When I was a kid I remember watching sitcoms on Friday night. The original “Full House” was on in those days. I remember the first few lines of the theme song playing: “Whatever happened to predictability. The milkman, the paperboy, evening tv?” Now, as I’m approaching 45 years of age, those words have come to mean something which my younger self never realized: that the very act of sitting down at the same time every Friday night to watch TV, or cartoons on Saturday morning, or most of the other predictable, routine, scheduled activities of life, have become all but absent in our world today.
Look at how many things are no longer tied to the clock on the wall. Scheduled TV has been replaced by binge watching Netflix or quick YouTube videos. Work for many people has gone from 9-5 weekdays, with weekends free, to working a wide variety of hours and shifts, with days-off coming haphazardly week to week. COVID-19 even has resulted in many people working from home, keeping hours as they choose.
And I’m not saying these are bad things. In many ways they have been a great blessing to many people. But it does represent a major shift in our culture. A shift which has, in a quite negative way, affected the church.
In a world where people are released from much of the routine that existed a few decades ago, what is Sunday morning? For a people two or three generations disconnected from the church, what is the ringing of a bell to call them to worship? Each person’s time is precious, and they have for many years now enjoyed spending it however they wish. The liturgical rituals, hymns, and prayers, for all their beauty, are appreciated far less than the comfort of a warm bed or a child’s hockey practice by many of today’s young people.
And here we stand, the church amidst a culture that has moved on from us in so many ways, pleading with them to come and make our oversized building feel a little less empty. We’re trying every trick in our very limited playbook to entice the young back into the pew, trying to pretend that the reasons why they left in the first place aren’t still there. And we never ever come to terms with the fundamental truth of this new age of God’s creation:
If our church is going to live, it cannot just be on Sunday morning.
We spent years building ourselves a pretty box to live in. We believed it was the best thing. Now, more progressive church leaders are trying to spread the message that the building is not the important thing, and that we must extend beyond the walls of the church instead of using them to hide from the world. But the truth is that it is more than that. We need to extend beyond the walls of everything we do, and when we do it.
They see it, those we hope to take our place to keep the church alive. They see us confine our faith to an hour each Sunday, which is equal to just over two days a year. They see us sitting as tens in buildings that were built for hundreds, and putting most of our energy into making sure they never change or close.
And we wonder why they choose not to join us.
The Lord continues to work in this world. The seeds of faith lie, waiting to be nurtured, everywhere we look. But if all we do is wait for Sunday morning, hoping that somehow there will be more in the pews this week than last, we will be left watching the reruns of our own worship, while Christ streams past, out into the world, meeting people wherever and whenever they need him.