Finances and leadership are not the only challenges the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation identified in 2007. Time also emerged as a major factor in shaping the struggles many organizations face today.
the ever-accelerating schedule of our lives is producing a populace characterized by unprecedented exhaustion and over-scheduling, a time in which (according to a Yankelovich poll) half of consumers across all income levels say that lack of time is a bigger problem than lack of money. 42% of men and 55% of women say they are too tired to do the things they want to do and the #1 answer about most eagerly anticipated use of a free evening is no longer socializing, dating or attending a special event but ”a good night’s sleep.”
I know something about the schedules of some of the people who attend the congregation I serve. I know about their family pressures, work demands, and challenges to find recreational space for refreshment. And, frankly, it is a miracle that many of them make it to church at all on any Sunday. These people have spent the week juggling two careers, running children to soccer practice, attending Parent Teacher Association Meetings, and sitting on the board of their cooperatively run pre-school. In addition they have all maintained the routine functions of family life; they have cooked, shopped, banked, cared for aging parents, and found time in between to update their status on Facebook.
It is not a romantic illusion to believe that the days of my childhood were less cluttered than for most people today. Life in the fifties did not run at the hectic pace it does today.
For my family a trip from the town in which I lived until I was six to the nearest large city was a good hour’s drive. We would never have thought of making the trip more than three or four times a year. Today, people who live in the town in which I was born work in the city which, as a child, I visited only occasionally. While it is true the driving time has been reduced to forty minutes, the daily commute still requires a time commitment that would have been unthinkable in my childhood.
I spoke recently to a colleague who had been trying to discern from some peripheral members of her congregation what it might take to help them feel they wanted to attend church on a more regular basis. One person began the conversation by saying, “Well right at the outset, let’s be really clear that you should not expect you are going to get my family into church on a weekly basis. Our lifestyle just does not allow for such involvement.”
When I was a child, we saw the same families in church every Sunday almost without fail. If someone missed a Sunday the Rector would be over for a visit early in the following week to check and make sure everything was alright. It is not that people today are less committed to their faith. It is simply a function of the time pressures that are an unavoidable reality of the culture of choice in which we live. There are so many more options for spending our time today than there ever were in the past.
My mother did not have an electric clothes dryer for the first fourteen years of my life. She never dreamed of owning a dishwasher. She raised three children without what we today consider some of the most basic household amenities. Yet all the labour-saving devices we cherish today have not given us more time. They have only provided more choices. And the more choices we face, the busier we become.
There is a kind of slavery that attaches to choice. If we can do all these things, we come to believe we must do all these things. And so we fill our days with activities that leave little room for the quieter practices that lie at the heart of a spiritual life.
When church feels it has to compete for time in peoples’ already over-stuffed lives, it is tempting to try function on the same level as all the other frenetic activities that clamour for peoples’ attention. Churches become busier and busier trying to find glitzy ways of capturing the over-taxed attention of weary consumers. We risk sacrificing the unique contribution of peace and rest we have to offer to a tired and anxious culture.
What contributes to the time pressures most families experience today?
What is it realistic for the church to expect from its families in light of the time pressures under which they live?
How might the church support people in finding a more balanced life?