August 17, 2009

Worship, Encouragement, and Not Taking It Personally

Yesterday, we had maybe 30-35 in worship. It was a very quiet Sunday - and we shared an intensely powerful worshipping experience. So in the aftermath, I had two wonderful saints of the church come up and tell me not to be discouraged.

I realized as they both were offering their words of uplift that I wasn't discouraged. I hadn't really taken the low attendance (months of low attendance actually) personally. I decided it wasn't about me, and so I wasn't going to let it get to me.

What is on my mind however, is a question of what has changed. While I think some people recognize this as the summer slump, the truth is that here and there for six months now, things have been about the same. We'll have a sunday with 60-65, but then we hover in the 40-50 range. On a special day like Easter or Confirmation we'll hit around 100 - but that's few and far between.

Of the 40-50 group, about half of those come every single sunday faithfully. The rest are more sporadic. Every other Sunday, once or twice a month, there for a few weeks, then gone for a few. Here in the summer, gone in the winter or vice versa. When we all show up - we have a crowd! When we don't - our sanctuary feels sparse and empty.

Someone noted that worship is a habit - and that many in our church just are not in the regular habit of coming every week. Some lament the fact that other activities have encroached on Sunday morning's sacred time slot - and there are more sporting events and activities to draw away our young families than ever.

The question I'm wrestling with is: WHY is Sunday morning from 9-12 so sacred?

There is the whole "Lord's Day" thing. In my Sacred Time class, I remember vividly the discussion about how the Sabbath, the seventh day is really Saturday - that we worship on the "first" and the "eighth" day of the week. We worship in a time out of time - a little Easter every Sunday - both the beginning and the end and everything in between coming to bear on this one moment of sacred worship. But is this experience of "holy time travel" really about the day? Or is it about the mystery of God coming to meet us? And if that's the case, can't our "little Easter" experience be on Sunday afternoon? or Wednesday night? or Tuesday morning?

Going off of that, because of the sacredness of the Lord's Day, many people only think/talk about God on Sunday. The rest of the week, they do their own thing and worship/prayer/study is the farthest thing from their mind.

There is the battle against secular culture thing. Many I talk to hold onto this time slot dearly because it is the last remaining vestage of cultural Christianity. What once were blue laws forbidding stores to be open and the prohibition of alcohol sales on Sunday (in Nashville you couldn't buy hard liquor/wine on a Sunday - but you could buy beer... i mean, tailgating is sacred too!), now mostly is just a distaste for activity on Sunday morning. We at once try to hold fast to the idea of sabbath and perpetuate its breaking. Our youth work during this time, our Sunday School teachers stop at the grocery store to pick up donuts for class, we all want to go out to brunch after church, etc. But suggest we worship some other time? Never!!

I know a couple where the wife works the weekend option at the hospital. She works 12 hour day/nights on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Morning worship, even Saturday or Sunday evening worship just don't work for them. They are left out.

I know a couple where the husband works the night shift Saturday at the plant. By the time he gets settled in for the night, he has barely gotten enough sleep to wake up for church in the morning. When he can't help get the kids going, the wife finds it easier to stay home with the whole crew. They are left out.

I know a family matriarch whose family wants to spend time together on Sundays. She often feels torn between preparing a meal for her children/grandchildren and making it to church. Both are good things to do. When she chooses her family, she is left out.

I know a youth who terrific basketball player. Some weeks tournaments take them out of town for the weekend and her whole family gets in the van and travels together to the site. She is making three pointers, but their family is left out.

I know a mom who has five kids. Getting them all up and ready at the same time to come to church, and then spending the hour of worship telling them to sit and be quiet and keeping them entertained isn't worshipful for her. And she feels like they are distracting others. So most of the time they stay home. They are left out.

I don't have any answers. I don't know if any of those folks would even show up to a Wednesday evening service, or a Sunday evening service. I'm not sure if I can fit preparing another sermon a week into my schedule. I have my own family obligations (and Sabbath needs) that make my heart hesitate when I think about Saturday/Sunday evening worship. But I do know that there are also people who are left out. And I pray that God will help us to find creative ways to share worship with them.

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