Are churches moving worship to Wednesdays?

Religion News Service has a story about churches “shifting” worship to Wednesdays. Or, at least, that’s what the headline as it ran on USA Today said:

Churches shifting to Wednesday worship

The story begins with an anecdote about a United Church of Christ congregation that has stopped worshiping on Sundays during the summer but does worship on Wednesday evenings. Later we learn that two other northeastern congregational churches affiliated with the UCC are also dropping some Sunday services in exchange for Wednesdays. One congregation reported that their summer attendance on Wednesdays is 40 members, up from 15 on Sundays.

We’re told:

More and more, however, churches are rediscovering Wednesday — a traditional midweek church night — as a prime time to gather the flock for casual worship in summer. Early adopters report improved attendance, slightly fatter coffers and invigorated spirituality as curious newcomers drop by and join in.

“More and more,” eh? That much? And as the story acknowledges, Wednesdays are a traditional midweek church night. In fact, I’m so old that I remember when communities respected this tradition by not scheduling public school or other community activities on Wednesdays because of it.

The story seems to confuse those denominations (such as mine, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, whose congregations frequently have a midweek service in addition to communion services on Sundays) with others who are actually shifting their worship from Sundays to Wednesdays. These are two very different things. To wit:

Midwestern churches are also joining in the summer Wednesday shift.

Good Shepherd Church in Owatonna, Minn., also added a Wednesday service this summer and began immediately seeing new faces in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod congregation.

Immanuel Lutheran Church in Eden Prairie, Minn., has held summer Wednesday services for three years and draws only about 20, most of whom come on Sunday, too. But it’s nonetheless important to make the services available to those who’re away on summer Sundays, according to Senior Pastor Paul Nelson.

Wednesday nights aren’t necessarily an easy sell. Trondhjem Lutheran Church in Lonsdale, Minn., has revived its Wednesday night worship this year but attracts only a few Sunday regulars.

“Most of the people who aren’t available on Sundays, because they’re up at a cabin or something, they don’t come on Wednesdays either,” said Pastor Howard White, who lets two seminarians lead midweek services. “It’s not a substitute for Sunday. It doesn’t make up the difference (in reduced summer attendance). For us, it’s just an alternative style of worship.”

So are the Wednesday services in these Lutheran churches the same as their Sunday services? Are the mid-week services communion services? Are their Sunday services communion services? What about at the congregational churches’ services? Are these the same services or different? Knowing what I know about general Lutheran practice, it is unlikely that the Sunday and midweek services are following the same liturgy. That seems like a key question. In my congregation, for instance, our midweek services are usually vespers unless it’s a feast day, in which case we have the full Divine Service. These services are supplemental to our Sunday gatherings. We do these year round, not just during the summer.

The article also doesn’t really explain why traditional Christians have always worshiped on Sunday (hint: Easter). Instead we get stuff like this:

For others, the shift means overcoming resistance. The Rev. Vicki Keene, an interim pastor in the United Church of Christ, encourages a summer shift from Sunday to Wednesday services in every congregation she serves. Most parishioners have responded enthusiastically, she said, but some have pushed back.

“There were a couple of elderly couples that said, ‘we’ve been worshipping at this church for 40 or 50 years, and it’s just pitiful that our church won’t be open on Sundays,’” said Keene, who is interim pastor at First Church Congregational in Methuen, Mass. “Traditions are strong. … We’ll just have to see how this all unfolds.”

It’s an interesting story and actually I love the idea for the story. But I do think it should look beyond just Lutheran and UCC churches. Perhaps an article on the phenomenon could explain whether congregational size has to do with some of these decisions. One of the Lutheran congregations mentioned reports 300-plus people gathered during the church year on midweek nights while other congregations are tiny.

People praying in church photo via Shutterstock.

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  • The Old Bill

    Catholics can go to Mass on either Saturday evening or Sunday, so I guess that stodgy old Vatican was ahead of the trend here. : )

    There have long been other forms and times of Catholic worship, such as Stations of the Cross and Benediction. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/02465b.htm

    Mollie, you’re right that once upon a time, church services during the week were the rule rather than the exception. (Imagine the gall of those old people objecting to not having a church service on Sunday!)

    Good idea for an article, but a larger sample of churches would have made it better.

    (FYI, I posted for years as Bill, but new Bills arose and posted and there was confusion among the people. And TMatt saw that it was not good and said, “Henceforth, you shall be called something else.” So now I’m The Old Bill. Whaddya think, does my new name make me look younger and thinner?)

  • Spencerian

    The story could’ve dived much deeper into the significance of Sunday worship. They could’ve compared the subjects in the story with Catholics (where Sunday/Saturday evening attendance is obligatory and daily worship is often available). Or they could have spoken with Seventh-Day Adventists (who see the Sabbath, a Saturday, as the worship day, not Sunday).

    Biblical references from other Christians could have been used to illustrate. The fiscal and participatory reasons could also be looked into. According to common Christian teaching, isn’t Sunday a day of rest and not to be one for “projects?” Are finances so bad for some churches now because of other distractions in life that some denominations find difficult to counter?

    As Mollie noted, the why of rescheduling and defering Sunday worship is an 800-pound ghost here in a story that, otherwise, has some legs.

  • Eric

    I agree that there’s a good idea for a story there. But the total attendance of all the churches mentioned in the story is barely three digits. That’s hardly enough to support the headline’s suggestion that there’s a trend going on.

  • http://www.mikehickerson.com Mike Hickerson

    It seems like there are many stories like this, which report an unusual church practice or alleged “trend” that’s “boosting attendance” – and in which we discover that a small church has become slightly less small. Could it be (perhaps) that in any given community, there are several small churches being planted or grown at any given moment, and that small churches growing (and perhaps later shrinking) are simply part of the American religious landscape? Some of these churches and their practices will grow into major religious movements, but the median size of an American church is 100 congregants, which means there are thousands of small congregations out there. How many of them double or triple in size in a given year? How many of them sustain that growth? How many of them shrink back to their previous size within a year or two? Without that kind of information, it’s hard to judge whether a trend is legitimate.

  • http://!)! Passing By

    The main thrust of the story seems a variation on the theme of bucking tradition. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but, as noted above there are theological implications to Sunday worship. For Catholics, at least, every Sunday is a Feast of the Resurrection, a mini-Easter. My parish does have a Wednesday night Mass and Holy Hour (Exposition and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament), but take away the teen-agers who leave after the Mass to practice softball (a co-ed team, btw), there might be 15 people there. Our Sunday Mass attendance declines in the summer, when Religious Education is not meeting, but they don’t come to Wednesday night.

    And what’s that about sweltering Sunday mornings in New Hampshire? Don’t they have air-conditioning?

  • Joshua

    As a general rule church attendance drops substantially in the summer in New England. Certainly my family did not attend church in the summer. Most people here don’t and haven’t for generations. And the answer is fairly simple, there are almost no churches with air-conditioning. They are sweltering on Sunday mornings. Many churches close and hold worship jointly with other congregations. The services also usually start at least an hour earlier to help avoid the heat. There is really no story here.

  • Kate

    There’s a thing in marketing often called “the mother-in-law focus group” in which someone asks two or three people close to him how they feel about something and then applies their answers to the larger population. It sounds like the reporter may have heard about a shift to Wednesdays at one or two churches but isn’t familiar with the overall traditions and trends in the practice to formulate a real story. The Episcopal churches I’ve attended usually hold a sparsely-attended Wednesday morning Eucharist but without music or the full liturgy, and the Lenten series studies and lectures are often on Wednesday evenings.

  • http://fkclinic.blogspot.com tioedong

    The story’s main confusion is that the one UCC church is “changing” their services to Wednesday, but the others are adding an extra service midweek. for the pious.

    Big deal: This is and has long been the practice of many Bible churches, and of course Catholic churches often have daily mass…

  • Lori B.

    In the Bible Belt, Wednesday night services are old news. I grew up going to the Baptist church Sun. morning, Sun. evening, and Wed. evening. However, I’ve been a Lutheran for almost 20 years and have never known of an LCMS church to have services on Wednesdays except during Lent and Advent. A story on which churches have services on which days and why would be very interesting, but this one didn’t scratch that itch.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Lori B.,
    Yes, I’m more familiar with the Lent/Advent Wednesdays but my congregation does it year round.

  • http://ecben.wordpress.com Will

    This is and has long been the practice of many Bible churches

    … and others are “non-Bible churches”? “Apocryphal churches”?

    Surely we would not let this pass if it was in the news media.

  • http://authenticbioethics.blogspot.com AuthenticBioethics

    My thoughts align with Spencerian. I would like to know more about why Wednesday instead of Sunday rather than in addition to it. Part of that is why are Sundays the day for Christian worship to begin with, and why Wednesday instead of some other day. I agree that the perspective of the Seventh Day Adventists would be interesting. And, is the Catholic church the only one with daily worship wherever there is a priest? And why doesn’t Wednesday or some other day “count” instead of Sunday for Catholics?

  • The Old Bill

    I have a Jewish friend who teaches Sunday School. “Sunday?” I asked. He replied that in a primarily Christian setting, Saturdays get filled up with other things, so his synagogue decided to have instruction in Hebrew and Torah on Sunday. I neglected to ask if this was in addition to, ore instead of Saturday.

  • John M.

    Air conditioning is rare in New England, particularly in churches, though becoming less so as we become wealthier as a country.

    -John

  • JoFro

    For Catholics, Daily Mass is exactly that – daily on weekdays. Sunday is a mini-Easter but ure allowed to go Saturday evening if you cannot make it on Sunday. I lived in the Middle East for 12 yrs and never once attended church on a Sunday. Why? Because the Muslim Sabbath is on a Friday, so our Sunday service was held on Friday…and since Friday is important for Catholics, Wednesday became our Friday with Thursday becoming our Saturday…confused much?

    Best of all, we had Sunday services on Friday, Saturday and Sunday – cos the Catholics who had school-going children and worked on Sundays could go for Sunday Mass on Friday!

    Funnily enough, I transitioned well from a Friday-going Catholic to a Sunday-going Catholic and many Catholics I believe could, cos Friday is important for church-going Catholics anyways, but I wonder if only-Sunday going Christians would be able to change that smoothly?

  • http://www.smallchurchtools.com Terry Reed

    Could it be that the churches changing to a Wednesday night worship are simply trying to reach more people? Rather than considering why we traditionally have met on Sunday they may just be seeking to be as effective as possible. Like the writer above, I am used to Wednesday services, but I can see where a church that is not meeting then could benefit by the change.
    Terry Reed
    Small Church Tools

  • http://www.smallchurchtools.com Terry Reed

    Perhaps the churches in the study are not thinking about why we traditionally meet on Sunday but rather are looking for the way to minister to the most people. Like the writer above, I too am used to meeting on Wednesday, but I can see where such a move could help a church that has not been meeting then.
    Terry Reed
    Small Church Tools

  • http://www.smallchurchtools.com Terry Reed

    Sorry about the double post.


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