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.”
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?