The Competition

by John Wimberlycalendar

For forty years, I lived in a Sunday morning bubble. I got to church around 7:00 a.m. and left church sometime after 1:00 p.m. As a result of living in this bubble, I never experienced what is going on in the rest of the world during that time frame. Recently retired, I now know. And it is sweet!

As I have become acquainted with the non‐church Sunday morning world, I realize just how many wonderful, sublime options people have during this portion of the week. They are connecting with God in nature as they walk their dogs, work in their gardens, or hike/ride bikes/jog. They are connecting with the love of God through their families as they play with their kids, pack up the car and head out for some day adventure or invite friends over for brunch. They are connecting with the God of justice as they read the Sunday paper, listen to talk shows on important political matters or read books about issues in our society.

It would be easy and foolish for those of us in the church to label all of this activity as secular. It isn’t. As I suggest, in and out of church, people are connecting with God in some important ways through various activities. In fact, many of us preach that our members should spend more time with family, in nature, and become knowledgeable about the society in which we live. Many people are doing just that…on Sunday mornings.

So this is the competition we face when we offer a time of worship, education and fellowship in the middle of Sunday morning. When people choose to come to church, these are the delightful, fulfilling things they give up. They forsake activities that have a compelling spiritual value in and of themselves to come into our sanctuaries.

The church’s Sunday morning activities are competing with family, nature and self‐education. It is stiff competition indeed. If worship attendance statistics for PCUSA congregations are correct, it is competition we are increasingly losing.

However, it isn’t a competition we need lose. The act of liturgical worship is a unique way to connect with God. We are offering something people can’t get anywhere else. However, our worship better be good. If our worship and education are inspirational, people will make time for us as surely as they make time for their gardening or jogging. If a sense of community is strong in our congregations, people will view church friendships as important as maintaining friendships with neighbors and co‐workers.

How many of us look out at our congregations on a Sunday morning and think, “Wow, these people gave up a lot of great stuff to be here.”? Well, they did. In response to understanding this choice, how many of us have made preparation for worship one of, even the highest, priorities in our ministry? Have we spent hours upon hours crafting the worship service and writing our sermons? I hope so. Because the competition for the hearts and minds of our members is fierce. Our sermons better be as engaging as the guests on Meet the Press. Our church music better be competitive with the music people listen to as they jog.

We shouldn’t shrink from the competition that takes place each and every Sunday morning. We should welcome it and prepare for it. Aware of the Sunday morning choices people have, we will create even better Sunday morning options for people in the congregations we serve.

John Wimberly is enjoying life as Honorably Retired after serving a church in Washington, DC for many years. John is the author of The Business of the Church: The Uncomfortable Truth that Faithful Ministry Requires Effective Management. 

4 replies
  1. Barb
    Barb says:

    Wonderful! Thank you. This world has become so busy that sometimes the only time a family has together is Sunday morning and are torn with the choices available to them.

  2. Mark B
    Mark B says:

    Really?! I find it stunning that a pastor could be so out of touch with the surrounding culture and community.
    I would strongly disagree with the “competition” model of worship. This is the outmoded and failed ‘attractional’ model that objectifies people as consumer who are looking for the best product on Sunday morning. It also presumes we (i.e. the Church) can out-entertain the culture by working harder on our worship/sermon. Good luck with that!

    Instead, how about starting by getting out of our “church bubble” and engaging the folks who live in the neighborhood? let’s see them first as friends and neighbors and then engage them in authentic ways–that’s what worship should be about.

  3. Bruce
    Bruce says:

    Mark is right on in his last paragraph, but he missed the point that it is about competition for time. We face competition in all our endeavors – community service, summer camp programs, fellowship (both youth and adult), etc – all of which go beyond that hour in the in the middle of a Sunday. Heaven forbid that we invite folks to worship with us or bend the rules to worship on a Friday evening or a Tuesday morning at Starbucks.

  4. John Todd
    John Todd says:

    Sunday should be a day of rest for Christians, and Christians should not compel others to work for them on that day. I do not shop nor use the internet nor eat out on Sunday. Commercial competition is driving Sunday commerce, and that’s even worse than recreation as a distraction from Sunday worship.


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