Church changes from Sunday morning services to Wednesday night in summer to respond to “changing sociology”

One New York church has responded to the “changing sociology” by switching from worshiping on Sunday mornings during the summer to worshiping on Wednesday nights:

“Over the last summers, we’ve seen fewer and fewer members coming in on Sunday morning,” Movsovich said. “This is an attempt to try and stay together. To me, it was more important to maintain community than to maintain the tradition of Sunday.”

Movsovich, who has been with the congregation for 25 years, noticed an attendance decline of about 60 percent at various times in past summers. Some church members take two weeks off, others two months…

The trend of nontraditional services is gaining nationwide popularity, said Bill Leonard, professor of church history and religion at Wake Forest University. More churches are open to adapting to members’ changing schedules and priorities.

“People have so many other personal and familial responsibilities that appear now on Sundays in a way that has just mushroomed — families with aging parents, employment and travel issues or children in college,” Leonard said. “Traditional services were built around the sociology of another era. We’re simply responding to changing sociology.”

Let the theological debates begin! Seriously, I’m intrigued by this sociology explanation. The suggestion is this: we are in a different era of church going where Sunday morning is no longer “sacred” in the same way it may have been in the past (though this sort of “golden era” thinking always has issues). A few questions:

1. Is Sunday morning on the way out with younger generations?

2. How many churches have changed to other days and times for regular worship?

3. How many churches would talk about a “changing sociology”?

Quick Review: When God Talks Back

Anthropologist T.M. Luhrmann examines how evangelicals relate to God in this new book titled When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship With God. Here are a few thoughts about this fascinating read:

1. Luhrmann’s main argument is that evangelicals are trained to perceive the world in particular ways and this reinforces and upholds their belief in a personal God who cares about them. For example: evangelicals learn to pray in such a way that they believe they are interacting with God and can “hear” God. Another example is that evangelicals tend to read the Bible in such a way that every passage has an immediate application or relevance for their current circumstances. This kind of prayer and Bible reading does not necessarily come naturally: people have to be trained and it can take years to learn the process. Luhrmann spent more than four years in Vineyard churches listening to sermons, participating in small groups, and talking with and interviewing evangelicals.

2. The historical argument is interesting but underdeveloped. Luhrmann argues that the more individualized approach to Christian faith common in evangelicalism developed in Vineyard type (more charismatic) churches in the late 1960s and 1970s and then trickled down to all of evangelicalism. I have little doubt that most of this is true; I recently heard a sermon in an Episcopal church that shared many of the same themes of God’s immediacy and power. At the same time, the main mechanism by which Luhrmann suggests this approach spread is Fuller Seminary. While Fuller has had an impact, I wondered about several things: how did all evangelicals respond to this? Was/is there a backlash against this approach? What about evangelicals who wouldn’t claim this Vineyard/Jesus People background?

3. Luhrmann is an anthropologist but intriguingly is a psychological anthropologist. This means that there is a lot in this book about perceptions, thoughts, and how the brain adjusts to different ways of seeing the world. There even is a chapter that involves an experiment Luhrmann conducted on prayer to see if people can be trained to perceive God more vividly (and they could). Throughout the book there is a mix of anthropological observations, psychological experiments and explanations, and historical context.

4. The book is pretty evenhanded about the question of whether evangelicals believe in something real. There is a chapter that suggests that evangelicals (and other religious people) are not crazy for perceiving supernatural forces. I suspect this will help the book gain some traction in the religious world though it will be interesting to see the reactions. At the same time, I wonder if some will see this book as an attempt to explain away religious belief as a psychological trick that people can learn. Additionally, wow would theologians respond?

5. I suspect this book could be one that helps evangelicals understand themselves better.

6. This was not mentioned much in the book: how are children trained in this approach? The book contains a number of stories of teenager or young adult converts to faith who then have to learn this particular approach to God. However, it has little to say about people who grow up with this approach to God and how this affects adult spirituality.

Overall, this book discusses how evangelicals come to see the world in a certain way as they learn to talk to and hear from God and how to interpret events as God’s intervention. This is the value of this text: it goes beyond describing the evangelical viewpoint and argues for how this viewpoint is developed and maintained. This is an example of what good social science can do: explain why things are the way they are.


Shared religious activity enhances marital relationships

New sociological research suggests that certain kinds of shared religious  practices among married couples leads to better relationships:

[F]or all groups, shared religious activity – attending church together and especially praying together – is linked to higher levels of relationship quality.

The findings were particularly significant for African-American couples (and to a lesser extent, Latinos), according to sociologist and co-author W. Bradford Wilcox:

“Without prayer, black couples would be doing significantly worse than white couples. This study shows that religion narrows the racial divide in relationship quality in America.”

But not all religion is beneficial for marriages:

Couples holding discordant religious beliefs and those with only one partner who attends religious services regularly tend to be less happy in their relationships, the researchers found.

The findings make sense: couples who share a religious perspective and activities benefit while those who don’t share perspectives or activities suffer. The most interesting finding seems to be that about African-American and Latinos benefiting from shared religious activity: the authors suggest such activity helps overcome stress minorities experience.