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.
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.