Have you noticed “the rise of the Nones” in your community?
Church demographers have observed that church attendance in America is on the decline because more and more people are declaring “None” as their religion.
What happened? And what can we do about it?
What Sundays Used to be Like
Once upon a time in America, Sunday was pretty much the highlight of everybody’s week.
On Saturday night, dad filled the family bathtub, and one by one members got cleaned up for the week. Don’t even want to think about that bath water.
After milking the cow and collecting the eggs on Sunday morning, the family sat down for breakfast, then hitched up the wagon to ride into town for church. That five-mile ride might take a full hour. During that time, the family reconnected.
They arrived at church, greeted friends, sang, worshiped, and heard a message from the Lord.
When church was over, most of those families hung around and ate lunch together. After all, this was their one day of the week without work, and their one chance of the week to socialize. So momma prepared a picnic basket and the family ate on the church’s front lawn.
Afterwards, kids played and adults caught up with each other. By the mid-afternoon, farmers were thinking about getting their kids home before dark.
The church would sing another song or two, maybe hear a short message from the preacher, then hitch their wagons for home, spending a final hour debriefing on their experiences of the day as they rode.
After a day of rest, everyone was ready for another week of work.
The Biblical Basis for a Rest
I’d like to suggest that this is the way God intended it.
“Six days you shall labor, but the seventh is a Sabbath… On it you shall not do any work…” (Deuteronomy 5:12).
“On the seventh day God rested…” (Genesis 2:2).
I’m not saying we need to be legalistic about it. Jesus said,
“The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27).
He gave us a day of rest as a gift, because He knew we’d need one. His great promise is:
“If you call the Sabbath and delight and the Lord’s day honorable… then I will cause you to ride on the heights of the land” (Isaiah 58:13).
What would happen if we got back to a day of rest?
What if we made an effort to make Sunday the highlight of our week by resting, reflecting, refocusing, and building it around relationships and around God? That description sounds a lot like going to church, doesn’t it?
What if our nation got back to a day of rest each week, instead of seven days of twenty-four hour engagement?
Every weight lifter knows that if you work on back muscles on Monday, you want to give them a rest by working on a different set of muscles on Tuesday. We were made for a rhythm of stress, and then release.
Knowledge workers know that working fifty-five minutes and diverting for five every hour will get them farther than working full force every minute of the day. Construction workers take a break at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. because they know they can get more done if they take rest once in a awhile.
In preaching through the I Love Sundays Campaign with my own church, I discovered that Americans need someone to give them permission to rest weekly.
Results of the I Love Sundays Campaign
Last fall, 500 churches across the country used the I Love Sundays Campaign to learn how to make Sunday the highlight of their week.
The results were incredible.
In my own church, we experienced a 17% attendance bump: 50 people made first-time decisions to receive Christ, 200 new people enrolled in I Love Sundays Small Groups, and all of us experienced a sense that this idea of a Sabbath rest is right.
During his Campaign, Pastor Rolland Slade (Meridian Baptist Church, San Diego) emailed me one Sunday afternoon to say,
“The Holy Spirit absolutely wrecked the house today! Four Professions of Faith and three Re-dedications. We cheered like it was a touchdown at the Charger game. Just an unbelievable day! Additionally, we had two return first time guests from two weeks ago and an entire family of five come back who were members. We will be baptizing eight on November 8th. We have exceeded our total of baptisms from church year 2015 in 2 months!”
The next Sunday, Pastor Bryan Holder (The Mill Church, Pickens, South Carolina) forwarded an email from one of his members that said
“I was going over your message again today, and in all of my years of being a believer I have never heard it explained so wonderfully. That from Genesis 4 to Revelations God is trying to reunite His family. How awesome. That comment alone will change how I see things when I read the Bible. Your message couldn’t have been any better.”
The Secret of the Sabbath
Long ago our Jewish friends discovered that the Lord gave two versions of the Fourth Commandment. Exodus 20:8 says “Remember the Sabbath.” Deuteronomy 5:12 says, “Observe the Sabbath.”
Remembering is looking back. Observing is looking forward. Orthodox Jews spend three days looking back to what God did on the Sabbath and three days looking forward to what He will do on the next Sabbath.
A case could be made that this rhythm and rest is one reason why Jews have one 27% of all Nobel prizes and 53% of all Pulitzers, though they are only .2% of the world’s population.
The most profitable fast-food restaurant in America is Chic-Fil-A. Yet Chic-Fil-A is closed on Sundays. Their outlets generate more revenue in six days than all others do in seven. Why is that? Maybe this principle of engage and release has something to it!
I’m praying that 10,000 churches discover this as well.
Imagine what could happen to our country if we rebuilt our weekly rhythm around resting, refocusing, and relating to God and His people? God knows, we desperately need to discover the wonder of Sundays again.
Pastor, how would making Sunday the best day of the week change the lives of the members of your church?