I’ve had a few conversations recently about church, and it makes me wonder what trends will change in the next 10-15 years. Most recently, I was talking to my mom about how many of my Bible-believing friends skip out on Sunday mornings (also including me, oftentimes), and that church seems to be for married people. I go to the church I grew up in and feel comfortable and happy there, but the service times and the group options are limited. I’ve never found another place where I’ve been content that also works with my schedule.
I don’t always go Sunday mornings because I work weekends frequently, and going to a 11am service after working till 7am the night before or having to work at 7pm that night is just too much. Or, when I don’t work the weekend, I like to travel or do something different over the weekend. I think there’s a whole underworld of people like me, who are putting in their time or even who live an unconventional lifestyle out of necessity, who can’t fit into the Sunday morning model.
I do like the consistency that Sunday morning church provides, but it isn’t always practical. It brings an order and a focus to my week that I can’t provide on my own, and when times have been difficult, it’s been comforting to have that source of constancy in my life.
Others I know simply opt out of Sunday mornings altogether, and go to weeknight services or even just small groups. One popular weeknight service in particular in my area has young adults from various denominations (or none) and different backgrounds coming from all around the metroplex. Even if many of my evangelical friends don’t regularly attend, they’ve probably been there once or twice. The appeal seems to be rooted in the music, the message, and the home groups that come from the service, but my impression of it wasn’t entirely positive. (However, I realize others are blessed in different ways, and this seems to be a great thing for many people. Just not me.)
I went for about a month after I moved back to my hometown and gave the service a good try. My feelings about the presentation and the format were all mixed, but once I tried out their sample small group, I was instantly turned off. I don’t like mandatory sharing in small groups, especially ones made up of peers. I’ll do it, because I obviously don’t have an issue sharing my feelings over the internet, but I think it leaves room for a lot of foolishness. You have people feeling uncomfortable and pressured into sharing, which isn’t right, and you have other people who are prone to give advice (often poor advice, at that).
The point of a small group is so that people can have community and a place to feel safe. They bring all types of people together to a place of common ground, Jesus, and create a place for people to learn and grow from each other. Small groups bring accountability and counsel to others in need, when necessary.
Sin has a way of twisting good things, though. Sometimes small groups can be the least safe place for people, especially for those who are hurting or those who are searching for truth. They can turn into places of homogeneity, where members pat each other on the back or fail to reach out to others who are different (or even shun them). Small group members can use accountability or counsel to manipulate others (i.e. “I feel like God is telling you” or “It’s important to find out God’s will for you, and I think that it means…”). I like to think that Jesus mourns, or even weeps, when He sees these kinds of spiritual abuses being committed. Okay, getting off that soap box now…
I don’t know how well the small group model will work over the long term, as these groups are only as strong as their leaders. It seems to be a good supplement for my current situation, but I don’t want this half-going Sunday mornings, half-going weeknights thing to stick. Groups have a way of going through different periods of change. Small groups are rarely permanent, with people constantly moving, in transition, going through challenges, etc. I don’t think small groups are a replacement for Sunday mornings or solid teaching, but oftentimes, they function that way. I think it’s important to consider how to make the Church more accessible and comfortable for the people who work every late weekend night at the supermarket or wait tables for the brunch-goers every Sunday morning and afternoon or the single people who just feel plain left-out or like part of the church meat market.
All that to say, church is complicated, and life in the twenties and thirties is inconsistent. I’m at the place where I can bring my baggage to the table at church, but I also don’t have a problem walking away when it’s unsafe or not working. It would be great to be at a place where I were wise enough or self-actualized enough to work out those conflicts, but after a couple years of graveyard shifts and a few more of difficult church experiences, I don’t have the energy or the patience for that. I’m going to go to places that function, whatever that may look like. It may not be consistent, but I’ll keep trying.
I’ll leave you with a quote (Madeleine L’Engle, The Irrational Season). While I might wish the practicality and accessibility of church to change, I don’t want the content of church to be compromised.
We rebel against the impossible. I sense a wish in some professional religion-mongers to make God possible, to make him comprehensible to the naked intellect, domesticate him so that he’s easy to believe in. Every century, the Church makes a fresh attempt to make Christianity acceptable. But an acceptable Christianity is not Christian; a comprehensible God is no more than an idol.
Disclaimer: I am super sleep-deprived and have been sleeping on and off for the past two days plus worked all Saturday night/Sunday morning. While proofreading this, it all sounded like it flowed and made sense, but it most likely is just late-night rambling. Good luck. I’m going back to sleep, and this thing will post in the morning whether it makes sense or not.