Does Church Have To Be On Sunday? 

Karl Vaters, a leading shepherd to small church pastors, recently wrote a thought-provoking post.  In it, he wrote: 

In the debate over what buildings or businesses should stay open or closed, it always came down to “what are the essential services we can’t do without?” If we didn’t know it already, it’s now confirmed. Worship is essential.

- Not our buildings
- Not our programs
- Not our musical instruments
Not our schedules

We can lose all of that and still worship.

I was struck by that last bullet point: not our schedules.  Have we been making an idol out of our scheduled church day and times?  And, has it interfered with true worship, and true community?

I am not seminary-trained, and I am open to hearing the theological underpinnings of gathering on the Sabbath. Even so, I am indulging my 21st-century, Internet-connected, pandemic-weary observations for a moment to consider the possibility of something different. 

I’ll also note that, growing up Catholic, we sometimes (especially in the summer) attended 5:00 o’clock Mass on Saturday. I guess “the weekend” counted as good enough back then, and neither we nor our parish priests nor diocesan bishops seemed to find anything amiss about it. 

This week, I spoke with a pastor whose church went all-in on digital ministry during the pandemic. They livestreamed two services on Sunday on YouTube, Facebook, ChurchOnline, and in Altar Live. Their particular interest in Altar Live was the use of the lobby tables, where attendees could easily see who else was around, drop in at a table with two or three acquaintances, and connect in a church setting to maintain and deepen community during Covid-time. 

Now that there is light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, and as their church has begun to partially regather in the building, they are doing some reckoning about the role of online services. Like most churches, they see some people all showing up “on time” when the livestream kicks off at 9:30am.  And, then later in the day, and throughout the week, the number of viewers ticks steadily up. Sometimes as many as half the viewers are watching one-at-a-time, on-demand; not at the scheduled time. 

Some of the on-demand viewing may be purely opportunistic: people are only able to find small windows of time to catch up on what they missed on Sunday. For some, they may be sacrificing connection and true relationship for the sake of convenience. Tony Morgan warns against striving to meet that constituencies preferences.

But, what if a small dose of convenience is in fact the key to establishing and maintaining connection and true relationship? 

What if it just happens that Sunday morning is not the right time for some folks, due to little league sports, or work hours, or summer-beach weekends, or just an occasional oversleeping?  I came across this comment to a Carey Nieuwhof blog post 5 Reasons People Have Stopped Attending Your Church (Especially Millennials)

There’s apparent hurt and resentment here. But, what if instead of requiring the pastor to notice absentees, and to make time to connect with them, there was a true community-oriented option for the can’t-make-it-on-Sunday crowd? 

What if all of these folks playing hooky on a Sunday morning would like to join together in community, altogether, at another time?  What if these absentees are not convenience-craving consumers who will only watch church when they feel like it, but instead are torn between their Sunday morning church community and their competing Sunday morning obligations?  

That is, what if the church held a “re-run” recording of the Sunday service on, say, Monday evening at 8:00pm?  Because it is being re-presented at a particular time, those who missed Sunday morning can experience actual community in the body of Christ, and not just view the production of the worship and message as a solitary believer. 

This mode of Monday church (or, obviously, pick another day of the week) would not require significant new resources from the pastoral staff. For sure, it is not another live production. And, it gives the pastor a chance to mingle among the community, joining at a table before or afterwards to be in face-to-face contact with those who otherwise were on the digital margins of the congregation. 

Church members sit and meet with each other and the pastor at tables in the Altar Live lobby

And at least as important, it allows the Sunday absentees to gather, share a row together as they worship and listen to the message, to make visual contact with dozens of people, and to find a private space for prayer or intimate conversations. Would this have made a difference to the commenter above, and to his family?  Would it have provided an option that was not dependent on the pastor to do the heavy lifting?  

The beginning of Covid threw all of us into the deep end of online church.  As we near the end of the pandemic, all sorts of new shapes and sizes of digital ministry are up for discussion. 

What do you think? Is Sunday (or Saturday) sacrosanct?  Is this a purely theological question?  Is Sunday-on-Monday as simple as breakfast-for-dinner?  Or are there practical matters about gathering at unorthodox times we also should consider?