Once A Month Is The New Once A Week

by Jim Henderson on October 31, 2015

Church was once the center of American culture. Weekly mass for Catholics, worship services for Protestants and Sabbaths for Jews were what every one did or at least they were supposed to do.

No more. Once a month attendance has now become the commonly accepted standard which church watchers like my friend David Kinnaman of The Barna Group use to identify who is a “committed member” of a church.

As our culture has become more self-centered and child centric parents have shifted their weekly loyalties away from church and toward activities like soccer, piano, dance and exercise.

Add to that, you can now access the best preaching and music the church has to offer- on demand. Since churches invest at least 80% of their resources producing a live version of this each week people naturally wonder why they need to attend to experience a junior version of this when they can get the best whenever they feel like it online.

You may not like my analysis but try and disprove it.

Rhythms change.

Agrarian cultures operated around daily activities. Your life and livelihood depended on what you did in the field each and every day. Skip weed picking or watering or seed sowing one day and you could be done.

Urban cultures came next and shifted into more predictable patterns, which could be controlled, by machines, organizations and economies of scale. Weekly church fit well inside this machine society. It fit the rhythm of the larger culture.

We are now transitioning out of the machine society into the Internet culture. Many of us have lived our adult lives in this transition but many young people already think what I’m writing about is old news.

I recently used the phrase “lives online” in the bullet points to explain what was unique about Once A Month Church. My daughter Sarah called to ask what it meant. I told her it meant people would connect online and find people and groups they could join. She laughed and said” Why do you need to say that at all- that’s called just being normal- everybody knows you go online to figure out what a church is doing.” I felt old and stupid when she pointed that out to meJ

If you think once a month is just a fad and that weekly church going will be here forever, consider the following examples from wider culture, including the true religion of America – football.

“Before you say that football is far too big to ever disappear, consider the history: If you look at the stocks in the Fortune 500 from 1983, for example, 40 percent of those companies no longer exist. The original version of Napster no longer exists, largely because of lawsuits. No matter how well a business matches economic conditions at one point in time, it’s not a lock to be a leader in the future, and that is true for the NFL too. Sports are not immune to these pressures. In the first half of the 20th century, the three big sports were baseball, boxing, and horse racing, and today only one of those is still a marquee attraction.” www.grantland.com

Once a week church leveraged the cultural opportunity afforded it by being part of the American experiment. As such the church offered what it could in the context of the weekly rhythm people were accustomed to. That something was mostly a performance by a gifted speaker or gifted musicians. This performance was supported by a cast of volunteers who felt that babysitting, handing out brochures and directing cars in a parking lot was a “ministry”

What happens when the cast of volunteers finds more meaningful outlets in a rhythm that fits their busy lifestyles somewhere other than church? What if the only choice the church offers is a weekly commitment? What if they can get “spiritually fed” using podcasts, TED talks, Hillsong Worship on TV and Joel Osteen re runs? What if they don’t care if you tell them they aren’t really being fed?

We’re not doing Once a Month Church to be radical. OAMC is an experiment. We want to see if our hypothesis is correct. Have the cultural rhythms shifted?

Sunday gatherings are largely symbolic events. As Christians they help us remember what we have committed our lives to and tell wider culture what we care about. But sometimes symbols communicate real substance, especially in times of cultural upheaval. Have you noticed that instead of the “Pope mobile” the Pope often chooses to ride in a humble Fiat Add to that he takes a bus with the other bishops and lives in a modest hotel. These three simple acts have communicated more about this Pope and his spirituality than anything else he has done. Many non-Catholics love him. A car, a bus and a hotel- all symbols that communicate substance.

Is Once a Month the new Once A Week? Maybe the symbolic rhythm of weekly church meetings needs to adapt to the new rhythms we find ourselves experiencing.

“If recent history has shown anything, it is that observers cannot easily imagine the big changes in advance. Very few people were predicting the collapse of the Soviet Union, the reunification of Germany, or the rise of China as an economic power.” www.grantland.com

We could be wrong but we could also be right – even partially right would make it worth it.

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