The sun peered into my bright orange bedroom (I wanted light blue, but Home Depot was out.), waking me from my sleep.

Getting up early on a Sunday morning while knowing that instead of watching a football game paired with a long-awaited nap I would be spending the entire day in a suit was frustrating. Many church kids like me can relate to the “afternoon service experience.”

I hated sitting in a humid sanctuary packed with members so there was only room for the Holy Ghost to move. A service dedicated to any number of departments from the Sunday School Board to Founders’ Day that never started on time and never ended early was the last thing I wanted to do.

As I grew older, my perspective changed. It was in this environment that the communion of believers was found. Congregations came together in a melding of faith that set everyone’s souls on fire.

Powerful, gripping hymns made first ladies cry and church mothers shout. After a healthy number of reflections and greetings, a guest revivalist stood and delivered a sermon so passionate it could have only come from God.

Service ended but fellowship did not as a stroll to the lower level provided a meal that was sure to make the six hours seem worth it. In these experiences, congregations not only solidified their faith but also their friendships.

These interactions produced marriages, families and communities that extended beyond Homecoming Day. The church has often been a site of convergence of not only spiritual fulfillment but also transformative relationships that construct avenues of necessary care and understanding.

This important occurrence is why I was alarmed by the report Faith Communities Today released on January 12.

Trends in Congregational Programming from 2000 to 2020” by American Baptist Churches USA researchers C. Jeff Woods and Jessica C. Williams details trends in congregational services, programs and ministries over the past two decades.

Most of the conclusions were not surprising. Congregations have stayed consistent since the early 2000s, maintaining a general average of 65 members. They have also stayed consistent with the number of ministries offered and with the level of outreach to the community, particularly in terms of evangelism and missions.

There was one significant trend that was perplexing. The congregations’ level of engagement with other congregations has decreased over two decades. This change is not relegated to worship services, but extends to educational activities like Vacation Bible School and community outreach like missions.

This is concerning, considering that this trend is not a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. This looming threat has no doubt exacerbated the insular nature of churches in a post-pandemic world.

The number one question when presented with this data is: Why over the last 20 years have churches become so insular? I have a few theories.

The impact of technology and the digital age cannot be understated. No other phenomenon has had a greater impact on humanity in recent decades than the proliferation of the internet and technology.

From schools and politics to the economy and foreign relations, technology is not only a topic of conversation but also ingrained into every moment of our lives. This level of infiltration has also impacted churches.

In fact, churches have been impacted most by the prevalence of technology, which simultaneously provides additional avenues for sharing the faith while breaking down the traditional structure of programs. As a result, even fewer members of the faith are interested in long services and hot sanctuaries.

In an interesting turn of events, they are interested in my childhood dream of church: getting back home in time for the game and a nap. Better yet, church members want to attend church at home via Zoom.

Again, the pandemic has only elevated that sentiment. But how does that explain the decrease in community outreach?

We see from the data that churches are doing outreach at the same rate, just not with other congregations. This is a further indication that everything stems from the worship service.

For example, an offering collected during service contributes to a fund for children’s trips. Mission conferences host local churches to sing and preach at evening programs.

Everything churches do is ancillary to worship services. Therefore, if neighboring churches are not in fellowship, there is no basis for a joint Bible study or Christmas gift exchange.

The fellowship that the worship service provides opens hearts to share in the work of the kingdom. For churches to become a village of saints, providing and protecting one another, they must worship together.

Churches must become vigilant in making programs with each other a priority. From my personal experience, this is what builds the best members and expands the message of God beyond your sanctuary. Churches must have more afternoon services.

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