This article is information and exhortation about downtown crowding on Sunday Morning for corporate worship. The information is that on the weekend of September 11-12 there were 3,833 people in the five services. In these five services (one downtown Saturday evening, two downtown Sunday morning, and two at the north campus Sunday morning) there are well over 5,300 places to sit. So an attendance of 3,833 would not be a problem if we were spread around more evenly.
But in fact 2,078 of us attended the two Sunday morning downtown services. This room downtown is comfortably full with 900 people. With a thousand in each service this room is packed. So twice on Sunday morning there were people standing and sitting on the floor in the commons during both services.
This has factual implications for us to consider.
- There is no room for growth downtown on Sunday mornings. The present situation discourages rather than encourages our folks from bringing new people that they have been leading toward Christ.
- We know from testimonies that some people went home because they could not find seats.
- The crowding makes life more difficult for families to sit together. Finding four or five seats in one row is more difficult. This is especially trying if you are newer.
- The pressure on the nurseries is huge, and regularly the demand is greater than we can bear because of the sheer numbers in one service. This challenge will only get more severe with Sunday School beginning.
- The Saturday evening service usually has about 600 people. So there is room for more people there.
- The north campus presently meets in the Northwestern College chapel which holds over 1,300 in each service. Last Sunday there were 1,008 in two services. So there is plenty of room for more worshipers at the North campus.
- Jesus Christ is present in all services and ready to meet you no matter which one you attend.
- All five services are God-centered and Christ-exalting and Bible-saturated, with an earnestness that shuns triviality and breezy chit-chat. You can taste the gravity and gladness at all the services.
So much for information. Now for exhortation.
First, we as a staff take this as our happy “problem” and exhort ourselves. Just this morning (Tuesday) the staff affirmed a recommendation to the elders that Kenny Stokes, the Associate Pastor for Church Planting and Strategic Mobilization, take some extended time away this fall and bring back to us a written, detailed process for church planting and campus planting. The vision is already in place. It is called Treasuring Christ Together. But the detailed process proposals for church and campus planting are yet to be done. Freeing Kenny to do that was our first action.
Then we talked about helping people move. It seems to me that what will be necessary is a change of mindset about Sunday morning church attendance. We need more of a pilgrim mindset. There are lots of ways to describe the pilgrim/indigenous tension we live with as Christians: We are both at home in the world and at odds with the world. We are aliens and yet citizens. We belong to the kingdom of God and to the kingdom of this earth. We render to God what is God’s and to Caesar what is Caesar’s. We rest and we wrestle. The yoke is easy but the way is hard.
The relevance of this for Sunday worship is this: on the one hand we want to relax and feel that going to worship is going home. It is respite. It is not depleting but replenishing. That is not a bad desire. It is the indigenous desire. But, I thank God there is also another impulse that is good. It is the pilgrim impulse. There are times in life when we are called to make sacrifices. Some plant churches at home. Some go overseas to minister. Some teach and care for kids. Some help people find parking places. Some visit the sick and elderly. Some preach. The Lord’s day is for soaking and serving.
My exhortation is that any of you who worship downtown pray about going North for a season or going to Saturday evening worship at 5:30. I assume that this would involve some sacrifice. Ask the Lord whether creating space downtown for new people is for now a pilgrim calling on your life. And please pray for your leaders as we do the happy wrestling with these serious issues. We love you.