A recent article by Tom Ehrich titled “Sunday Mornings Are Broken” has been posted and re-posted around the internet, causing a stir of worthwhile, though at times heated, conversation.
Ehrich is is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. In his article Ehrich makes a simple, and statistically undeniable, point:
Sunday worship isn’t growing churches any longer.
He sees two causes for the decline of Sunday mornings:
1. Sunday morning has become a time for sleeping in, kids’ sports and shopping.
2. Young prospects want engagement, not pew-sitting.
Ehrich does not want to do away entirely with Sunday morning worship; but he believes that if those of us who are committed to church agree that Sunday mornings have become a problem we must rethink how we do church. In our attempts to continue embodying the presence of Christ in our lives, Ehrich suggests we focus our energies on four things:
1. small group ministries
2. high-commitment mission work
3. lively online offerings
4. activities beyond Sunday mornings
One of the main problems in making this shift to a new way of doing church, Ehrich suggests is that
older constituents remembering an earlier era demand that Sunday receive the greatest share of church resources, that it be the pastor’s number one commitment, and that it be the ultimate measure of success.
There is no question that clergy are the objects of many conflicting demands. We are encouraged to maintain life as it was and do all things new. In the midst of the competing demands on clergy energy, Erhich argues that, rather than focusing exclusively on Sunday mornings, clergy should be:
- nurturing small groups
- looking for ways like video to reach more people
- using technology to pursue “touches” and “leads”
Clergy need to resist the temptation to
expect to find a single answer that’s applicable everywhere.
Instead the challenge is to
Be an entrepreneur, in the way Jesus was an entrepreneur, namely, adapting to the context; having a fervent vision but flexible methods; focusing on outcomes (transformed lives), not consistency of practice; working outside institutions; being a disruptive force.
Second, use today’s tools (especially technology) to reach today’s people, who are largely diverse, scattered, isolated and not joiners.
Third, proclaim fresh messages that don’t reinforce negative perceptions of religion as judgmental, harsh, condescending, overly concerned with institution.
Fourth, break Mammon’s hold on Christianity by reconsidering facilities, staff and other overhead, and by teaching personal stewardship, not institutional fund-raising.
Finally, stand where Jesus stood: on the margins, in solidarity with people, speaking truth to power, risking everything to declare hope and healing.
The responses to Ehrich’s thoughts have been varied. There are those who dismiss out of hand any idea that the church should be concerned in any way about the numbers of people who attend worship. Others are outraged by Ehrich’s suggestion that clergy should have a more “entrepreneurial” spirit and dismiss any concern with “Mammon” as beneath contempt.
But, the church does not exist in isolation. Cultural trends have an impact upon our life and we need to pay attention to the realities of the world in which we are attempting to operate.
Ehrich’s analysis has merit and his prescriptions for the “problem” he identifies have value. Tomorrow I will offer some of my own reflections on Ehrich’s thoughts.