Moral Contradictions

Monday, August 14, 2006

The Sabbath, or lack thereof

Martin E. Marty over at wrote a column exploring the church's decline in American Christian schedules.

Kristen and I both grew up in households where our family calendar revolved around the church's calendar. Yes school and soccer practice and other activities were there too, but ultimately church was the most important.

Even now, I look forward to Sundays and Wednesdays. I remember how excited I was on Thursday afternoons when we had children's choir practice. When Christmas and Easter musical presentations were kicking into high gear there were weeks where I was at church six out of seven days.

I defined myself primarily as a Christian and member of Ferry Farm Baptist Church. Yes I also defined myself as an 8th grader, soccer player, and friend, but I was taught and came to appreciate that church was priority numero uno.

From the column:

Such change hits others. A half-century ago, most conservative Protestants fought for blue laws and against store-openings on Sunday, while decrying Christians' almost idolatrous indulgence in sports. Today preachers cut their sermons short so they can beat their members to seats at the afternoon pro football game. In some places these changes have led to decline of church attendance, while in others it has changed the character of allegiance.


I thought of T. S. Eliot's obituary to UK church life. These were "decent godless people: Their only monuments the asphalt roads and a thousand lost golf balls." Are Americans joining them?

I pray not - and I pray I can help reverse the tide in whatever way.


  • Nathan,

    Can you shoot me a quick email at or list your email address on here?

    I can't find your email address and I have some info you'd be very interested in..

    By Blogger Big Daddy Weave, at Monday, August 14, 2006 11:45:00 AM  

  • I have had experience looking at the Church from inside as well as outside. I cannot say that I grew up with parents who did not believe, they just were never a part of any church body. I remember hearing both my parents voice a belief in God several times, but they never darkend a church house door.

    My wife, however, was raised in a family much like yours. Her entire family were active in almost daily church activities, and her surviving brother and sister still are to this day.

    Like many young people introduced to the Church for the first time, I was invited by my best friend in the 7th grade. And, as time passed I just became part of the church family. I was baptized on a Wednesday night service in 1964.

    My wife and I have seen many changes in worship style come and go over the years. And, yet with all the effort to "improve" the worship, attendence continues to decline.

    At the same time, attendence has always been a problem. Typically, Sunday morning service is by far the largest service, often requiring more than a single service in order to allow room for everyone to fit comfortably. Sunday night never has had that problem. I personally am unaware of any church requiring more than a single evening service to accomodate the numbers in atttendence.

    Having said that, I would have to say that it is much more than activities on Sunday, such as shopping, or sports activities, or whatever, that keeps people away.

    These next few words are pure speculation, I have not one shred of proof to offer, only my personal observation and gut feeling. The one constant trend toward improving worship has been the introduction of "secular style" entertainment venues offered up as worship to the Lord. I am NOT saying these are wrong, or that they do not have a useful purpose. I am suggesting that, when the lines that separate secular entertainment appeal, and worship service appeal begin to blur, the result is that those secular entertainment activities will almost always win out over worship.

    I am well aware that church's have made many compromise mistakes in the past by changing worship schedules to work around other activities. Probably the Super Bowl has had the single largest impact in this area. In the days before video recording became available for home use, the church where we would worship at the time would conduct both the morning and "evening" service one after the other, with a dinner-on-the-grounds sandwiched (pun intended) between. Then everyone would go home, feeling like they had completed their worship requirements of two services on Sunday, and would enjoy the game.

    But, i feel that these are more symptoms of a greater problem within the Body of Christ. What brought me to church initially was the friendly efforts of my very best friend. What kept me going back was the interaction between other Christians that made me feel accepted and wanted. It wasn't the church soft ball team or the small groups, although those were the vehicles whereby that interaction took place.

    What is missing today and has always been a problem of varying degrees is a burning desire to unite with others as an extended family. Every church attempts to put into place programs to encourage this interaction, but, without the understanding and commitment of the entire Church Body, these programs will continue to have limited success.

    What is needed, in my humble opinion, is less effort on improving worship (meaning the external parts, singing, prayer, preaching, decor, etc.) and more effort teaching what church family is all about, and how to practice it.

    What little research that I have done in the ancient Hebrew traditions, the one thing that repeats itself over and over in these studies, is how amazingly family oriented so many of their ceremonies were. When you look at these major feasts, it becomes difficult to conceptualize these as "Church" oriented. They seem to be aimed more at developing and strengthening the family unit with God.

    I know that is exactly what our church leaders today want to achieve. But, somehow, we are missing the mark. What EXACTLY does Hebrews 10:24-25 really mean to us as church leaders? "And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching."

    I have tried to teach my children that we go to church because we want to, not because we have to. Two listened and heeded, one, so far, has not. Somehow, I failed to find the right message to convince him, and likewise, the church today is failing to convince so many others like my son. I know they like the music, and all the fun activities, but somehow the noise of the activity is concealing the message of Hebrews to precious souls.

    By Blogger Dusty Bogard, at Monday, August 14, 2006 1:34:00 PM  

  • Dusty,

    Thank you for your thoughtful response - I definitely will be saving your comment.

    What is needed, in my humble opinion, is less effort on improving worship (meaning the external parts, singing, prayer, preaching, decor, etc.) and more effort teaching what church family is all about, and how to practice it.

    I agree - There's too much focus on the programs rather than why we have those programs. A church with a wrong emphasis, or no emphasis at all, can very well end up looking like a glorified YMCA.

    In my very limited experience, I've noticed that many have no idea what church is and how it should fit within their lives. That's one question I have going into seminary - How does the church become relevant to society and more importantly, individuals?

    Thanks again, Dusty.

    By Blogger Nathan, at Monday, August 14, 2006 1:51:00 PM  

  • I think there is something else at work that is causing lower attendance. More women are working outside the home now. Out of necessity in most cases. With the price of bread at $2.00, a gallon of gas at $3.00, a one bedroom apartment at $650, it is difficult, if not impossible, to live on one salary these days. Many are working 6-7 days a week to keep their heads above water. Add kids to the mix and there are just not enough hours in the day. By the time Sunday rolls around exhaustion has set in.

    By Blogger Marty, at Monday, August 14, 2006 3:41:00 PM  

  • Marty,

    That's a good point. I talked with the lady at the desk while getting my oil changed, and she said she has two jobs and commented "I'm never home". I wasn't able to explore that comment any farther, but I would think given a choice between relaxing at home for a little bit versus going to church, she could feel justified propping up her feet.

    Wow - everytime I ask a question I get even more questions. Good stuff.

    By Blogger Nathan, at Monday, August 14, 2006 4:35:00 PM  

  • Nathan,

    Thanks for your recent comment on my blog. I could not locate your email address, but I would enjoy getting to know you a bit better. My email address is I think we may disagree on many things Baptist, but I enjoy dialoging with other young Baptist history buffs.

    Nathan Finn

    By Blogger Nathan Finn, at Tuesday, August 15, 2006 8:18:00 AM  

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