This article was inspired by an episode of The Essential Church podcast titled, "The Purpose of Sunday." Listen here.
If you have ever worked in ministry you know the feeling.
The weekend services have come to an end, everything is cleaned up, and the once buzzing lobby is now a ghost town with a few empty coffee cups left on the ledge and a few bulletin's on the floor.
You get into your car and as you are driving home you think back on the day. You realize that for years this has been the routine of your life. You have never questioned the idea of "going to church" and it has always been a part of your rhythm.
But now you find yourself asking yourself questions - questions that make you a little uneasy. "Is there a bigger purpose to all of this?" "Am I accomplishing what I am supposed to accomplish?" "What is the purpose of all of this?"
Your mind starts down the road on these questions and you hit dead ends which agitates you even more. You struggle to find satisfying answers to these questions. You think about all of the different answers you have been given over the years, and none of them seem to correlate.
As you continue to drive, you start to wonder if there really is a purpose to Sunday.
Before you know it you arrive at home and you do not have the time nor energy to finish thinking about it. You go inside, and before you know it you are laying on the couch watching football and napping during commercials. Maybe you will have answers someday, but for now it's rest and back to it tomorrow...because the weekend is always coming.
I have spent a long amount of time wrestling with the purpose of the weekend gathering.
I have been a follower of Jesus since I was a little kid and going to church was something that was instilled in me from as far back as I can remember. Church on Sunday is as automatic to me as having dinner each night. But after working in ministry for almost 14 years, I have been asking the question, "What is the point?"
I cannot tell you how many weekends I have walked away from church asking myself this question, "Is this even worth it?" "What am I doing?" "What are we doing?" "Is this all there is?" "What is the purpose in all of this?"
I know that I am not alone in this.
These questions are wrestled with by ministry leaders and church attenders alike!
In fact, the studies show that the upcoming generations are asking these questions at a startling rate, and the result is driving many from the church.
In an article(1) on www.faithit.com, Sam Eaton shares the following statistics:
Only 2 in 10 Americans under 30 believe attending a church is important or worthwhile (an all-time low).
59 percent of millennials raised in a church have dropped out.
35 percent of millennials have an anti-church stance, believing the church does more harm than good.
Millennials are the least likely age group of anyone to attend church (by far).
This is certainly eye-opening.
I think there are many factors that have lead to these statistics, but I think that one reasons is that as the church we have not done a great job of making it crystal clear as to the purpose of gathering on the weekend.
If you were to walk into most churches and ask the staff, "What is the purpose of the weekend gathering?" You would have almost as many answers as there are staff people.
This disjointed approach to ministry creates inconsistency, confusion, and a lack of targeting. The result is weekend gatherings that can feel mindless, automatic, and lacking in clear purpose. If the purpose of "church" is not made clear and becomes muddy and lost, people will slowly begin to fall away.
No one will continue being a part of something that has no clear purpose.
I am not suggesting that this is the only reason for the statistics above, but I think that this plays a part. The up and coming generations want to know the why. If the church cannot offer a compelling, clear, and consistent answer to the purpose of the corporate gathering than the result will be more and more people disconnected from the church.
In my own wrestling with this question I came across a podcast that really shed some light on this for me. The podcast was an episode from The Essential Church Podcast called "The Purpose of Sunday" (referenced above). In this episode, Pastor's Brady Boyd, Glenn Packiam, and Andrew Arndt discuss what they believe the purpose of Sunday is.
Packiam starts by sharing three basic paradigms that tend to be prevalent in church culture. The first we will call the Mission Paradigm. People who ascribe to this believe that the purpose of Sunday is evangelism and reaching the lost. Services are geared around reaching the unsaved and services are planned with the unchurched in mind. The second paradigm we will call The Formation Paradigm. People who ascribe to this believe that the purpose of Sunday is discipleship and teaching. Services are geared towards believers and typically include in-depth Bible exposition. The third paradigm we will call The Encounter Paradigm. People who ascribe to this believe that the purpose of Sunday is an encounter with God. Services are planned with an emphasis on feeling, hearing, and experiencing God.
Most churches will tend to emphasize one of these heavily, but many churches are confused on which paradigm they fall into and will bounce back and forth - never confident in which paradigm "works" for them. The result is a lack of clear purpose which leads to confusing and inconsistent services.
Are any one of these three the right paradigm?
Brady Boyd argues that there is not one that stands out as the primary. Rather, he suggests that all three are important to the weekend gathering. At first, this might seem like a cop-out to say, "They are all important," but if we look a little closer I do not think we need to conclude this. The reality is, mission, formation, and encounter saturate the descriptions of the early church as all three can be seen in the book of Acts.
Boyd goes on to say that in his church services they keep all three of these in mind when planning the weekend. He confesses that there will be weeks where perhaps one paradigm is elevated over the other, but when it is, it is intentional and purposeful.
Answering the question of the purpose of weekend gatherings and getting everyone on your staff and in your church on the same page is one of the best things that you can do for your church. When a church is on the same page and understands the purpose for the weekend it makes the difference in getting out of bed or sleeping in - it makes the difference in getting the kids ready or taking the week off. Purpose will motivate and drive your congregation in incredible ways.
What would it look like if more churches had a clear purpose for weekend gatherings? It might not lead to a massive reversal in church attendance trends right away, but it would certainly give clarity and purpose to those who do attend. The result of this would be people more passionate about their church and more passionate about the gathering.
A people passionate about the church is a powerful thing. For when there is passion it will always lead to some kind of action.
May we as church leaders be able to answer the question of the purpose of our gatherings and may we be able to communicate it clearly and compellingly for the sake of our staff, our congregation, and those who have yet to come in.
(1) Sam Eaton, "59 Percent of Millennials Raise in a Church Have Dropped Out - And They're Trying to Tell Us Why," accessed August 31, 2018, https://faithit.com/12-reasons-millennials-over-church-sam-eaton/.