community. My second church has regular prayer meetings and social events for singles, and two singles retreats a year for teaching, refreshing and connection. I started to attend that church after it made a pre-marriage relationships skills class open to singles too, which I found beneficial. It also has a monthly prayer meeting for women. One church cannot fulfil all your needs – you have decide where you get the most inspiration, where you’re fed spiritually, and where you’re able to be of service. People at my first church are aware that I also attend the second, but don’t fully understand why.” – Isi

“As an evangelical Christian, I wanted to belong to an evangelical church, but I couldn’t get on with the worship style – silence, meditation and Taize work better for me. There was also a lot of emphasis on families, but my daughter and I weren’t part of the group as I worked in the daytimes and had no partner to take to Sunday lunch invites. I started using ‘family services’ as an opportunity to visit other churches, and was soon attending the Quakers regularly. I eventually left the first church and now divide my time between the Quakers and a lively Methodist church, where I’m on the church council. Both understand why I attend other services and have no issues with it. I’m also a member of an Anglican dispersed religious order, which offers structure and accountability that help me live as a Christian. So I’m part of three faith communities, and it’s great – so many networks of friends and fellow pilgrims. Those communities are also enriched by it, as I can help share good ideas. Going to more than one church means more of your needs will be met, which is important if you’re single because you don’t have a partner to meet some of your needs. It’s also a super way of widening your circle of friends. I’d say if you are single, try it.” – Karen

With thanks to: Anne, Isi, Irene, Jackie, Jeff, John, Karen, Lisa and Meg. Some names have been changed to protect privacy.

Catherine Francis, 4 June 2019