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.