The Biggest Demographic Churches Are Missing

October 7, 2019

By Thom Rainer

Our churches did well in reaching the agrarian culture. We gave the farmers time to get the chores done and get to church by 11:00 am. Unfortunately, this culture began to wane around 1860 with the onset of the railroad and industrial age.

Most of our churches have worship services for the farmers who no longer exist.

We haven’t changed a lot in the past 160 years. I guess life moves slowly for a lot of churches.

In the meantime, a dramatic shift is taking place in the American workplace. More people are working on weekends, many of them on Sundays, than ever before. But most churches haven’t moved their worship day at all. It’s still on Sunday mornings.

We keep hoping the farmers will show up.

While I would not advocate abandoning Sunday worship, I wonder why so few churches offer a non-Sunday alternative. There is a huge demographic we are missing: those working on the weekends. Consider these issues:

According to a 2016 time study conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 34 percent of the workforce works on the weekend. Do the numbers. The U. S. workforce is approximately 160 million. That means over 54 million work on the weekend. Please read the preceding sentence again. 54 million. That’s staggering.

  • If someone works either day, Saturday or Sunday, they are not likely to attend Sunday services. For Saturday workers, Sunday becomes their day off after a tough work schedule.
  • The reasons for not doing weeknight services are rarely theological. If you have a biblical conviction that Sunday should be the only day to have a worship service, stick with your conviction. For the rest of you, please consider this issue prayerfully and carefully.
  • If your church has Sunday-only service or services, you are missing out on reaching one of three working persons. I really don’t think most church leaders realize how huge this number is.
  • Most churches will not do a non-Sunday service because they’ve never done it before. Such is the most common excuse of dying churches.
  • Some church leaders are rightfully concerned about leader exhaustion doing a service on a day other than Sunday. I get that. Such is the reason many leaders must view the non-Sunday service as their time of service. Many will not attend Sunday services at all. And a number of churches moving in this direction are doing so with a minimum of volunteers, such as a guitar-playing worship leader, and childcare only for the youngest kids.
  • A few churches are experimenting with Thursday evening services on long holiday weekends. They are often able to reach the members who will be traveling over the long weekend.
  • The challenges of weekend workers are exacerbated by our members who travel many weekends, by those involved in sports leagues, and by those who just see Sunday as a day off. Some may see offering an alternative service to be a compromise to culture. Others may see it as an opportunity to reach those in culture.
  • The two fastest-growing demographics working on weekends are entrepreneurs and those with more than one job. The rise of the entrepreneurial society and the gig economy virtually guarantees this weekend workforce will increase, probably substantially.

The weekend workforce is not a future trend; it is a staggering present reality.

Some churches will adjust and seek to reach these workers.

Others will continue doing business as usual.

They are likely hoping and praying the farmers will show up on Sunday morning.

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58 Comments

  • Thom,

    Thanks for helping us think outside the box! This discussion has been refreshing to hear. If I remember church history correctly, the church did not meet in buildings until after Constantine gave the church basilicas (big meeting places). The fastest growth of the church happened in those 200 years before buildings. Acts tells us they met daily in the temple courts (common public meeting place) and in homes where they broke bread together. I take daily to mean just that. There is a lot of talk about getting people to come to us in our building than going out to the world around us in homes or public places. The first church did not have professional paid leaders, but shared the load that kept one person from being burned out. Now that we live in a posts Christian nation, blue laws are not coming back to save Sundays as the only day to worship. A lot of emphasis has been placed on preaching one, two or three times a week (Sunday morning, Sunday night and Wednesday night with a little prayer thrown in). Preaching is powerful and great, but never a substitute for making disciples. Jesus left a lucrative carpentry practice to become homeless and called twelve men to join him in being homeless for three years to spend time rubbing elbows doing life and ministry together. Discipleship was more caught than taught. Jesus did teach and preach, but very little in comparison to the days, hours and minutes he spent doing life with the first disciples. Maybe instead of trying to find the perfect time to meet for worship and preaching we should find time to get back to the basics of doing life and worship together in our homes and public places where we will be salt and light in a dark and lost world.

  • Thanks Thom,
    My wife and I participated in a 5 month church panting residency program that required us to attend the training church’s Saturday night service. It took a little adjustment to the new rhythm of our weekend, but we learned to really like it, even prefer it. Obviously, the church can’t match everyone’s day off with their service times, but offering multiple options should be a strong consideration for churches that are outgrowing their space. Instead of having two or three service on Sunday morning, perhaps offering one on an alternate day would be more missional and beneficial to our people.

    I’ve also noticed that communities are no longer accommodating Wednesday evenings anymore. I remember our coaches getting us out of practice in time for church or not scheduling little league games on Wednesday eves, etc. No more. Being more flexible with our midweek activities is another relevant consideration. After all, Wednesday, isn’t a half sabbath:)

  • Southern Fried preacher says on

    The challenge is as many have pointed out is there is “no one size fits all “answer. In my current setting (been here 2yrs) I realize that our Wed. night service will only be a small prayer group. It wasn’t doable to put a lot of energy into. We have a lot of rec. ball, school events, and long shifts that hinder folks from coming. It would not be wise to try and make it Sun. morning 2.0.
    However, I am seeing Sunday evening become more receptive in our community. It is late enough that people get to rest. It’s more informal so it’s more enjoyable. And I love it because I get to really be a teaching pastor. It is slowly becoming the catalyst for the life of our church. The challenge is to get the culture to embrace that Sunday at 11 is not the holy, sacred, and only hour of worship. This cultural mindset is hard to break in rural South GA. I am fighting this mindset hard. It’s about coming into the Lord’s presence with a spirit of thanksgiving and worship. It’s not about making it to the 11 am service.
    Just my thoughts

    • We used to have a Sunday evening service, but it’s dwindled down over the years to where it’s now just a small-group Bible study. Still, I think the potential is there. Could you share more about how you’ve promoted your evening service?

  • I don’t disagree with the blog. In my last church, I had at least two men whose jobs prevented them from attending regularly (they were very faithful when they were able to attend). However, the commenters on this site do raise a valid point: for a small church, offering an extra non-Sunday service is easier said than done. Their services are often led by volunteer personnel who have to work during the week, and many times their pastors are bivocational. In short, I think non-Sunday alternatives are a great idea, but implementing them is another matter altogether.

  • (Insert picture of several large cotton combines running behind the parsonage right now).

  • It is impossible of course to provide a service time that will meet the needs of each and every worshiper in our churches. If I were responsible for coming up with a viable solution I would do three things:
    1. Invest in some good audio/visual equipment and record every Sunday service.
    2. Provide DVD copies of the services to those who may not be computer savvy so they can watch at home at a convenient time.
    3. Broadcast the services live on Facebook and also upload the videos to YouTube and Vimeo. This makes it even more convenient because you can watch from anyplace that has an Internet connection.

    By making these available via the web and/or DVD you will capture everyone that wants to worship. Is this better than being there in person? I think most of us would agree that it is a substitute only. Sometimes even a substitute is better than no option at all however.

  • Anybody trying to make Wednesday night a main worship service time for those who work on weekends??

  • Daniel Saunders says on

    I do appreciate all the comments. Is this primarily an American Cultural Church problem? I do think for the most part it presents an opportunity to reach people where they are. According to one source, TBN, 900,000 Christians have been killed for the cause of Christ over the past ten years. Perhaps the worst thing that can be done is to do nothing.

  • TeachingForTheLord says on

    While I would fall in the category of those that believe we are commanded to meet upon the “first day of the week” (Acts 20:7; I Cor. 16:2), we may be too tied to the time of the day at which we meet. I fear that we meet at 10:00 a.m. or 11:00 a.m. because that is the time at which we have always met. The command to meet does not specify a time, nor does it specify that we must meet twice. Why not conduct one very moving, meaningful and motivational service at the time most convenient for the majority and have a variety of small group sessions held throughout the week to supplement?

    • Guy in the pew says on

      I think between 10 and 11 is probably still the most convenient time for everyone. Don’t have to get up too early, get out in time for lunch, and you have the whole rest of the day for whatever.

    • Do not confuse the common practice with “command”. There is nothing to suggest a command in either of these passages.

  • This is one of the most intriguing articles I’ve read in a while. Very compelling. My first question would be, what time were the churches meeting before they decided the 11am time slot for farmers demographic was important? was it earlier or later(just curious)? 1 out of 3 people don’t attend a weekend service because of work is a huge miss. I think our church makes up for that “miss” through mid-week small groups. They’re also available to watch online or podcast. But they’re missing the overall experience of corporate worship, and connecting. Hmmmm. You’ve got me thinking…thankyou!

  • I’m a pastor of a small revitalization church in Virginia with a long history. For over four years I’ve been holding a Wednesday 6:30 pm service that includes ~10 minutes of prayer followed by a thirty-five minute sermon. (just completed Judges through 1 Samuel 8 over many months). Choir practice follows sermon. We have a small faithful group including people who work weekends, people who want study in addition to our Sunday services, and also people who are members of other churches that do not have Wednesday PM preaching. Additionally, I preach/teach for one hour on Sunday evenings. I often break this time up and either discuss leadership, mission, and church strength issues, OR “open live” time where I field any relevant question about the Bible, theology, or leading the church. I must say, this is my favorite service each week. Our little church may not be growing in numbers necessarily, but we sure have grown spiritually by leaps and bounds over the last four years! Please pray for God’s Word to be faithfully and accurately preached by His servants. The Holy Spirit will do the rest.

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