Why We Worship in the Afternoon

I had to struggle to close down evening services at the last two churches I served. Both were holdovers from a previous era, a time when people would go to church several times a week. These services had dwindled to a dozen or so older worshipers who faithfully sang the old hymns and turned out to hear a preacher, who was tired from two or three services earlier in the day, deliver a warmed-over homily. In winter, when earlier darkness prevented many of them from driving to church, attendance could be a mere handful. It was hard to end a ministry which had ceased to be productive long ago.

So it’s amusing to me, now that I’m planting a new church, that our primary worship service is in the afternoon! We meet at 4:30. Me, I’m a morning person. If I weren’t a minister of the gospel and could just choose a worship service to suit myself, I’d go to the earliest service I could find so that I’d have a long, uninterrupted stretch of time for the rest of the day—but I’m not the person we’re trying to reach!

The afternoon service works for us for a number of reasons.

1. We can reach a different population. A lot of the people we’re trying to reach sleep in on Sunday mornings. Folks who aren’t in the habit of getting up early to get to church—in other words, most of the population of the United States—often don’t exactly relish answering to their alarm clock on days they don’t have to be at work. Our musicians often have gigs on Saturday nights, so they definitely appreciate a later Sunday start time. Many people work on Sunday mornings, or work night shifts that make mornings tough. Afternoon services allow people to get the rest they need on the weekend.

2. It doesn’t feel “churchy.” Since our goal is to reach people who have been hurt or burned by church, meeting at a time other that Sunday morning helps the service feel less like a traditional (or “traditional-contemporary”) church. Meeting at a different time helps us dissociate our community from the negative experiences people may have had at other churches.

3. We give people time to travel. Young adults travel a lot on the weekends—attending weddings, visiting family, going to festivals or special events, or snatching short vacations because they can’t afford to take off work. I began noticing several years ago when I led a contemporary worship service at a different church that our attendance patterns were often the opposite of our traditional service. On Mother’s Day or near Christmas, our sanctuary would be mostly empty, because many of our young families went to worship with their parents. Meeting in the afternoon gives them the chance to get back in time for worship in our community.

4. We can reach the churched. Yes, you read that right. As a new church, an afternoon service allows people from other churches to attend. While we’re not interested in “sheep-stealing” or cannibalizing members from other churches, we’re always looking for referrals! Several supporters who belong to other churches have brought their unchurched friends to our worship services. They know our community can be a home for people who might never set foot inside a more churchy church, and they are committed enough to making disciples that they are happy to bring their friends to us!

5. We can do mission-oriented evangelism in the community on Sunday mornings. We’re able to do mission projects as well as just go out and meet other people who aren’t already in church. Again, this gives us access to a population most of our churches miss. Our members can invite their unchurched friends to serve lunch at a homeless shelter or do a yard project for a neighbor. For folks who have some antipathy toward church, seeing the church in action on Sunday morning helps shatter the tired old tropes about “sitting in the pews behind stained glass.” Being out in the community on Sunday morning helps turn the church inside-out in their eyes. Many innovative churches don’t even meet on Sundays at all. After Hours Denver meets on Monday nights. Other churches have their primary services on Saturday or even Thursday nights.

The primary downside to having afternoon services is that community events like music festivals and sporting events often happen on Sunday afternoons. Some people might not feel like we’re a “real” church because we don’t meet at the normal time. But as our culture becomes increasingly secular, Sunday mornings are no longer left alone by other organizations for church attendance anyway. For us, Sunday afternoons are a great way to reach a population of people most other churches don’t reach.

[This article originally appeared on Ministry Matters]

Surprising Stats Every Pastor Should Know

Even though I read it a few years ago, Robert Wuthnow’s After the Baby Boomers continues to influence the way I think about ministry and the people with whom I do ministry. Here are some big demographic takeaways I got from his book:

  • In the 1970’s married couples were a majority of the population (59%). Now they are atypical (31%). This shift alone accounts for most of the membership “decline” of churches because the biggest predictor of church membership is marital status. (p. 23)
  • Young adults are more likely to be financially strapped. They have lower wage growth and higher bankruptcy. This is one major variable in later average age of marriage and the general decline of marriage. (p.35)
  • Belief in the afterlife has risen since 1972. Other beliefs have not changed much. Views of the Bible’s inspiration have not changed much since 1976.  Views of Jesus’ divinity have not changed much either. (p. 97 & 98)
  • So-called literalists “hedge their bets” when describing the exclusivity of their faith. While claiming belief in Jesus’ divinity is necessary, they do not claim their own religion is for everyone. Most say “it is best for me.” (p. 105)
  • Young adults with no college education have become less orthodox while college-educated adults have become more so. (p. 108)
  • 1 in 3 young adults has attended a mosque or temple. (p. 116)
  • 4 in 5 young adults say they talk with friends about religion once a year. 2 in 5 say they talk about religion once a week. (p. 119)
  • There’s a huge discrepancy between attitudes toward premarital sex and actual behavior. Evangelical unmarried adults do it about as much as every other demographic even though they disapprove at much higher levels. (p. 139). I have a theory about this that I will share in a later post.
  • Opinions against premarital sex have risen since the 70’s among all denominations except Roman Catholics and the religiously unaffiliated, which remain about the same. (p. 140)
  • Mainline Protestants voted more consistently for Republicans than evangelicals did until 1980. That’s when a major switch began to happen. (p. 169)
  • More young adults than older adults believe it is okay for political candidates to talk about their faith. (p. 171)