Written by Ivy Beckwith
The Pew Research Center just released the results of a study about how church goers choose a new place of worship. As interesting a read as that is there was a nugget buried in the research summary reporting that 22% of the people surveyed who used to attend church quite regularly now only attend a few times a year or not at all. The reasons cited for this drop off in church attendance were things like being too busy, work schedules and other practical issues of life that got in the way of church attendance. This interesting statistic dovetails nicely with something I’ve been thinking about quite a bit lately. Would people be more apt to come to church services if they were held some other time than Sunday morning? Since my parents moved in with me almost two years ago I find that my weekends are far busier than they have ever been and the upshot of this is that I find I feel more rested after a weekend when I haven’t gone to a church service mid-morning on a Sunday. Do these former regular church attenders feel the same way I do? Other than work commitments they might not be crazy busy on Sunday mornings but, perhaps, just the act of trying to get out of the house – sometimes with children or teens in tow – mid morning on a Sunday throws off their rhythm just enough that they find nothing restful in the weekend.
Lucy Moore founded Messy Church in England after hearing similar sentiments from the people in her parish. “We like church,” they told her, “But Sunday morning is our only downtime. We just can’t get out of the house.” So Messy Churches happen late on week day afternoons or early evenings – beginning with raucous and messy intergenerational activities based on Bible stories, followed by a short worship service and then a meal so no one need cook for the family when they get home. The growth of Messy Church in the UK and other countries can hardly be contained.
Solomon’s Porch in Minneapolis has never met on a Sunday morning. But, they didn’t forsake Sundays choosing instead to meet on Sunday nights and now they’ve grown to two services with the first one starting in late afternoon. The church has had a long custom of late night dinners and gabfests in local restaurants following the second Sunday evening service.
Sunday mornings have long been the property of the church. The early Christians met on Sundays as a weekly commemoration of Jesus’ first day of the week resurrection. The tradition of mid to late morning worship services served the farmers who needed to get chores done in the morning and the time prior to automobiles when families who didn’t live in town arrived at the church building in horse drawn carriages. And for a long time church teaching about Sabbath and rest were tied up in strict observance of Sunday as a day set apart. Towns and municipalities had strict Blue laws about what types of businesses could open on Sundays and many families had sacrosanct rules about what types of behavior was appropriate for a Sunday. Church attendance for most was at the top of the appropriate Sunday behavior list. But times have changed. Just as the social custom of wearing one’s “Sunday best” to church has faded to a quaint custom of earlier times, Sunday has become just another day of the week for most people.
So why don’t more churches think seriously about changing their worship days and times? It could be a combination of inertia – it might just be too difficult for some churches to summon the energy to make this kind of a change – and older members who attend every week may not want to have their comfort disrupted. It could be pastors and church goers who truly believe that God mandated the first day of the week for worship and to change that would be disobeying God. Or maybe we don’t like making church attendance too easy for people. But if we truly believe in God’s extravagant welcome to all then we need to think seriously about changing many of the ways we do church and rethinking Sunday mornings might be one of the first steps we take.
Sparking Ministry Conversations
If your church wanted to make a change to move your worship services away from Sunday mornings what would stand in the way of that change? How might your church’s worship service be different if it moved from the traditional time and place on Sunday morning?
The Rev. Dr. Ivy Beckwith is the Faith Formation Team Leader for the United Church of Christ. Ivy and her team want to hear your stories about the transformative ideas your church has implemented in the area of faith formation. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 216-736-3875.