Twenty Relics of Church Past


This article will get me in trouble.

It began with a simple and informal poll on social media followed by several direct conversations. The question I asked was basic: “What did you have or do in your church ten years ago that you don’t have or do today?”

The top twenty responses were, for me at least, a fascinating mix of the expected and the surprises. They are ranked in order of frequency.

  1. Sunday evening services. It is amazing how quickly these services have disappeared. Except for Sunday evening services that are an alternative to and replica of the Sunday morning services, there are fewer and fewer churches meeting on Sunday evening.
  2. The stand-and-greet time. A discussion of this issue generated much banter and controversy at this blog several months ago. But the respondents told us it clearly was a practice falling out of favor.
  3. Suit and ties. Ten years ago, church members expected the males on the platform to wear a suit and tie. Casual dress is now the norm in most churches.
  4. The organ. This instrument was a standard in many churches ten years ago. It is now unusual to see an organ still played in worship services.
  5. Print newsletters. The digital world has come to churches. Most church members are fine receiving information digitally today.
  6. Prolonged and frequent business meetings. Many churches decided to limit the amount of time for business meetings because they became a platform for the most negative and contentious members. One church leader called it their “monthly fist fight.”
  7. The name of “Sunday school” for the groups in the church. As the traditional name as fallen out of favor, it has been replaced with community groups, life groups, home groups, and many other names typically ending in “groups.”
  8. Choirs. Many churches have moved from choirs to praise teams and instrumentalists.
  9. The parlor. I didn’t see this one coming. The parlor is a room for special occasions, such as a reception or a bride’s dressing room. One church leader called it “the most unused sacred cow in our church.”
  10. Weekly visitation in homes. Uninvited guests are no longer as welcome in homes as they once were. Several leaders told us the home visitation program did more harm than good.
  11. Hymnals. Hymnals have been replaced with projected words on a screen by many churches.
  12. Wednesday night fellowship meals. Indeed, many churches in the past had paid cooks on staff.
  13. Casual approach to recruiting children’s workers. Today most churches do fairly extensive background checks before they allow someone to work in the children’s ministry.
  14. Program-driven philosophy of ministry. In the past, many churches determined most of their entire schedule by programs resourced by denominations and other providers. The programs drove the ministries and the schedule.
  15. Large pulpits. The big pulpit has been replaced with smaller pulpits or stands.
  16. Special music/anthems. This item was another one that caught me by surprise. But, as I reflect on the many churches I visit, I see why it was a common response.
  17. Food pantry. Many churches have disbanded their food pantries and, instead, contribute to a community food bank. The local church leaders simply did not have the expertise to discern if needs were real.
  18. King James Version. This one was another surprise to me, because I have been in very few KJV churches the past 25 years.
  19. Office hours for ministry staff. Again, I had not expected this response, but it does make sense. If someone wants to meet with a pastor or other staff member, he or she is likely to make an appointment rather than drop by during prescribed office hours.
  20. Land lines. Some churches have done away with them altogether.

Thanks to those who participated in this survey. And now . . . let the discussion begin.

Posted on June 14, 2017

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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  • Stan Sanders says on

    I have noticed another trend, that being that less and less people bring a Bible to church and instead, follow a scripture reading on their phone or Ipad.

  • When I use this to assess my church, I can see that we must be knuckle-draggers. I’m surprised “sermons with law” and “liturgy” weren’t chucked under the bus too.

    Let’s see. We still do #2,3,4,
    5 was killed with much debate
    6,7,8,9, 10 killed off mainly because of lack of people to do the work

    Are churches doing away with the “relics” simply because it’s the old way?

  • Rich Lichvar says on

    Preaching on Hell, hell-fire, and damnation: the consequences of sin and rejection of Christ. Back in the 1950s &1960s (and earlier) that used to be a staple at least in the Southern Baptist Churches I attended. I don’t think I’ve heard a sermon on these subjects in at least 25+ years. It seems preachers want to talk about the love of Christ and God but not the awfulness of the consequences of sin and rejection of the Christ. I would like to see the preacher shake-up the congregation once in a while by preaching on these items and the terrible wrath of a sin-hating God against those who refuse to repent and reject God and Christ.

  • Ryan Harrison says on

    I heard someone say that if you’re looking for a pipe organ you’ll find all you want at the dump. It rings true. At least three churches around here that have merged or transitioned to modern music have remodeled and have recycled them via a dumpster.

  • I found your article and comments interesting. I currently serve a church that has grown from 60 to 1200 in the past 20 years. This year we may reach the 100 mark in baptisms for the first time in the history of the church. We have thriving Sunday Morning, Evening and Wednesday services. Packed house. Our auditorium only holds about 650 so we have had to go to 3 Sunday AM services. The preacher (or anyone who preaches) still wears a coat and tie. We still preach from the KJV (not because we think it is the only version but because we want to). We still have the stand and greet time. We do use cutting edge technology, but we also still print newsletters for those who do not do technology. We use the term Sunday School unashamedly. We do a blended worship style with both hymns and praise choruses. We still have a choir, but also have a praise team. We have a large pulpit. We have Wednesday night meals. We still have RA’s, GA’s and Mission Friends, as well as children’s choir. We have special music. All staff keeps regular office hours. Old school? I guess so, but Old School that works! We preach the WORD and PRAY a lot! Our fastest growing area is young couples with children.

  • James Pakala says on

    I guess it’s time to consider worshipping in churches here and worldwide that have been around much longer (Armenian, Catholic, Coptic, Ethiopic, various Orthodox, etc.) although some Protestant churches including Presbyterian don’t become unrecognizable as generations come & go. Some of the unchanging elements to love in every service are: 1) the Scripture readings from OT, Gospels, NT, often Psalms; 2) recitation by everyone from memory of the Nicene Creed; 3) processionals; 4) quiet meditation by everyone right after the homily; 5) windows & music and so on that engender reverence; 6) observance of the church year where our Lord’s Ascension, e.g., is observed rather than replaced by Mothers Day and other occasions that any non-Christian could observe.

  • As a member of a (mostly) white PCUSA Presbyterian Church’s committee working to define “Sacred Space” in preparation for a new worship space I find the above very interesting.
    Raised as a Northern UP and a PCUSA, I believe we (some congregations, including mine) have lost / forgotten / ignore the “Priesthood of Believers”. I’ll add the following two items to your list.
    #1 10 years ago we passed the Communion Plate and Tray across the pew – symbolic of each believer acting as a priest to their neighbor. Today we process up front to receive the Sacrament by Intinction.
    #2 With the whole bulletin projected on the screen, we no longer bow our heads in prayer. I still instinctively put both feet flat on the floor whenever I hear the words, “Let us pray.”

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