There is a huge cultural shift that has taken place within the last decade that directly affects the Church. I know, usually massive cultural shifts go unnoticed for at least 25 years before we catch on, but this one is so obvious that even a Baptist like me can see it. This societal change is something that could drastically change the way we do church.
The problem is that our culture no longer treats Sunday as sacred. Not long ago there was no way a kids sporting event or a community activity would have been scheduled for a Sunday morning. Secular society understood that Sunday was a day for worship. There was some measure of respect for that time. But today, Sunday is just Saturday part 2. That means sporting events and community activities are just as likely to be on a Sunday as a Saturday. In fact, Sunday morning is quickly becoming the preferred time to schedule an event.
This cultural shift puts the American Church in an awkward place. We haven’t had much competition for a long time. If you have any young families in your church, then you have most likely already seen the struggle they are going through. These families are being forced to make tough choices. They have to choose between letting their kids play sports and going to church. They have to choose between taking part in school and community activities and Sunday services. That’s not a choice my parents ever had to make and it’s not fair!
There is something about asking committed Christian families to pull out of their culture and community that feels wrong to me.
As pastors who love the Church, our first instinct is to tell people to ditch Babe Ruth and get their kids to church! People need to make church the priority! The Bible commands church attendance! Church is way more important than anything else! The solution is a simple one, abandon everything else and go to church!
But there’s a problem with that; the Bible also commands us to be salt and light. The whole goal of church is to spread the gospel and make disciples. There is something about asking committed Christian families to pull out of their culture and community that feels wrong to me. I want there to be a strong Christian presence at the soccer games and the community parades. Some of our best opportunities for evangelism come as we share life with other people.
I guess I could just preach a bunch of sermons on how people need to be more like Eric Liddell (Google him, kids!), but there is an inherent danger to that approach.
In the evangelism class at Western Seminary, I learned that there are essentially two kinds of churches: “Seeker-Oriented” and “Gather/Scatter.” Seeker-Oriented churches use an attractional model to get unbelievers to come to church. The focus of the service is primarily aimed at connecting with those unbelievers who are seeking God. Small groups and discipleship are used to equip and educate those who are already believers. The Gather/Scatter church recognizes that the majority of people who will attend a worship service are already Christians. The goal of the service is to worship God, encourage sanctification, and equip the saints. Small groups and discipleship are also used to educate and equip. They gather together to learn and grow, then scatter out into the world to share Jesus and shine like a light.
After a few years as a pastor, I realized that there is a third kind of church that needs to be added to the list: the “Holy Huddle” church. This is the church that is all gather and no scatter. This kind of church is in-grown and cut off from the rest of the world, obsessed with their traditions. These churches just don’t know how to engage with their community at all. Sometimes these churches can be big and financially healthy, but they are missionally dead.
As the pastor of an older, well established Gather/Scatter style church, I recognize how easy it would be for us to turn into nothing but a holy huddle. I feel like I am constantly fighting against a strong gravitation pull inward. I want to make sure that when we gather it is accomplishing the goals of worship, training and growth. And I also want to make sure that when we scatter we are accomplishing the goal of sharing the gospel and shining a light.
Pastor, there is nothing magical about Sunday morning at 10am. It’s okay to be creative and do things differently.
Gathering together on Sunday morning and then scattering out into the world the rest of the week is easy to do in a society that leaves Sunday alone. But we don’t live in that world anymore. We can respond to the change with guilt trips and increased separation from the community we live in, or we can make a few adjustments:
- Gather at a different time. That’s the great thing about being New Covenant believers; there’s no rule about the day or time that we need to meet.
- Gather with a purpose. We need do more during our gatherings to teach people what they are supposed to do when they scatter. Encourage, equip, and spur one another on to love and good deeds.
- Encourage people to scatter with a mission in mind. Remind people that their involvement in every school activity, every YMCA sport, and every community event is a divine appointment. They are missionaries with a mission field.
- Encourage people to scatter with a heart of worship. Encourage people to daily sing songs of praise, offer thanksgiving to God, and pray bold prayers for the Spirit of God to show up and change lives!
Pastor, there is nothing magical about Sunday morning at 10am. It’s okay to be creative and do things differently. The goal is not to accommodate lazy Christians, but to better engage a lost community. If the mission field has moved from the football field on Friday night to the gym on Sunday morning, then the Church had better show up.
The Church will never go away. Not even the gates of hades will overcome it. But the 10am Sunday service might go away someday. I know it sounds crazy, but if gathering together at a different time makes us more effective at sharing the gospel, then R.I.P. Sunday morning church service!
About Andy Flowers
Andy has served as the senior pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Woodland, California since 2007. He graduated from the Doctor of Ministry program at Western Seminary in 2016. Andy is the author of Leading Through Succession: Why Pastoral Leadership is the Key to a Healthy Transition.