Beryl Jantzi is a former pastor and now serves as the Everence director of Stewardship Education. For more information on examples of financial policies and practices congregations might consider adopting, contact email@example.com.
And Jesus concluded, “The Sabbath was made for the good of human beings; they were not made for the Sabbath. (Mark 2:27 Good News Translation)
Times are changing and sometimes change in church is the hardest of all. From what I’ve observed, many have been offering “church” as a one model fits all. Church history and personal experience reminds us, like it or not, that culture demands we change in order to remain attentive to the needs of those we are called to serve.
The COVID-19 pandemic may be that catalyst which will nudge churches to have conversations and adapt more quickly than any strategic plan or task force would have otherwise made possible. The winds of change have been in the air for a while now.
Below are only a few stirrings I’ve observed, and based on your local context, you could probably name others.
- More people are working weekends and Sundays. Sunday as a time for rest, family and worship are rare or no longer exist.
- More professional people seem to be transferred for short term job assignments. More married couples live and work in separate cities and use weekends to reconnect.
- Young adults are going away to colleges (non-Mennonite mostly) who might not seek out a church or have no Anabaptist church option and so they take a church break.
- Many churches have become used to regular attendance being 1-2 times a month due to:
- youth on travel sport teams
- families getting away for extended summer vacations
- retired snowbirds going south for the winter or getting away to see the grandkids
- demanding work
- There are a growing number of singles (over 50% of U.S. households identify as single adults living alone) who aren’t comfortable in family-focused services.
- An increasing number of Boomers and Traditionalists in Mennonite churches choose to transition to retirement communities and locations near adult children who may live away from Mennonite communities.
- Membership numbers continue to outpace attendance numbers. A new task is to review and update rolls and ask: Where are these people? Is there a way to connect to them? And what is our responsibility to those who identify us as their church?
Diasporas have been taking place since the advent of civilization. People in the Bible and in our own times move for a variety of reasons. But today we have Christians moving on from Sabbath or redefining it to fit their needs. Jesus even encouraged an evolving definition of Sabbath which created a genuine stir among the religious leaders of his day. It put at-risk the institutional temple functions as well as those who performed them. Jesus didn’t seem to care. He said, the Sabbath was made for the good of human beings, not the other way around. Many are saying that same thing today based on their waning priority placed on expected Sabbath practices.
I don’t think most people are against current basic principles of Sabbath. It’s about Sabbath forms not fitting current lifestyles and competing loyalties. I remember going to church three times a week. I’m kind of glad those expectations changed.
I think the church of my youth needed to spend less time “under a bushel” and more time engaged in our communities and the world.
Let’s acknowledge the changes that have taken place regarding public worship and sabbath practice all along the way and then agree that we need to continue to evolve. So, the question is, how do we change some of the forms of Sabbath and worship without diminishing the core values and goals of Sabbath and community?
The Contemporary Christian Synagogue
The oldest dated evidence of a synagogue is from the third century BC. Synagogues doubtless have an older history. Some scholars think that the destruction of Solomon’s Temple of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. gave rise to synagogues after private homes were temporarily used for public worship and religious instruction.
When the institution of the synagogue began to emerge, the Temple in Jerusalem was still standing. The first roles of the synagogue were not associated with prayer, but rather with Jewish study and gathering. The first rabbis were not celebrants of religious rites but teachers of religious texts. Following the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, the synagogue assumed an additional role as the place of communal prayer.
The church today would do well to consider developing a contemporary adaptation of the synagogue movement for our own people as well as those across the street and around the world.
- Offering midweek, virtual, informal, gatherings for those from our church at a distance or those who will be traveling.
- Hosting regular virtual gatherings for all college students or recent graduates still settling into their new settings.
- Advertising an online class about, “Who are the Mennonites,” or “A biblical understanding of Peace and Non-violence,” for your neighbors near and far. Persons unable or uncomfortable with coming to your door may have interest in this virtual synagogue
Today and tomorrow, we will need additional models for Sabbath other than the 9-12:00, in-person, Sunday services. One of these new forms, or new ports of entry, may be virtual church. The pandemic has forced many churches to experiment with offering virtual services that can be viewed anywhere in the world, in real time or a recorded version after the fact.
We know that many persons when moving to a new community will go to the internet to learn about churches in their area. Now, they are also able to participate virtually before deciding to attend in person. This can be appealing especially for the introverts among us and those for whom the virtual life is first nature. Those churches that maintain a virtual presence will have a significant edge in attracting new attendees, as well as staying better connected with the regular once a month (or less) attendees.
This is not about endorsing that we replace what we are currently offering – in person regular worship is a preference of many of us. It is about the need to be nimble and creative by providing additional options that allow us to go to where the people are. Rather that assuming that “they” should come to us, we need to think about ways for “us” to be more accessible to others.