A friend of mine visited a large, famous church on a typical Sunday. The worship band performed with precision. The lighting and fog effects were state of the art. The pastor presented a polished sermon amidst specially built staging.
Later in the week the pastor shared this church’s ministry secrets in a seminar. He described the staff’s single-minded emphasis on excellence—for the Sunday worship services. He shared their internal mantra: “It’s about Sunday, stupid.”
I get the point. For many churches, the Sunday service is the initial introduction for the uninitiated. It’s the main conduit for new members. It’s the only time most churches ever see the majority of their people. It’s the culmination of a week (or more) of staff planning and rehearsing. It’s the main conduit for tithes and offerings.
I get it. But I fear this laser focus on the Sunday service is slowly anesthetizing the church and clouding its real mission. It’s no wonder that many people come to worship for an hour on Sunday and then fail to live their faith once they leave the church building.
I’m afraid it’s too easy for an It’s-About-Sunday-Stupid (I-ASS for short) church staff to begin to shade its mission toward merely filling seats on Sunday morning. That’s not the same as a clear mission to bring individuals closer to Jesus, to transform their lives, to provide relational support for the Body of Christ.
Instead, the I-ASS mentality can send the unfortunate, subtle message that the ministry is really all about the show—and its showmen.
The church is not about the show. It’s not about Sunday. It’s about God—working in and through people—Sunday through Saturday. Everywhere.
We numb our people’s sense of mission and ministry when we imply it’s all about what the staff performs on Sunday morning. The weekly worship service is not the main event. It may be a reflection and a celebration of the main event, which is God at work every day in and through his people. On the job. At home. At school. In the car. On the bus. At the store. On the field.
Rather than cheerleading an I-ASS myopia, it’s time to widen our idea of church, of ministry. It’s time to shift more energy and emphasis into other, broader ways to be faithful to our calling–as the church.
Church is not an hour on Sunday. Faith is not a staged show. Evangelism isn’t the act of parking butts in pews. Discipleship isn’t the process of dispensing oratory to passive spectators.
We don’t “go to church.” We are called to be the church. Every day. Everywhere.
So spot on that it hurts. Its medicine for an ill Body of Christ. Thanks Thom. Frank Viola nails the even more fundamental reasons behind it…i.e., extremely expensive buildings, large staff salaries, etc, etc, requires big offerings.
Good thoughtful analysis of the problem with the American evangelical mindset. I agree with comment above and am thankful for voices like yours and Frank Viola that are willing to call attention to the emperor’s lack of clothes. Thanks for the post.
I am on hiatus from organized religion after sitting for over twenty years in the same pew. You have described far more eloquently than I ever could why I needed to walk away. Not sure what’s next and that’s okay.
I am lifting you in prayer. I am a female Pastor who has worked in small churches since 1998. I am blessed to have worked with churches where the service is just ordinary folks worshipping God. About 80% of the churches in my denomination are smaller. The entire monthly budget where I pastored until recent years was $600/month. That had to cover everything! Please try services at any Seventh-day Adventist Church. (We meet on Saturday mornings.) In the majority of them you won’t find a really big show, but you will find a group of flawed Christians seeking God’s will. But wherever God leads you, keep your eyes on Jesus! Don’t lose faith because of your spiritual journey thus far. Remember that Judas was a full disciple who was given power to heal, etc., even though Christ knew his heart. Christ washed Judas’ feet on Thursday night just like He did the rest. There will always be the Judas’ in Christianity. But remember also that there were 11 other disciples who remained faithful, despite their many faults. Ask God to guide you to a congregation where you can grow for Him! I’m praying that for you right now. God bless!
C. S. Lesko – I respectfully ask what your thoughts are on Scripture’s clear description of church leader qualifications-primarily that that they are to be male.
AMEN! As a Pastor, I am acutely aware of this mentality, I call it Sunday Christians. I struggle with how to motivate people to think more about church, and “being” church Monday through Saturday. There seems to be so much apathy, even among some (unpaid) church leaders.
What a shame this is so spot on! I am embarrassed that I-ASS is even used as the acronym for that team. Worshiping our Lord is far more valuable than what that attitude conveys. Praying for renewal of vision there and whenever we stray. <3
I laughed so loud I almost woke up the sleeping baby in the next room when I read:
“(I-ASS for short)”
I applaud your efforts to honestly address the tough questions facing the church today.
I would encourage you to think about and perhaps write about the two biggest issues facing her today: moral cover and complicity.
And this is what the “Dones” have attempted to communicate, but it always gets twisted to mean something else! Church is not about a place or a day – church is our lives, its our identity, in community with other believers – being salt and light in the world. Spot on Thom!!!
Great article, & a hearty Amen! Thanks for passing that along
Bless God, Sean
Totally right on Tom. The singularly most successful connection with lost people who are hurting is not “Sunday School”. It’s life groups. Groups that meet in someones home sharing life experiences and studying the Word together. I believe that the worship syle of the Sunday (or any day) is another touchpoint for connecting. Sunday school is to structured and for new people it’s not a comfortable place.
Great article! I totally agree with Fred… it is not about Sunday School but “life groups” meeting in homes where relationship takes place. Jesus is not about religion, He is about RELATION!
Terrific thoughts. I agree that we need a balanced ministry emphasis. The church huge amounts of resources into large group services, but the churches in my area are still in decline. Thank you for sharing these thoughts.
In the large protestant , fundamentalist/Evangelical churches, tent meetings, healing sessions, the Hinds, the Kuhlmans, AA Allen et al its always been that way. As the Negro spiritual goes, ‘lord help me live the life on Monday, that we talk about on Sunday. One has to live here in Jerusalem to see how things pan out with the big organizations. Going into my 7th decade, noting surprises me anymore in the world or organized religion, so i decided I just may have to be ‘born again’, this time into dis-organized religion. Any ideas will be considered.
Couldn’t agree more! Evangelicalism has become too much of a commercial enterprise. We don’t seem to know what we believe anymore but we want more people to join us!
This is a straw-man argument. And here’s why…
…for many (all?) of the people who attended that particular seminar, even if their church isn’t all about Sunday morning, perhaps their job is.
I am the contemporary worship and media guy at a good-sized church. The church may be all about mission, but my job, the thing they pay me for, is about executing worship services the best I can. It means that “in my job” I don’t worry about mission or ministry outside the walls of my church (even if I am passionate about that in some form or fashion outside what I actually get paid for).
It doesn’t demean the rest of the church’s mission for me to be laser-focused on Sunday Services, and for me to be “all about Sunday, stupid”. If I’m not all about that (at least in the hours I work here), I’ll be looking for a new job, and perhaps some really “missional holistic simple etc. church” can help me pay my bills while I’m out of work.
Peter, the seminar my friend attended was a general ministry seminar. And, my friend along with other seminar attendees, is not involved in Sunday morning worship planning or execution.
I understand your single-minded focus of your job. And I understand that the acceptable execution of your job provides your personal income. The thrust of my article is not directed toward you or anyone who is attempting to meet their job requirements. My concern is with the priorities of the Church, the Body of Christ, of which I am a part.
The Church has many priorities. But I do not believe the ultimate top priority of the Church is a Sunday morning production. And I believe it is problematic to send the message, which the public is hearing, that the American church is all “about Sunday, stupid.”
Yeah, a timely article to remind us that Gods’ job description for the Church was outward focused not inward focused. Isaiah 58 & the Book of James come to mind 🙂
A great criticism but not a single positive suggestion as an alternative. If you are going to criticise prove you can do better! I dislike those that criticise without providing and proving an alternative.
People hear the gospel (hopefully) on Sunday and it spurs them on. They get reminded who they are in Christ so as to start the work week with new positive thoughts. It helps them have faith to meet the school bill and believe God to heal them. It is a positive input. During the day most have to work. Praise god that for us that believe Sunday is a day of receiving so we can give the other six days. Where else are the believers going to get some encouragement? So it has some visual aids, they help. The preacher should be a teacher who studies the scripture to convey to those who’s week is already accounted for. Sunday services may be imperfect in some ways but till there is a better way lets stick with it. Seems to me there is not much alternative. I think the church in many instances has become too institutional and businesslike, but millions are being reached accross the world through TV that otherwise would not hear the gospel. Many are hearing, believing and doing better in their own lives through the “foolishness” of preaching. Disappointed Thom.
Up to 60% divorce rate in the Church, higher than the secular world. 30% anti depressant drug prescription rate [ 40% for women} in the
Church. 5 of the most religious states have highest anti depressant drug use in the country. All these numbers are on the rise. Not really sure how Sunday morning is helping these folks.
Show me sources for those stats. You might find that several of them are made up.
Sorry to disappoint you, Tim. As you’ll note in the article, I am not questioning the value of the Body gathering to worship. I am concerned with the message that the ultimate top priority of the Church is a weekly production. It may be a part of a church’s agenda, but I believe it’s wrong-headed to suggest that the church is “all about Sunday.” I believe our work as the Body of Christ is much, much bigger than that.
The alternatives are no acceptable for many because money is involved. Many look at ministry as a lively-hood, a way to make a living, and if you took the profit out of the ministry machine…well, you’d have fewer people wanting to go there (which god/God is in control of this situation….but I’ll regress).
Putting bodies in the seats on Sunday is huge because that’s when a church business makes most of its revenue. Church administration courses teach that the majority of your money is made on Sunday (offerings,tithing, etc.), and special days (anniversaries, programs, etc.). Church budgets can’t see going without a Sunday. In some southern areas – churches hate Mother’s Day…why – because it the congregation have parents that attend other churches – they will attend church with their mothers…meaning a Sunday failure.
I believe Thom has gone over solutions and alternatives in many of his blogs, but they are radical and they will not serve the basic agenda of churches with big bills, payrolls, and expenses.
You also state were else will people find the encouragement that they find in church? Well I have it throughout the week! I talk with other Christians on a daily basis. I encourage other saints throughout the week. It’s very natural and when Sunday comes around, it’s just another day to live a life that belongs to him. I’ve found the rest and peace that comes from being in Christ.
I was saved at age 5, went to Bible College, was ordained, served as a church planting missionary with my family for 10 years, and was active in church up until about a year ago when I left the church and said, “I’m DONE with church!” I have just started a Meetup group in Phoenix AZ where in just one week 28 others have joined. We’re rotating around town meeting in coffee shops, homes, etc. ALL are welcome regardless of belief. We will be discussing and studying critical topics that I’ve never heard addressed at church..i.e., science, the universe and recent discoveries about this vast universe we live in, evolution and whether God could have used evolution as a means for creating the world, etc. Bottom line, we live in a very advanced, knowledgeable world and people don’t want to be talked at and given a 20 minute sermonette with a punch line to give more and volunteer to serve! Oh, and to get a pastor to meet with a parishioner during the week – forget it! They’re way to busy getting ready for the next show on Sunday. Pathetic! For more info on our group go to http://www.meetup.com/Phoenix-Science-Spirituality-Discussion-Meetup/
Tim – In response to your 1/2/15 post above … #1 Sunday is not for us. The Sabbath is God’s and for God. By resting (as He commanded) we glorify Him. The meeting of the church is for the edification of the saints BUT that edification comes only as we worship the living God – in Spirit and in Truth. #2 The Gospel is essential. The full counsel of Scripture must be preached and in turn, heard. Faith cometh by hearing. A verse or partial verse, a joke, a story and some positive words are not the Gospel. It was not suggested that Sunday services be done away with – just done Biblically. It is not about us! It is not about a concert, nor a performer(worship leader), backup singers(worship team), nor lights/fog or whatever else is attempted to lure the world in to the meeting. All that is needed is the truth of the Gospel. We work so hard to add to the beauty of the simple but powerful Truth of Jesus and Who He is. He doesn’t need our help with that! – Hymns contain Biblical doctrine that we can direct toward the Lord without a show. We are never directed in Scripture to lure the world in to the meeting of the church by surveying them to find out what they want in a church (as a local church in my town proudly does) and providing it to get them there and hopefully keep them there. We ARE directed to preach the Truth of the Gospel in love. Yes – it will offend – non-believers and believers alike. That is a good thing.
The New Testament Church met DAILY from HOUSE TO HOUSE. What is it we don’t understand about that?
We don’t live in those times. If all that happened today it would look totally different.
True, we don’t live int those times at all. So when Hebrews mentions the assembling of yourselves together…we have to know the times they were living in – in a multitude of persecution. They didn’t have the many means of communication that we have today (cellphones, txt, blogs, internet, even snail mail). They met because of the persecution, to encourage one another, because it was a possible death sentence to be a Christian in those days.
If we are going to look at it that way – we’ve got to cover all the bases. The untold freedom we have was unheard of in the time of the Apostles. Technically – there are many believers that assemble daily via groups. I wonder if Paul had the ability to communicate instantly the way we do today, and the freedom we have….hmmmm?
I agree that you get the impression that it is mostly about Sunday morning worship and of course that is where they pass the offering and the time the money is acquired. They go all out to make it a good time and have good preaching. The problem for me is that it is just not value-added when I really look at it all. It’s just pretty much internally focused ministries that don’t really profit.
I suggest trying an extreme opposite where people get other people together to work at a food bank or Lazarus house or such like and have church or study groups on the side rather than big Sunday church with maybe a food bank ministry on the side, IF they can afford it after all the bills. It would be better to have people giving directly to the poor through a food bank and seeing them helped along with seeing who your helping. This would be better than throwing money in an offering and maybe hearing about a small portion that was given to some charity that is helping some faceless people you never see.
I bet people would give more when they see people who need the help and are being helped than what they give in church where they are sheltered away from real ministry.
Ryan, I think that I know what church the blogger visited. (He left clues in his wording that make sense to some of us.)
If it is that church, then their externally focused ministries are a paragon of excellence, compassion and true gospel-thinking.
Again, the OP has set up a straw man argument. Just because I attend a conference on how to do weekends with excellence, and if that’s all they talk about, and if that’s all MY job is in the local church… that does NOT mean that my church or any given church is not externally focused and concerned with the things they should be outside the walls.
You know, if people want to get together, pool their money to build a church, pay for a trained pastor and worship leader. It’s really not a sin. The problem is that this has turned into the norm over the last centuries… millennia, to where all of this is just expected. Now if you don’t go to church, join in and help pay for this expensive ‘human’ tradition, your committing a sin. Your walking away from God and His church. It has gotten out of control to the point of covetousness. I personally don’t want all that stuff. I don’t go to church any more partially because I don’t want to pay for it all and even more. I don’t need all that stuff. I don’t need the professional inspirational speaker pastor, praise bands, comfy padded seats and big church. I’m an introvert and I don’t need nor do I have time for 100 other people in my life. I can’t and don’t have the energy to give quality time to that many people. I had gone to church for 42 years and it just lost its meaning and value. It was ending up a time and money sink along with I was burning out having put myself in a position to be someone I am not… a social extrovert. I was saved from the bondage of the institution during the recession when I was laid off and got a job in another state. I was more relieved to get out of all those church duties than that I had found a job. It took 3 years to break from the mental bondage of attending church which is similar to quitting smoking. You can break the nicotine addiction in a month but you still want to grab for a cigarette for more than a year after that. I’m going to a men’s group now but having difficulty making it a value-added time. I’m just not connecting. Kindred spirits are far and few between.
In all of these respones there is not one person that mentioned the Blessed Holy Spirit and what he means to the believer. Instead of the popular rendition of the News Papers we need a little Fire from the Pulpit we as people can rise no higher than our head and the Pastor is the head oh the church so raise the standards a little higher and come on Preacher instead of getting a message off of the computer get on your knees before God dig into the Scriptures and be lead of and by the Holy Spirit and come up with a message that will excite your people and cause them to want to be spreading the Gospel like they did in years gone bye. Have an aalter call have your congregation on their knees seeking God encourage them to be in church every chance they have for without encouragement they forget just like children do and after all. we are all children of the King and we need to be reminded at every service
I’ll differ with you – Christ is the head of the Church – not the pastor. A pastor is an ascension gift to the Body of Christ, but the Church only has one head. Even in biblical days – they had a plurality of leaders and pastors (plural).
One would also always depend on the pastor if one could never rise higher than his/her pastor.
yes, yes, yes… have a book called ‘i, church’ being self-published in the next few weeks and this is the heart of that message – if you’re settling for a Sunday focused concept of church you are missing out on so much more of what God intended by it…
love brett fish
The greatest prayer the church should offer up to God is the prayer for itself. Through this act praying that humility, adoration and worship of our Lord would be in the hearts of the Lord’s Body as it gathers. Pray also that holiness would reign in His presence and people be freed from sin and encouraged to care for their neighbor and the world around them. Indeed that we give up our version of the red carpet, flashing lights, a crowd waiting for the celebrities (aka-pastor and worship leader,) and instead return to it’s core value of glorifying Jesus.
Thank you Thom for sounding another wake-up call… and thank you for NOT giving any kind of pat answer or formula. Somethings we must search out on our own.
From what I read in the responses, til we hold the same definitions, it seems we’ll not communicate well. What do we consider “Church”… the masonry or the people? And what is the purpose of Sunday morning… is it for worship or praise? To better understand the differentiation, I found this blog enlightening:
It all comes back to the concept that its not all about us, yet Sunday mornings feel increasingly like a staged event vs. a time for worship and renewal. Henri Nouwen in “Bread for the Journey” touches on this when he says we are called to turn our aloneness into solitude and that Instead of making us yearn for company that offers us immediate satisfaction, solitude makes us claim our center and empowers us to call others to claim theirs so that community is solitude greeting solitude. Part of that yearning could be met on Sunday morning… or small groups,,, or…
But as for the Great Divide between staged contemporary praise and traditional worship… if we insist it must be all one or the other, I guess we’ll just keep doing what we’ve been doing, which is to exclude those who don’t agree with us til we’re all in agreement… and alone.
More and more people, today, are realizing that Jesus is not sending them to church, and when He calls them to follow Him, he means away from church, not toward it.
Today’s schism relates to mission and maintenance…External focus, and internal…Those who desire vocation, both corporate and individual, outside the church walls, and those who equate following and serving with Sunday worship, praise and thanks, with service being primarily focused internally…Those who have had their fill of bible study, preaching, singing and internal concern, and those less comfortable with change, who value tradition and repetitive disciplines.
For years I have strived to bind the two as a leader in my congregation, but I’ve come to realize that traditional organized religion, by its very nature, requires a predominate internal emphasis.
With others, the disconnect runs much deeper – if the theological differences between mission and maintenance weren’t deep enough. Some, perhaps many, are experiencing a huge change in faith in scripture as being more man-made instead of God’s word. They want to follow Jesus, not worship the bible, or someone elses interpretation of it.
My sense is that as more and more leave, (the aforementioned “dones” and the gen Y and millenial “nones”), the necessity (ecumenism) being the mother of invention (consolidation, circling the wagons) will precede an eventual disintegration of traditional church in America. My hope is that those who are leaving, now, will be the advance party in an effort to expand our relationship with God to where God wants it – in the world, Monday through Sunday.
As a teacher, my standard (and I believe God’s) is that if they didn’t learn it…I didn’t teach it! It is my job is to ensure the students own the lesson. That’s why Jesus spent so much time with the twelve.
If you deliver a message on Sunday, what are you doing to ensure they live it out? Thirty minutes a week listening to you will NOT make disciples. Disciples are matured through living life together, helping each other grow, holding each other accountable. I don’t think anyone here is saying Sunday morning is wrong. The question is what are you doing for the other 167 hours in the week to help the pew sitters grow in their faith.
Thank you for your article. I agree we should “be the church” every day. I would like to read another article from you on what that looks like. How do we do that?
Reblogged this on #sammoments.
Yes church is not the service, is not the building, church is us! Gathering Sunday mornings and striving for excelance in itself isn’t a problem. When we market the churches name and not Jesus is where I find the issue. Transformation of lives is the most important pursuit that the church(us) should have. There are way to many people filling the house of worship who have not truly been reborn ( Baptized with the Holy Spirit) actually passed from death to life. The goal of the church is to find the lost, my argument is that they are among, right within the walls of the church building on Sunday mornings. Awaken them and the church will have true relevance again.
I TOTALLY AGREE !
Here’s one thing that I will put out there and I may get flamed for it…but here it is, Do many of the people that are involved in Sunday production understand that in many situations – their salaries are supplied by offerings of people on fixed incomes, people giving “sacrificially” when they themselves are below the poverty level? I remember being told by a Bishop how to raise and offering…it saddened me -” you go after the big money – and then you scrape up the pennies”. I never looked at that person the same way again.
When I was a traditional pastor, I was always one that held a “secular job” in addition to being a pastor (what they call dual vocational). I refused to do what I’ve seen others do, and I’m thankful for it and I have a clear conscience.
Yes, we understand that our salaries are provided by the offerings of the people in the pews.
We are, for the most part, not like the person you mention.
[…] recently read an awesome article by Thom Schultz about a church’s obsession with Sunday. This got me thinking about the relationship of the […]
I like your term – relational support for the Body of Christ. This is miserably lacking in church. Interestingly what you observe about the church in the US is also taking place here in Kenya, although on a different scale.
[…] Thom Schultz reminds why church is so much more than Sunday morning: […]
1Cor 12:31 “…but eagerly desire the greater gifts”
It seems to me, most of the time, that the Sunday show appeals to those who are content with the same ol’ same ol’. If it wasn’t for a great Sunday School class, and our mid week small group, I’d be a ‘done’ as well.
Why sunday? Sabbath is the 7th day not the 1st….
Thanks for the blog, interesting article, I recently stepped out of a church leadership role after attending every Sunday for 30 years and leading for the past 10 , it became pointless as I began to see the same people week after week doing nothing (including the lead Pastor and Elders) to reach community and share the gospel outside the four walls of that building, I tried to help change that mentality several times but never got any support(so sad) , I left with my faith and dignity intacted and continue to pray for our local churches…..