What’s the biggest Sunday of the year for your church? I posed that question to the “Life and Work of the Minister” class I’m teaching this semester, and thought I’d pass on some of the results.
The class consists of 28 students from a variety of backgrounds. We stratified the results by age and predominant ethnicity: 16 Anglo and five African-American churches more than 50 years old, along with five Anglo and two African-American churches started within the last 50 years.
I asked each student to name the five biggest Sundays of the year for his or her church, and we tabulated their responses to the accompaniment of some spirited discussion. Keep in mind that the answers reflect the students’ perceptions: a survey of church members would probably produce different results.
Easter was named as the most well-attended Sunday. It was the top choice for 16 churches (including some from all four categories), and named as one of the top five by 25 students. How Easter could not be on everyone’s list is a mystery to me, but we didn’t have time to pursue that.
Homecoming was the top choice for the next largest group, listed as the biggest Sunday of the year by eight students, and in the top five by 15. We could add several more to the list by including a similar service that some churches call “Founder’s Day.”
The Sunday nearest Christmas Day was next, named as the biggest Sunday by three students and in the top five by 11. If all Christmas-related services are combined, however (Advent, Hanging of the Green, Children’s Christmas Program, etc.), the Christmas season has seven top mentions and 25 overall.
I had thought there would be more emphasis on traditional celebrations like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day in the older churches, but there weren’t any major differences. One thing was true in every case, however: Mother’s Day is always bigger than Father’s Day.
We learned some things about each other. Several African-American students had never heard of the “Hanging of the Green” service many churches use to introduce the Advent season. On the flip side, Anglo students were surprised to learn that “Pastor Appreciation Sunday” is an annual event in many African-American churches, complete with sizeable monetary gifts from members of the congregation. Anglo pastors are generally lucky to have an appreciation day when they retire, or on 10 or 20 year anniversaries.
Some observances had a clear local flavor: for churches located near college campuses, the Sunday after classes begin was considered a big day. A number of students mentioned Sundays devoted to a missions emphasis, Operation Inasmuch, or World Hunger Day.
Some version of Women’s Day and Men’s Day was mentioned fairly often. Among the more interesting special days were “Dress Down Sunday,” “Chili Cook-off Sunday,” and “Pastor Transition Sunday.” I hope they don’t celebrate that last one every year.
There’s also something to be learned, I think, from what was not on the list, or mentioned only rarely. The fading flower of once-popular “Revival” services was apparent, as just one student mentioned it. Likewise, “Stewardship Sunday” was listed just once, and nobody mentioned a “Pledge Day.”
I don’t know if any firm conclusions can be drawn from the exercise: Easter, Christmas, and Homecoming days are as much cultural and family-oriented as they are spiritual, so I’m not sure they’re an accurate guage of a church’s direction. I was gratified to see that a number of students did list missions emphases, but concerned by the lack of excitement about Sundays devoted to outreach or stewardship.
Which leads me to ask, what are the biggest Sundays in your church — and what do you think that tells you?