The New York Times, summarizing a survey done by The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, notes that Americans are changing churches/religions at an increasing rate. I believe it, but I'll also throw something out here, and see if it resonates with anybody.
I don't identify myself with a particular theological tradition other than "orthodox Christianity." And I wonder if there are others out there like me, and whether that fact contributes to the increased fluidity noted in the Pew survey. The fact that someone is Catholic, Orthodox, mainline Protestant, evangelical Protestant, emerging church, whatever, is almost immaterial to me. I say "almost" because, yes, I think doctrine matters very much in terms of basic Christian beliefs. But once those basic beliefs (nicely encompassed in The Apostle's Creed) are confirmed, then the things I'm looking for in a good church can be met in a variety of denominational settings. And I'll go to the "best" church that meets those doctrinal requirements (and I'll define "best" in a minute).
I am a theological mongrel (some would say "bastard," and they'd probably be right, too). I grew up in the Catholic Church, pursued the god of hedonism for a while (and then a little while longer as a Christian, and then longer again; that's still the besetting temptation in my life), came back to the faith through the Jesus Movement, was a Jesus Freak in a non-denominational Christian community for eight years, have been membered in Brethren (Anabaptist/Arminian) and Presbyterian (Calvinist) churches, and currently find myself in a Vineyard church, which combines elements of the Jesus Freak, Calvinist, and Anabaptist traditions with a liturgical and contemplative focus that is heavily indebted to the Catholic and Anglican traditions. So what does that make me? I don't know. A Christian, as best I can figure.
I will be membered wherever people desire to pursue a relationship with God, and understand in some fairly non-negotiable ways that dying to self and living for Christ is the hardest and most rewarding life imaginable, and that it takes a community where people are known and loved, warts and all, to make that happen. That's what constitutes the "best" church, in my opinion. Realizing that any church will fall somewhat short of the mark (if nothing else because I am in it), I have always looked for the local church that comes closest to understanding and embodying those ideals. When I was a young adult that was a community in the middle of the ghetto in Columbus, Ohio. When I lived in a small Ohio town it was the local PCUSA church. Now it's a Vineyard church, although, quite honestly, I'm sure there are Vineyard churches out there that would drive me crazy, and that I could never be a part of. I'm simply not wedded to a particular theological tradition, and changing traditions is simply the price that has to be paid when one moves, and when one is looking for the "best" local incarnation of what it means to be the body of Christ at a particular time in a particular place.
From what I can tell, there are a lot of similarly-minded Christians out there. I'm in a church full of them; people who recognize the value of a lot of different theological traditions, and how those traditions can address the shortcomings of any one theological viewpoint. I am, first and foremost, a Christian. The doctrinal/historical distinctives are not unimportant, but they take a back seat (pew? folding Samsonite chair?) to hanging out with a bunch of folks who understand, deep down, their need for Christ, their own culpability in the mess they have made of their lives, and their utter dependence on Jesus to sort it out. First and foremost I look for a messy church. If all things are done decently and in order, then I simply figure that people are wearing their nice, proper Christian masks, and I have better things to do with my life than play that game again. And I wonder how much those kinds of thoughts factor in to the increasing fluidity of church membership that is noted in that Pew survey. Anybody have any thoughts?