Is the Church a Family Anymore?

Roger Olson makes some interesting observations about the pietist origins of the old Watchnight Services — and some strong claims about the changes in evangelical church life over the past six decades:

When I was growing up, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day were very special on our family calendar. The former always brought one of the most interesting and inspiring church events of the year—“Watchnight Service.” For those of you who don’t know what that is… Watchnight Services were begun by Pietist leader Nicholas Ludwig Count von Zinzendorf when he was “bishop” of the Herrnhutters, the Moravians, who lived on his estate in Germany in the early 17th century. “Watchnight Service” was a time of spiritual renewal for the whole community with worship, common meal, the Lord’s Supper, and prayer leading up to midnight and the beginning of a new year.

It seems to me our evangelical Christian communities in America have lost something precious—not just by abandoning Watchnight Services. That’s just a symptom of a larger abandonment. When I was growing up, at least in evangelicalism, your church was one of your extended families. You looked forward to being with your church family, eating together, having fellowship together, sharing triumphs and tragedies and prayer requests together, praying together. Now, for the most part, anyway, even in evangelicalism, “church” is Sunday morning worship only. For some it also includes Sunday School, although that’s gradually dying out, too.

I realize that I sound like an “old timer” longing for a “golden age” of the past. I’m convinced, however, that my complaint is more than that. I think church life in America has changed so dramatically that it is hardly recognizable. If time machines existed and someone from a typical evangelical church in the 1950s were transported to a typical evangelical church of the second decade of the 21st century, he or she would be shocked by the change. Other than the building (perhaps), almost nothing would be recognizable.”

Read the rest.

What do you think? There are certainly places where church families are, indeed, something like true families. Is that, however, growing less common? Why? And what other changes have you observed in the evangelical church over the past half-century or more?

Also worth reading today: Richard Dahlstrom’s reflections on New Years Resolutions, and Mark D. Roberts’ series on the Les Miserables movie, the musical and the novel.

About Timothy Dalrymple

Timothy Dalrymple was raised in non-denominational evangelical congregations in California. The son and grandson of ministers, as a young boy he spent far too many hours each night staring at the ceiling and pondering the afterlife.
 
In all his work he seeks a better understanding of why people do, and do not, come to faith, and researches and teaches in religion and science, faith and reason, theology and philosophy, the origins of atheism, Christology, and the religious transformations of suffering

  • AHH

    Certainly the increased captivation of the church (at least in the US) by our consumer culture must be a part of what is going on. The church is positioned (both by church marketing and by we Christian consumers) as meeting selected consumer needs rather than as shared mission in the family formed around Jesus.
    Some author or blogger in the past couple of years had the good line “The church needs to be more like a family and less like a restaurant.”

  • http://stowellbrown.blogspot.com/ Flyaway

    I’m a low energy person. I could never have kept up with Roger Olson’s church family and relatives. I think staying up to midnight and praying in the new year is the way to go. More women are working outside the home so this type of family togetherness is no longer possible energy wise.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X