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”?
I’ve had several conversations in the last year or so about how Sundays have shifted from being days for church to normal days full of athletic activities, football, and shopping. One commentator suggests this change is due to larger sociological forces:
The revolution in the American Sunday was wrought not so much by paganism as it was by sociology. The workweek shrank from six to five days, and with two days free each week, Sunday lost its specialness. Women went to work, and retailers had to adjust their hours to suit them. The traditional American Sunday, which consisted largely of attending church and abstaining from work, was conditioned by cultural circumstances that no longer existed. Americans could not adapt themselves to 19th-century agrarian life.
So Sundays are the way they are because of an extended weekend, more women in the workforce, and an information-age society? Were all these changes necessary for this to come to pass or would have one, say the extended weekend, been enough to erode the importance of Sundays? What about the rise of the NFL? If these larger social forces are responsible for this change, what could religious congregations or others do to re-promote the Sunday as sabbath idea?
I wonder if someone has some hard data on when and how exactly this shift took place…
Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “”11 o’clock Sunday is still the most segregated hour of the week.” Recent sociological evidence lends weight to King’s observation:
According to a study published in the latest issue of Sociological Inquiry, 9 in 10 Christian congregations in America have a single racial group that accounts for more than 80 percent of membership. A similar study 10 years ago found a remarkably similar ratio.
There is a growing amount of sociological research on this topic. One body of research looks at how difficult it is create and then maintain a multiracial congregation. Even if one is created intentionally, it takes a lot of work to maintain this as a too large population of one racial or ethnic group can accelerate the departure of other groups. To learn more, read People of the Dream: Multiracial Congregations in the United States.