After Rachel Held Evans’ commentary on millennials leaving the church, many people have weighed in on what millennials want, what church looks like and who is to blame for it.
While this conversation can be fruitful, I find assigning blame frustrating because pointing to a singular group absolves everyone else of responsibility and reifies the “us versus them” binary.
Since blame is not usually a fruitful exercise, I thought I would offer another view that is not usually talked about in churches – the fact that many people, including an increasing number of millennials, work during traditional church gathering times.
While this is understandable for emergency personnel and the healthcare field, it includes large numbers of persons in the service sector.
Though working on Sundays (or working multiple jobs) may not be the reason some millennials flee the church, it can help us rethink notions of hospitality and purpose.
Two central questions to consider are: Do persons feel welcome in our communities, even if their attendance is sporadic? How do we help all people celebrate Sabbath?
According to the U.S. census, the service sector is the largest area of the economy, followed by food services. Many jobs in these categories require work on Sundays.
In fact, several occupations in the retail, leisure and restaurant industries mandate an open availability to work any day of the week before they will hire or promote individuals.
Often, these persons are of lower or middle income and often cannot afford to ask for time off, or they are working a second job for enough income to make ends meet.
As a result, generally, churches that are increasing in their numbers of millennials often attract middle to upper-middle income workers who have the privilege of working a job that allows them a steady schedule.
Christians who work more erratic schedules that include weekends are more likely to be left behind.
When considering this dilemma, complex issues crop up. Some questions that require further reflection are:
1. Do people have the freedom of religion if they cannot choose to attend worship or consistently be a part of a faith community?
A person might identify themselves as a Christian, but miss out on the love and support that comes with living with a faith community through no fault of their own if their job requires them to work on Sunday.
2. What is the cost of convenience and accessibility to products and services? What do we lose by gaining instant access?
When patience and waiting are not valued, this plays a factor to how we relate to one another in relationships, including God. Has this relentless demand for more convenience and 24/7 access resulted in an economic system that hinders church attendance for some?
3. What does it mean to be the church in an environment where Sunday, for many, is like a normal day?
Faith communities must adopt more fully a “be the church” mindset instead of a “go to church” mindset in order to face this reality.
4. Does the concept of Sabbath need to be reconsidered in light of persons working on Sundays or in multiple jobs?
Issues of justice and economics certainly play a role in this question. What happens, for instance, when profit margins become the ultimate idols?
Conversations surrounding post-religious Christianity could be helpful in thinking of how to respond to millennials fleeing the church. But again, most of these conversations do not mention the reality of the economy that requires many to work weekends or multiple jobs.
These questions can be daunting for faith communities and certainly require humility, discernment and creativity in addressing these new realities.
Responses could involve reimagining worship that is practiced at different times throughout the week and reconsidering how to practice community and hospitality.
Listening to those who work on Sunday, along with prayerful discernment, can help us consider this new reality facing the church. Thankfully, we have the Holy Spirit, whose presence is in all and through all.
Kate Hanch is a graduate student at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Ill. She previously served as the children’s ministry associate at Holmeswood Baptist Church in Kansas City, Mo. You can follow her on Twitter @KateHanch.
Kate Hanch is an ordained Baptist minister who is currently a PhD candidate in theology and ethics at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois.