Who is your church aiming at on Sunday mornings?
Some churches use phrases like “all are welcome” or “come as you are” to describe their gatherings. These are good ideals that reflect God’s grace and Jesus’ eagerness to call all people to himself.
But churches also put up other signs to say who belongs.
Some fly flags at their entrance or on their stage that denote who they are for politically. Others let their style (or volume) of music or their approach to prayer and the sacraments say who belongs. Still other churches try to make Sunday morning feel like a family gathering, which can be safe and even fun… if you’re already a part of the family.
Different People Churches Get Designed Around
Sunday morning church in North America is a mixed bag full of everything from Christendom leftovers to marketing-savvy attractional events divided up by socio-economic, cultural and language barriers, and yes, our ecclesiological values. But at its most basic, what happens at a local church on a Sunday morning grows out of assumptions about who should be there.
Since the rise of the church growth movement in the eighties, the conversation about how to design our Sunday gatherings has been dominated by those calling for a “seeker sensitive” gathering. These gatherings seek to attract not-yet Christians with contemporary music, high production values and accessible, actionable teaching. Such a space is perfect for those who have some openness to faith, some familiarity with Christianity, but are not yet mature, mission-oriented disciples.
Denominational or Traditional Adherents
In some ways, the Seeker movement was a response to approaches rooted in Christendom and denominational tribalism. Churches would aim gatherings at attracting people who already belonged to a denomination, and strive to be the “best Anglican”, “best Baptist” or “best Methodist” church in town. Interestingly, this approach continues despite the decline of denominations, with congregations striving to be the “best neo-anabaptist,” “best neo-reformed,” “best liturgical” or “best missional” church in town.
Many churches are gatherings of people based on pre-existing social groupings. These categories could include anything from generational groups (“boomer church” or “gen-x church”) to socio-economic class (“middle-class church”) to political ideologies (“progressive church” or “traditional church”) to music-based identities (“punk rock church” or “hip-hop church.”) There are also churches that provide connection for groups of various ethnic or geographic descent.
What Kind of Gatherings are Needed in Today’s North America?
As the West moves more and more from Christendom to Post-Christendom, the natural inclination that has traditionally pulled people to any kind of church is becoming less-and-less potent. Seekers are less open to church, denominational adherents are fewer and fewer, and the social groupings may be more skeptical of finding connection through a church.The natural inclination that has traditionally pulled people to any kind of church is becoming less-and-less potent. Seekers are less open to church, denominational adherents are fewer and fewer... Click To Tweet
Reaching your neighbors in Post-Christendom North America will require a strategy for creating fresh expressions of Church that will often gather in contexts radically different from any flavor of Sunday worship service. This doesn’t mean abandoning Sundays, but it may mean refocusing the mission of the weekend Church gathering.
What if your weekend gathering was reimagined, not as a magnet for a certain kind of person, but as a rallying point for the most mission-oriented among participants in your community? Churches, like most organizations often succumb to the “Pareto Principal” that 20% of the people do 80% of the work. What would happen if your weekend gatherings were aimed at gathering, equipping, and inspiring the 20% most committed to joining God’s mission in the world?What if your weekend gathering was reimagined, not as a magnet for a certain kind of person, but as a rallying point for the most mission-oriented among participants in your community? Click To Tweet
Three Elements a Missionary Gathering Needs
Missionaries face significant challenges that cultural Christians do not. If Sundays are to serve as a launching point for their mission to create new, contextual forms of Church, what do they need to move them forward in that mission?
Missionary work is draining. These leaders will experience failure, frustration, and perhaps even persecution. More likely in Post-Christendom, missionaries must overcome ambivalence. A Sunday gathering aimed at missionaries must be an opportunity to stoke their energy to face another hard week.
The most obvious way energy can be stoked is by fast or emotional music. Inspiring stories and testimonials are important. They provide a reminder of what the mission is, and how transformative it is to follow Jesus. Interaction during the gathering can help as well as a clear, understandable liturgy that keeps things moving. Coffee is always a helpful boost.
Creating a high-energy atmosphere does come with some caveats. Some people may not feel comfortable in such a space. It is also important to strive for authenticity and never manipulate the emotions of participants.
Missionaries need to be equipped for their unique work. This includes the transformation into the image of Christ that all Jesus followers need. But missionaries also need certain skills. This includes:
- Biblical literacy
- Interactive prayer life
- Well-articulated testimony
- Cross-cultural communication
- Emotional Intelligence
- Project management
- Community Development
Does this mean you should replace a typical sermon with teaching on such topics? Perhaps. Of course, what it takes to teach many of these skills may not fit into the confines of a Sunday morning. Other venues, such as workshops and coaching, are also necessary. Whatever you do, set a goal for equipping participants with a tangible skill they can use during their week-on-mission.Whatever you do, set a goal for equipping participants with a tangible skill they can use during their week-on-mission. Click To Tweet
Because missionary work can get lonely, it’s important for the missionary to remember that they have been called by God to a special work. God’s people have always done ceremonies of anointing and commissioning. Prophets and kings had specific times and places they were called. Paul and Barnabas were set aside for mission.
When a missionary leaves the Sunday gathering, they should feel empowered and sent by the greater Church to go about their pioneering work. Ordination of new leaders should take place in such gatherings, as well as reminders of calling. Traditionally, the Eucharist serves as a time and place to remember that as Jesus was broken and poured out for us, we are broken and poured out for the world. Ending a liturgy with a clear benediction can seal the time together with an unavoidably clear purpose.
The Future of Sundays
As North America becomes increasingly post-Christian, it is unclear what will happen to Sunday mornings. There is no reason to believe that gatherings for seekers, traditionalist or socio-economic groups will go away, although they will likely be fewer in number. Each church should seek God’s calling for their time and place. This may not necessarily lead to significant changes in how they gather.
However, there are also those congregations who have accepted the mission of going into the world and starting new expressions of Church for those who need it most. They will likely find that a Sunday gathering aimed at missionaries is the fuel they need.
Chris works across the organization to help get new projects off the ground and into the world. He also helps to manage our email, social media and other digital communications. He helped plant Austin Mustard Seed, where he served for five years as Community Developer. He also works with several other non-profits and businesses to tell their story with content and social media. In 2012, he graduated from Fuller Theological Seminary with a M.A. in Global Leadership. He lives in Austin, Texas with his wife Laura.