“If our members did not let their kids play on travel leagues or Sunday sports, our attendance would increase by 25 percent.”
A pastor in Texas said that to me just one week ago. I’ve heard that sentence or similar sentences countless times. Sunday used to be the day for church and only a few other businesses. Now Sunday is a day for almost anything and everything. And church leaders are often frustrated that some of their most committed members are among those whose children are in Sunday sports.
Let’s look at the issue as objectively as possible. I get the angst. When I served as a pastor many years ago, we would lose one-fourth of our attendance when members and their extended families went on a weekend camping excursion twice a year. I immaturely dreaded preaching to the more vacuous room on those frustrating days.
Here are five considerations. I would love to hear your perspectives as well.
1. Many members are less committed to the church today. From the second chapter of Acts to the third chapter of Revelation, that entire part of the New Testament is either to the local church, about the local church, or written in the context of the local church. The local church is God’s plan A for His mission on earth until Jesus returns, and He did not give us a plan B. Sadly, many church members view the gathered church as just another activity from which to choose. Sometimes sports win. Sometimes sleeping in wins. And sometimes, taking a day off wins. By the way, what do you call a church member who attends only once a month? An elder (or deacon). Yes, that was my weak attempt at humor.
2. Churches expect less today than they did a few decades ago. It’s not just that members are less committed; churches have lowered the bar of biblical expectations of what it means to be a part of the body of Christ. It’s analogous to a wedding ceremony where the groom tells the bride that he loves her, but that he does not plan to spend much time with her. We have dumbed down church membership in many of our churches. We don’t even expect our members to spend time with the bride of Christ.
3. Cultural norms have changed. Have you ever heard of “blue laws”? Those were real laws of cities, counties, and states that restricted most businesses from opening on Sundays. I grew up with those laws. You either went to church or hid in your home so no one would know you weren’t in church. The culture was largely pro-church and pro-Christian then. Yes, the times have changed. But we can’t blame culture for our low-commitment churches. The problem is best seen in the mirror.
4. Churches have adapted to cultural changes in the past. It is likely that Sunday morning worship times, particularly the sacrosanct (at least for a season) 11 am service, was an accommodation to an agricultural society. Get the farm chores done, then go to church. Do we leaders in churches need to reconsider our times and days? Is there anything heretical about offering a Thursday night service in addition to the Sunday morning service? Are we being too rigid with our own schedules? Should we consider accommodating the Sunday sports schedules at least part way?
5. The frustration has been exacerbated by COVID. Since the quarantine and re-opening of churches, attendance has fallen by a median of 20 percent. It feels like we lost one of five members and attendees overnight. In reality, we did lose them! Now, when those three kids are playing soccer, softball, and flag football on Sunday morning, we really get frustrated. There are even fewer people gathered for worship than before.
I doubt we will solve this challenge with this short article. But I would really like to hear from you. Does your church have the Sunday sports challenge? Are you trying to address it positively? If so, what are you doing?
Let me hear from you.
Want to learn more about this subject? Check out these resources: The Complete Membership Class Toolkit, I Am a Christian, “The Once-a-Month Churchgoers Are Becoming More Common” by Thom S. Rainer.
Posted on October 31, 2022
With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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