Twenty Relics of Church Past

June 14, 2017

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.

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127 Comments

  • Another Anonymous Mark says on

    Why is it progress to not meet as a body on Sunday night? Are we so spiritually smart we don’t need instruction in the word of God?

    Why is it progress to show up to church wearing shorts, t-shirts, flip-flops, tank tops, and mini-skirts?

    Why is it progress to not meet together for a meal on Wednesday?

    Most of this loss illustrates the loss of community we are experiencing today in the larger culture and in the church. None of these things are good in my opinion.

    • Christopher says on

      I agree some of these things are not good and do reflect a loss of community. Some of my best relationship building comes during our Sunday evening Bible study. We use our food pantry as an opportunity to intentionally share the Gospel. But there are others that need to go. Why have a huge pulpit? Why wear ties? Why have an organ sitting on stage when no one knows how to play it? Why insist on a choir when no one shows up to rehearsal? Why be bound to hymnals that are out of date a year after you buy them? Why use a 400 hundred year old translation that’s hard for everyone to understand when there are modern translations that in some cases are more accurate?

      • I suspect the reason a lot of events are no longer held is because people have become “too busy” while living the lives God has given us. It used to be the choir practice was the highlight of some people’s week, but now, as you said, often no one shows up. In these days people just don’t commit to much of anything except their kids’ sports teams (which is not a bad thing for being a supportive parent) and Bunco or bowling nights. It seems that God has been put on a back burner while life goes on.

      • So true, lack of commitment has been a real challenge when trying to find teachers for Sunday school and Wednesday night Bible studies. The idea of being responsible to be at church on a regular basis is just more than a lot do folks want to commit to. I miss commitment to church activities.

      • Commitment is an important word, but one that most Americans balk at today when it comes to church. It’s just less and less of a priority today. I believe it’s part of our cultural shift into full-blown pluarlism and religious tolerance. We willingly commit our time, money and efforts to so many other things in order to get ahead or get a leg-up (jobs, school, hobbies, sports teams, professional and social clubs, etc.), but the prevailing attitude today is that a commitment to church activities is often viewed as a step over the line into religious fanatacism. Not many want to go that far. Once a week is usually enough for most to quiet their conscience, but two or three times per week (not to mention actually giving more than a token coin to the offering plate) is not something we should expect from a lot of our attendees nowadays. And to ask for what we would deem appropriate levels of commitment from members is even frowned upon. However, I’ve found that for the minority who really “get it” and are changed radically by the gospel and understand the significance of the local church body, they are always willing to commit more than others. But these kinds of folks are the becoming more and more the minority in most of our churches. I pray it changes. We’re supposed to be counter-cultural.

      • Another Anonymous Mark says on

        So true, Jackie and Wayne

      • jonathon says on

        Claiming a translation is more accurate when it gets the name of the prophet being quoted wrong, just seems strange.

  • My work schedule does not allow for Sunday morning church. My options for finding a church were limited due to so many churches doing away with Sunday evening services.

    • Thom S Rainer says on

      You are right, Pam. I am grateful more churches are offering worship service options beyond Sunday morning.

  • We still have Training Union at 5 PM and Worship Service at 6 PM Sunday nights. We still have an active choir. The organ is unused, as our pianist uses a keyboard, which makes organ sounds. We have a Wednesday night choir practice (6 PM) and prayer meeting & Bible study (7 pm) as well as a Tuesday night (6 pm) Bible study. The lowest attended service is the prayer meeting, usually only about 22 people. And we use hymnals and the KJV, though I often quote from other versions. And yes, we have the old fashioned large pulpit, but as I preach I usually walk to the left or right to make it more personal. Will we change these things? Only time and God can tell. So far (I’ve been here 5 years) we seem to be loving God and loving one another (though there are a few problem areas) and reaching our community. Every Church is Christ’s Church, and every Church is not called to be the same. My son’s Church (Crosspointe, Valdosta GA) is all casual, much like you described above, but Bible based and drawing great numbers every week while impacting the community. When he preached at our Church (Riverview Baptist, Columbia Tn) last Sunday he was well received, though he willingly wore a tie lest he offend some of the older members. Each Church is different, but all are Beloved of Christ as long as His Word is cherish regardless of “version”.

    • Hey, Pastor David: I serve at FBC Columbia, TN. My daughter goes to McDowell Elementary and I’ve heard so many wonderful ways your church reaches out to the children who live in McDowell’s zone. You all are doing beautiful Kingdom work!

    • Thom S Rainer says on

      You are so right, David. Churches are different in different contexts.

    • Your church sounds like the one I grew up in, and the one that I miss.

  • Josh Edwards says on

    A properly trained organist (and I am one) can find ways to use the organ even in contemporary music. I was classically trained as a pianist and became an organ major in college. If trained properly, you can use the organ in a variety of ways to color the music. It usually won’t be the driving force, but it certainly isn’t “outdated”. One simply has to think about it differently. The issue here is that many church organists are really pianists who don’t understand the versatility of the instrument because of a lack of training. They were simply filling a need in the church. There’s nothing wrong with that, but when style changes occur, they get left behind. I am the organist for our state “Singing Churchmen” and where I find I am stretched most is in the style of music we do. We sing a great variety of styles from urban gospel to contemporary to older classics. I am finding I am playing more Hammond B3 style music than tradition organ. But there is truly nothing like doing songs like “The Majesty and Glory of Your Name” with a full organ at the climax.

    • I agree. I’m also a trained organist that has had training in midi. The sounds available to an organ are goo quality and almost endless. I can blend in with almost any type of instrumentation.

    • Sharon Bond says on

      I’m one also & agree 100%. I receive many requests for organ. People miss it. I use my keyboard choosing organ styles frequently.

    • Organists, let alone good organists, are getting harder and harder to find!

    • We have an organ and organist, and he does a great job honoring the Lord and leading the church in worship. In my opinion, the organ music issue is a matter of stewardship as much as it is worship style. If the Lord has provided for a congregation an instrument worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, doesn’t it seem unwise to let it sit unplayed (if there is a willing and able believer to play it)?

  • Nate Britt says on

    It ought to be said at least once that it is not entirely positive that all these things that have disappeared.

    Although some of these items, such as landlines and print newsletters, are simply a reflection of current technology, some of the items on this list represent a “me first” attitude which is counterculture to the spirit of humility and worship. It is possible, I believe, to be timeless within a culture without adopting every new trend.

    Most of the time the reason for the change is more dangerous than the change itself.

  • John Klink says on

    Could it be that #10 and #19 are simply not as necessary due to social media? Who needs office hours when you’re almost available almost any time via a Facebook message?

    • Thom S Rainer says on

      Yes. And other forms of communication beyond social media.

    • I think that sometimes, if you have a sensitive or personal matter, it’s much more effective to be able to communicate with your minister face-to-face. In my opinion, we’ve become too “social media” oriented and there’s not nearly enough personal communication these days.

      I do miss a lot of these items — hymnals, dressing respectfully, etc. Things in my church have relaxed, as in women wearing slacks, etc., but when I returned to my home church after having lived out of state for a few years, the pastor had a short message in the bulletin requesting that women not wear “short shorts” to services, as this was distracting to other members’ worship. I know it’s said that “God looks at our hearts, not our clothes,” but I think when we don’t dress respectfully that’s coming from the heart that He’s observing. I was taught that “we wear our best” to church. “Our best” might consist of blue jeans and a pullover shirt; however, I honestly think that most, if not all, women have some kind of “best” that’s better than short shorts.

      I miss “respectability” in our world and in our churches.

      • Jocelyn says on

        Oh, yes. There have been mornings where I’ve told God that I just didn’t have it in me to wrestle into pantyhose. 🙂 I think the standard should be that if you dress up to show respect to humans, you should do it for God. Do you dress up for a job interview, or a date? If you’ve ever ruled out an outfit as ‘not good enough’ for someone you want to impress, then don’t wear it for God. If you’re going to the lake after church, you can always change in the church restroom, you don’t have to wear your swimsuit with a slashed t-shirt and short shorts. It’s showing God, and the rest of the congregation, what your priorities are.

      • Matthew Reed says on

        Some mayor have the financial resources to purchase clothing for work and church. Can you point to Scripture to support your statement? We need to be careful not to elevate man’s traditions. All we do is create divisions in the church. If you feel like you should dress a certain way, then go with your conscience, but we shouldn’t place burdens on one another that we were never meant to carry. What does it matter what we wear, it’s such a trivial matter. We had a couple leave and never came back because a comment was made about the shorts that he wore. That shouldn’t be.

      • Agree. Besides imposing an extra-biblical standard on dress, we intimidate the unchurched who don’t know how to “do church”. People who didn’t grow up in a church can’t be expected to know a bunch of unwritten rules. That’s not the gospel. That’s not the gospel.

      • I miss the days of Moody , Torrey, Sunday, Rice and many other godly men that had such a influence on the world that change happened and many humbly came to Christ. I see today that the world is influencing and changing the direction of the Church. Very said but in the last days this will happen, Luke-warm churches, makes our Father want to vomit! Rev 3:15,16.

  • I find it interesting that in some fast-growing, big-city churches, a lot of these are still used (pipe organ, choir, hymns from a book, anthem, Elizabethan English if not Latin, the pulpit that is upstairs, Sunday night services). It all depends on how you do it. However, the rest of these have been implemented. The sermons, usually homilies, are reflecting modern thought and current problems.

  • Danny Hedgepeth says on

    Agree that all are relics, but Number 10 needs to be modified. A lot of churches today have no strategy or process to follow up with visitors. Believe the lack of contact is hurting our ability to reach unchurched and do personal evangelism. While unannounced personal visits can do more harm than good, churches and leadership need to find creative ways to register and follow up with guests. Waiting for visitors to initiate contact with the church is not a good strategy. We need to look for ways to show concern for people visiting our churches without overwhelming them with repeated intrusive contacts.

    • THERESA says on

      Amen! Matthew says “Go…” not wait for them to come to us. Indeed, following up with a simple text even or postcard is a good idea.

    • Bob Myers says on

      I think some of this depends on where you live. I have found that urban or suburban people are not interested in the drop-in home visit , while those in small towns seem to be appreciative and receptive. Always wise, however, to call before you just drop in.

    • Thom S Rainer says on

      Keep in mind, these items are the result of an informal poll. Though the nature of the question indicates those things that may be growing obsolete, that does not mean all of these trends are necessarily positive.

    • I email (or text in some cases) any new guests that gives us their contact information–usually within 24 hours. It is an easy, non-intrusive way to let people know that you are glad they came to worship.

    • Barbara Trader says on

      Well put. We do a first Sunday fellowship breakfast between services and have had some luck bringing new attendees to that.

  • john Blackwell says on

    Hey Tom, This has nothing to do with the story but do you know anything about this headline:

    WND EXCLUSIVE
    “Southern Baptists go ‘gender-inclusive’ on Bible”.

    Thanks, John

  • Matthew Reed says on

    “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.”

    This is cultural. The same thing has happened in the business world. When I was a kid, my dad wore a suit to work. By the time I was graduating it was polo’s and khakis.
    Other than covering nakedness and dressing to impress, Scripture is silent.

  • Our church has made progress in many of these but there are a few that I would still like to see. I would love to see our massive pulpit go. I usually preach from the floor than behind the pulpit because I find I connect better with the congregation.

    • Thom S Rainer says on

      Thanks, Stephen.

    • Do you know the theological reason for the massive pulpit?

      • Jim Korth says on

        I think it started out, in part, for pragmatic reasons. The elevated large pulpit usually had a sounding board above and behind the preacher so that he could be seen and better heard. Eventually, it was viewed as sacred space and only ordained clergy were allowed, wich is wy in some churches here ae two pulpits. One for preaching, the other for Scripture reading, prayer, etc.

        I’m sure, in time, it became a pride thing. “My pulpit is bigger than yours.”

      • The RC altar and eucharist were replaced as the centre with the pulpit and the Word.

  • Two year ago I left being on staff at a church that had at least 14 of these.

    • Thom S Rainer says on

      Fascinating.

      • David Troublefield, DMin says on

        #21: Flake’s Formula–which accounts for much decline experienced unnecessarily by SBC churches during the past 20+ years (must be RetroActive at this point, instead)

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