A few months ago I was visiting a church that is located in the downtown area of a small community. There are three or four churches on the same block, and it’s hard to tell where one parking lot ends and the parking for the next church begins. To moderate the traffic jam caused by attendees from all the churches coming and going at the same time each Sunday morning, the city temporarily puts up a sign in the middle of the street so that the traffic runs One Way. As I approached the church searching for the address with my GPS, I suddenly confronted the sign, “Do Not Enter on Sunday Before Noon.”
Hmmm….. I know that the people who placed the sign have the best of intentions, but you have to admit that it gives pause for reflection.
The first thought that comes to mind is how many churches put up such “signs” like this without knowing it. An overgrown and unkempt playground; a signboard with chipping paint and outdated information that’s printed so small that it can only be read by pedestrians; a parking lot full of potholes; outside doors with no signage to give any indication about where to enter; a dark, dirty, and smelly sanctuary; a nursery with unsafe fixtures, old paint, and musty odors….all these are just slightly more subtle ways of saying, “Stay Away,” “Go Somewhere Else,” “Do Not Enter on Sundays!”
Next I thought of all the influences from our culture that tell people to stay away from church on Sunday morning. Imagine that you were on a high school athletic team in the 1950’s and the coach lamented the fact that there was so little time to practice before the big game. Imagine if you bravely raised your hand and suggested to the coach that maybe the team could practice on Sunday.
What would the coach of the 1950’s have said? He or she would have said, “Are you crazy? You need to be in church on Sunday just like I’ll be in church on Sunday, and just as the principal, the teachers, and the custodians of this school will be in their churches on Sunday!” In the 1950’s, our whole culture supported church attendance. Stores and offices were closed, elementary and teen sports were suspended, television and entertainment options were limited, and there were no internet, NASCAR, fishing tournaments, or spelling bees on Sundays. The sign culture lifted up said, “Enter Church on Sunday Mornings!”
Now imagine that you are an elementary kid today on the community league soccer team. The big tournament is scheduled for Sunday morning, and you bravely raise your hand and tell your coach, “I can’t play on Sunday because I have to be in church with my family.” What is the coach’s response in 2008? “I’m sorry, but if you can’t be here on Sunday morning, then you can’t play on the team.” (I know this because I spend most Saturday nights in hotels across Missouri preparing to preach on Sunday morning, and the hotels are filled with boys’ and girls’ soccer teams, basketball teams, chess teams, and baseball teams from elementary age to college age, all of them preparing for Sunday morning competition. Culture today is like a giant vacuum cleaner sucking people out of the pews of our churches on Sunday mornings. Malls open all day, coffee shops and restaurants fill up from early morning, carwashes do their best business, and communities host marathons, fairs, fundraisers, and tournaments without regard to church. The sign culture lifts up for churches today is, “Do Not Enter on Sundays Before Noon.”
In recognition of this changing reality, many churches innovate with creative meeting times and places to involve people in worship and study. Saturday evening or Wednesday night services, and worship held at pubic gathering places and in movie theaters—I’ve heard of many creative responses.
How do you make sure that your church is not unintentionally hanging a sign that reads “Do Not Enter”? And how do you confront or accommodate to the changing role of culture that offers so many conflicting choices for Sunday morning activities?
Yours in Christ,