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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  • We have a Sunday Evening Service, I wear a jacket (with jeans), we have Sunday School, we still have hymnals available but we project the words, we have a stand and greet time, we had an organ until a year ago…

  • Jeff Hicks says on

    Is it because the church has become lazy and the Lord has taken another back seat to much of life today. Maybe a lot of things aren’t being done today but it does not mean that weren’t successful. Many of these old ways are still successful today.

  • Harold Hambley says on

    As to Sunday Night service, I would include discipleship training. We have no time set aside for “teaching them to do all that I say.” My understanding of Sunday night is to disciple believers. Many new believers do not know what we believe and why we believe it. Thanks for listening to an old timer.

  • It seems that most of the 20 are cultural reflections and do not go to the core of biblical truth about the church (although I suppose one could make a tangential point about Wednesday night “fellowship” to Acts 2:42). All twenty items were introduced into the church at some point (with the more general exception of “hymns” – but new hymns have been introduced in every generation). Ten years from now, it will be interesting to see what we are “no longer doing” that seem so important to be relevant in 2017. My guess of things that will be trending down (and disappearing) within ten years: church worship areas without windows, fog and light worship shows, pastors preaching from little round tables and printed bulletins/worship folders… Anyone else want to take a guess of other church culture trends that will be on their way out in ten years?

  • I am so glad to see church business meetings fading away. As a life long baptist, some of my worst memories of church are those tension filled, argumentative meetings.

    • While I can understand the desire to do away with Business meetings because of the contentions, but what do you do with most churches are to follow Robert’s Rules of Order? Perhaps the contentiousness is due to shutting down people in other settings, not listening, not asking, not persuading. Perhaps for some this is the only forum they feel they will be listened to. Do just those in power get a say in church matters?

      What are other solutions besides shutting down Business meetings?

  • Tim Hancock says on

    Like many of your lists, Dr. Thom, this one sparks some interesting responses. Maybe “relics” was a poor semantic choice, but what else would you call it? My favorite is the organ – ours is beautiful! It is a wonderful storage facility. Because we don’t like it? Because it’s a relic? Nope. Because no one can play it. At the risk using humor in a setting like this, do you know what the difference is between an organ and an onion? No one cries when you cut up an organ:)
    Much of what we do in the church is simply because we’ve always done it and even when it started we didn’t have a good/Biblical reason. And when you’re trying to effect change and suggest that the opposition is “emotional rather than logical”, the response is typically, “IT’S NOT EMOTIONAL!!!!!!!!!!!”
    Thanks for your consideration.

  • A observer says on

    As to #1… many churches may not have a Sunday evening service but instead have in home groups at that time.
    As to #4….. many churches have gone to a “keyboardist” setup thats uses keyboard(s) to play either the piano, organ, or both whenever the song may benefit.
    As to#10… With visitors email or text them within 24 hours. With members/regulars ask them what they’re comfortable with. Hospital visitation is a must as is the funeral home and also those that are homebound/in a nursing home.
    As to #11… Some churches uses words only songbooks. Some of these are hymnals without the sheet music/hardback binding while others are contemporary songbooks. This is a much cheaper option for the church that wants books without the traditional hymn book price tag attached.
    As to #20…. just make Sure you have a church “phone” even if its is a cellphone or voice mail account. People need a way to get a hold of and talk to real person in a prompt manner. Also check your texts, email, and voice mail frequently when it comes to church associated ones then promptly respond back in a polite manner.

  • Alex Clayton says on

    I think many would find it surprising that many of the things on this list that people hold as “gospel” did not exist at one time. Sunday night service became necessary because of the Industrial Revolution. At one time there was a debate as whether or not there could be singing; much less choirs, hymnals, and praise teams, in worship. Sunday school is also something that was nearly 200 years in the making. On the other hand, while watching the NBA finals this past few weeks, it was interesting to note that players who were not dressed out to play on the bench have to wear A suit and tie. So what is relevant? As James, the elder at Jerusalem, told Paul. “When they heard this, they praised God. Then they said to Paul: “You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews have believed, and all of them are zealous for the law. 21 They have been informed that you teach all the Jews who live among the Gentiles to turn away from Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or live according to our customs. 22 What shall we do? They will certainly hear that you have come (Acts 21:21-22). It is not a matter of method, but a matter of mission.

  • I always enjoy reading your articles; but seldom reply. Our church still has 13 of the 20 ‘relic’ characteristics. I grew up as a child of the 1960’s when non-conformity was the ‘in’ thing. I observed then that everyone was trying so hard to be a non-conformist that the only real non-conformists were the old conformists! When I became pastor of this church some 16 years ago we were averaging around 50 people (80% were over 65 years old). Today we minister to around 200 people with a health, eclectic mix of all ages. I made a decision several years ago that the church was the Body of Christ. We minister out of that core belief. Do I consider our church a “Relic”? Not at all, we are today’s Non-Conformists!

  • I find a lot of changes a little sad. Our casual clothes show we have a casual relationship to God. Shouldn’t it be somewhere in between super formal and casual? The minister facing the people says we are ingrown, we no longer look outward toward Someone larger than ourselves. Most praise music doesn’t praise God, it’s about “Me” and God and about how much God loves “Me”. It’s all about “Me” and God is another ornament to add to “Me”. Most praise bands (and I’ve been to many places) are more like concert venues and most of the time the congregation isn’t singing. Modern ideas and psychological themes have replaced the simple Gospel and churches no longer have a clear vision of what the Gospel is. We have modern scholars (Bishop Spong) telling us that it’s all about the good experience refreshing our spirit, it doesn’t matter whether or not you believe in a god. Choirs are disappearing because people can no longer take the time to do anything well and commit their time for an hour every week. Pastors now are paid like CEOs and worry more about worldly things than godly things and are afraid to speak out. So, while some of the changes can be “positive” maybe there is a shadow side to them.

    • Thom S Rainer says on

      Vicki –

      I respectfully disagree with your comment that pastors are paid like CEOs. Certainly there are outliers, and they get the attention. But we do the research every year, and pastors are often woefully underpaid. Very, very, very few are in the CEO-paid category. Blanket comments can be harmful to both pastors and the congregations they serve.

      • Couldn’t agree more.. both of my son’s are in ministry and are making so little money they could be on assistance. Granted they are young and their salaries will hopefully grow, but they have resigned to always being poor in order to serve God they way they feel He is leading them. Their mates are incredible people to want to stand by their sides!

    • I also respectfully disagree about clothes. Least we forget the disciples were poor fisherman who had no multiple sets of clothes. If the Bible is clear about one thing it is that God sees the heart. I have seen lots of very nicely dressed Christians who are mean proud addicted to porn, greedy, and verbally abusve.
      Give my husband who wears a suit only when necessary but has led many to Christ, works to establish ex convicts in jobs, and has so much love for every person in his life I married him instead of the ” suits”‘ I work with everyday.

      • Another Anonymous Mark says on

        Funny, I seen plenty of mean, greedy, proud, porn addicted and verbally abusive people wearing t-shirts and jeans…

        What are we to do?

    • Christopher says on

      “Somewhere in between super formal and casual.” What exactly does that look like? If clothes bear a direct correlation to our relationship with God, how can I be sure that my relationship with God is “somewhere in between super formal and casual?”

  • Though my church is a good mix of new and old music, I do miss so many of the old hymns. I’m finding I’ve forgotten the words to the “meaty” hymns, and I’ll be in the car singing and it goes something like this: “Come Thou fount of every blessing, la la la la la la la….” I’m thankful for the new hymns (like from the Gettys), but some of those old lyrics are so powerful! Thanks for this article to reflect. Much is preferences, but some things are still vital, I think.

  • I have been on staff here for 10 months. We had an interim pastor that did away with about half of this. Some of it never existed. But much of it was simply tolerated. Now we are changing. And it is very hard for some.