March 30, 2018

Re-thinking Sunday Mornings - part 1

“How do you do Sunday mornings?” That’s perhaps the most common question I get when someone realizes that I serve as one rector of two congregations. The question makes perfect sense, actually, and figuring out the Sunday morning worship schedule was among the most important things we did before launching our new, shared venture between Ascension and St. George’s – the two communities I serve.

I need to state, up front, that we put out a survey. We mentioned it online, but we very intentionally surveyed the actual Sunday morning worshippers. We stuck in the bulletins a hard-copy half-sheet insert for four Sundays. We ran it well before we had to make the actual decision. We listened carefully to the feedback.

People shared their thoughts, and yet the vast majority – some 80% of respondents – said something like, “I love this church and I’ll be there, no matter what.” Granted, we did say we were looking at Sunday mornings and our goal was to try to have at least two morning worship offerings at both places.

For my part, I began to sense several bedrock principles. First, I reasoned, 8 o’clockers are a devoted group and the time of day seems to be the most important thing to them. Also, we are in a community of serious early-risers – Navy people and farmers – and 8am is actually late-morning for many. (Plus, I noticed the parking lot is packed at the local Catholic church’s 7am Sunday Mass!) Second, I don’t know how we all seemed to arrive at the magical “8am and 10:30am” Sunday schedule, but those times, specifically, might be negotiable. And, third, there are likely two golden ‘hours’ we need to hit on Sundays: 9am and 11am.

It was set: one church got 9am, the other 11am. St. George’s was the recipient of 9am and, considering the length of average local drives, we opted to give folks a quarter-hour running start; hence, 9:15am. Ascension worships at 11am.

We also suspected we could move the 8 o’clock service to 7:30. For the vast majority, 7:30 is just fine. (Some of them said we could start at 6:30 and they’d be there. I wouldn’t, I told them.) Additionally, at least in the Mid-Atlantic, the sun is up, sometimes just barely so, at 7:30am.

Here’s where things got really interesting. We still wanted to develop two Sunday morning services at both churches, so each church has 7:30am worship – one at St. George’s, one at Ascension. In the next post, I’ll write more about how our desire to have two Sunday morning worship services at each church led to an even bigger eye-opening realization about the opportunities we have as The Episcopal Church.

The Sunday morning worship rota at Ascension and St. George’s is not a perfect system, and we’ve been adapting it ever since we started around this time last year. But, through it all, I’ve learned two big and, I think, important things.

The first is that there is a lot of room to grow beyond the ‘8am and 10:30am’ Sunday morning worship schedule, a rota that a lot of our congregations have become accustomed to. Those times work for many, but re-thinking or, at the very least, analyzing with fresh eyes our Sunday morning worship schedules seems in everyone’s best interest. It may be that one local community of faith develops three or more smaller, more curated worship experiences, not only on Sunday but throughout the week – each designed with a particular demographic or focus. It may be that opening these doors – re-thinking

Sunday mornings – may open the door for greater collaboration with neighbor parishes and ecumenical partners. The emerging reality may be that smaller, more curated worship experiences will become the future of Christian congregations.

The second big and important thing I’ve learned will have to wait until the next post.