An Adventist church in Huntsville, in the American state of Alabama, has recently launched a remarkable initiative. From now onwards there will also be a church service on Sunday mornings. But Adventists should to worry unduly: the members of the First Seventh-day Adventist Church in Huntsville have not apostatized and have not done away with the Sabbath. On Saturday mornings it will be business as usual in the church that seats about 1.200 people: the Bible study followed by a traditional worship service.
The service on Sunday morning does not target the regular Adventist church goers. The aim is to attract non-Adventist, in particular ‘non-churched,’ fellow citizens to a short church service—people who may find it strange to go to church on a Saturday. The initiators emphasize the informal character of the service, and those who come are encouraged to ‘dress down’.
The leader of the pastoral team indicated that he expects there may be some Adventist church members who may now prefer the Sunday service. However, that is a possible side-effect he is willing to accept. He has received strong support from some: Here is an Adventist congregation that is willing to think ‘outside the box’ and is prepared to try unconventional things to get in touch with people they did not reach until now. Others see only huge dangers. They feel that the Sabbath is the Adventist trade mark par excellence and offering services on Sunday may only create a lot of confusion. Is the Sabbath not that important after all . . . ? And, so the argument continues: before you know it, the Sunday service increases in importance, and the services on Sabbath will become secondary . . .
I have never visited the First Seventh-Day Adventist Church in Huntsville. I have never met its pastoral team and have no idea of the atmosphere in this congregation. However, I am strongly inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt—and, in particular, to trust their judgment. Yet, it immediately occurs to me that the time slot for a service is not the only factor that determines whether or not one will ‘reach’ the people. Most important remains the challenge that the gospel and the Adventist perspective is translated in such a way that people will understand it and see its relevancy. I will follow the Huntsville experiment with keen interest!
In the meantime I have a suggestion for the United Protestant Church in the Netherlands (PKN). This faith community is seriously concerned about the future of the Dutch church. It is therefore launching a broad survey in an attempt to find out what the members of the church expect from their church. It is hoped that many ideas may emerge that will give local congregations a new lease on life. It is a praiseworthy initiative. Of course, one may also pose the question whether the church leaders should not, above all, wonder what God expects of their church, rather than to zoom in on the question what the people want. But yet . . .
The average town and village in the Netherlands differs greatly from Huntsville, Alabama. Many Dutch people no longer regard ten o’clock on a Sunday morning the most suitable time for going to church. Many—especially the younger generation– prefer to sleep in, after having partied on Saturday evening. Might the PKN perhaps experiment with services on Saturdays (for instance, late in the morning, with a good breakfast), as people are on their way to go shopping) in some centrally located buildings? Or on Saturday afternoon, with coffee and tea, after the shopping had been done? Perhaps this may be a method to reach a public that is less and less inclined to visit a church on Sunday morning . . . ?
In any case, I am keenly interested in the results of the PKN survey. Other faith communities may probably also learn a lot from its outcome.