Thursday, March 19, 2009

Being Missional in Our Worship Times - Americans need more sleep

Being missional must factor into everything that we do. This should include even such things as our worship times. Is this not what a missionary would do? Is this not what a church planter would do? Absolutely! They would say, what time would have the best chance of having someone that we are trying to reach attend? They would not say, hmm, I think I'll have it at _____ time because that is what I like.

So what worship times would be culturally appropriate? That, of course, will depend upon the culture. I imagine that this might be very different in Africa, Europe, or Asia. But what about typical American culture?

Here is where research is helpful--something which every missionary, missional leader, or missional church must do. Consider these three news stories and the research behind them:
  • ABC News Story on Americans and Sleep Patterns - This news story reports on a2007 study that shows Americans are: ) losing sleep to work; and 2) losing sleep to commutes. This is particularly true in suburbia. Furthermore, cellphones are extending the work days of Americans. Where do Americans catch up on this sleep? "The survey suggests that people who cut back on sleep on weekdays often try to sleep in on Saturday and Sunday."
  • One-third Of Americans Lose Sleep Over Economy - March 2, 2009 - "One-third of Americans are losing sleep over the state of the U.S. economy and other personal financial concerns, according to a new poll released today by the National Sleep Foundation (NSF)."
  • Americans Just Want a Good Night's Sleep - This 2005 survey by the Barna research group indiactes that "Seven out of ten adults (71%) said they look forward "a lot" to having a refreshing snooze." This was the number one thing that people looked forward to, above, vacations, travel, entertainment, etc. These results were true for both those with children and those without. It seems that nearly everyone is sleep deprived.

All of this would point towards late Sunday morning start times for worship if one wants to have the unchurched attend. And early morning starts are probably not good for most churched people either, due to a general lack of sleep throughout the week from work and commute times. Ragged schedules at other times due to kids' activities are perhaps controllable, but work and commute times often are not.

The realities of this is why churches that are seeking to reach out often have worship services at 11:00 PM or 11:30 PM on Sunday, and no earlier than 10 PM. Early afternoon services, such as 1 or 2 PM, might also be tried. Some churches have even gone to Saturday night services. The Jewish day began at sundown, so a case can be made for Saturday evening being "resurrection day," though it is not typically thought of in this way for most Western cultures such as the US.

We would withdraw support from a missionary that went to Africa and failed to adjust meeting times to fit the culture, and no amount of saying, "This time fits best with our members" or "This is when we have always done this" would be listened to. The problem is, in an established church, these questions are usually not even asked. Usually, they are not asked because the church views itself as an institution for club members, not the people of God on mission to reach the world for Christ.

Missional thinking must factor into everything that we do.

When do you think your unchurched friends and neighbors would most likely attend a worship service?


Professor said...

If we really wish to reach the unchurched and respond to our culture, then our "church services" should correspond to what is best for both the culture needs as long there is some service on "the first day of the week' or "resurrection day". This is somewhat of a problem for some "older" members who like to be up at the crack of dawn. But, if afternoon fits the culture best for both members and non-members then that is what should be considered.

By the way, "needing more sleep" applies to the minister of the moment as well as the members!

James Nored said...

Yes, it is always easier to think of our own preferences rather than those of others.

Anonymous said...


This is an excellent article. When we moved to Wisconsin and thought about planting a church in a "recreation orientated" culture I played with this very question.

What time is best of everyone "heads north" for the weekend. Would a Sunday evening service work better?

OR have a service outdside at the lake?

Anonymous said...

No time is perfect. So pick a 'reasonable' meeting time that works for 'most' people. The ones that want to be there will be there no matter what time you pick and the ones who come because it's convenient will still only come when it is convenient to them. Fact of life.