Fact #1: Sunday Night services in the Church of the Nazarene have gone (or have mostly gone) the way of the dodo bird.
Fact 2: Sunday Morning church attendance in the Church of the Nazarene (USA) is in decline. In some places, it is gradual; in others, it’s a free fall. In very few pockets is there growth.
Fact #1 (the non-existence of Sunday Night services) is NOT the cause for Fact #2 (Sunday morning decline), but it’s a symptom that has led to overall demise of the church.
Not trying to sound like a church curmudgeon (I remember the good old days…), Sunday nights were preceded in my early years with a NYPS (current NYI or a youth service) and then the Sunday Night service ensued. On Sunday Nights, we had youth bands playing, young people singing “specials” (sometimes they were not very “special”) and frequently those called into ministry would preach. Always there were testimonies of how God had worked in the individual’s life that week (in one church, a lady with dementia would recount that week’s soap opera details as if they were in her own family; in another, a man would tell wild tales of life with his drug addicted son and conclude by saying “where He leads me I will follow.” I am not sure it was God leading to the crack houses, but I digress). Often following the service a big group would end up at a local restaurant and tell the same funny stories over and over again.
If the above description sounds too idyllic, in a moment of full disclosure, please note: It wasn’t uncommon for Sunday night services to feel like a train wreck or the ugly step sister of Sunday morning. There are reasons why gathering back at the church for an evening service has died.
The problem is that the essential aspects of the Sunday night service aren’t happening in our Sunday morning gatherings.
Again, I am not saying we need to revive Sunday Night services (for the record, in my current assignment we still have Sunday Night services. Last night we had a youth service going on, a VBS meeting for volunteers and a Pentecost prayer service in an upper room in the church). But we need to regain what was lost in our Sunday night services. A place where our youth can learn and use their gifts. A place to hear the stories of victories of God in individual lives. A place that makes fellowship with one another easier. In other words, a place that makes the church family seems like family. In some churches this takes place in small groups, but in many churches these aspects of Christian fellowship have been lost.
Maybe one of the causations for our Sunday morning decline is that the church no longer feels like family. The Sunday Morning service is more like a show, a place to be entertained. There’s little connection or interaction with others. Little investment is made by the attender. They come. They listen (maybe sing). Then they leave. With little “skin in the game,” there is also little commitment and little reason to keep coming. When a better Sunday morning “show” comes to town, it’s easy to jump ship for the newer, hipper, better “worship-tainment.”
Without the communal aspects of Sunday night services, churches must be diligent to create a warm family-like experience that will keep both old and young tied to one another. Intergenerational empathy for each other is crucial for the long-term health of the church. A commitment to making Sunday mornings less showy (not necessarily a lesser quality) and more communal, more familial is what is needed.
Can we reverse the downward trajectory in the USA Sunday morning attendance? Making the church a family again will be a good first step in that direction.