For years my church struggled with what to do about Wednesday nights. Because we were largely a congregation of university students, the conventional wisdom was to do anything that involved a stage. Speakers, musicians, lights, observers sitting in rows of chairs. Much like Sunday mornings, and much like other “successful” ministries to students in town, we would essentially replicate a Sunday morning service, with slight variations.
There were many times when we had as many people on stage as in the audience. And we didn’t have many people on stage. Of course we would all acknowledge that ministry isn’t about numbers (right before performing mental calculations of our numbers.) But at some point we had to ask ourselves if the meaningfulness of a particular way of approaching Wednesday nights hinged on the amount of people who were “being reached.” The truth was we weren’t reaching many people. The harder truth was we were secretly envious of other ministries that were.
Of course there were those who would suggest that we simply needed to try harder– more “relevant” music, more charismatic speakers, colorful lights, emotional decision times. We could have done those things, and with the history of our church as a guide, we could have done them better than anyone else. And people would have flocked to our Wednesday night services, for a season. Yet while we have always attracted young people (those who typically choose these types of services,) we have also tended to attract those people who are seeking a Christian way that values questioning, community and faithfulness as opposed to certainty, individualism and unchecked exuberance. The latter often attracts crowds. The former, rarely.
Our lack of “success” was the best thing that could have happened to us, because it caused us to ask the question, “Ok, who are we?” And when you ask that question of your church, the answer almost always begins with who you aren’t. We aren’t the “young, restless and reformed” parachurch ministry in town. We aren’t the contemplative “slow church,” but neither are we the “on-a-mission” Evangelical church. While each of these are valid historical expressions of the Christian faith and, are certainly represented by people within our congregation, (some more than others,) they are not adequate descriptors of who we are.
We are a church seeking an identity rooted historic, orthodox faith, of the variety that allows room for both mystery and movement. We value life together and want our corporate life to proclaim that Christ has died, risen, and will come again. We embrace our own history as a “college church” while moving in a more multi-generational direction. We sing and we value the Biblical witness as well as the witness of God’s people. We pray.
So last year we decided to do Wednesday nights in a way that reflected who we are, not who someone else is. The goal was simple– Create a simple worship moment that can be as meaningful for a crowd of 3 people as it is for a crowd of 30 or 300. So we developed a liturgy that includes a couple of hymns, Scripture readings, short devotional readings, prayer for the needs of our community, communion and a benediction. The songs we sing range from old Baptist hymns to newer songs that those in our congregation have written. We have heard words from the Desert Fathers, Eugene Peterson, Barbara Brown Taylor and Philip Yancey.
And we do this every week, with little variation. Upending the Conventional Wisdom that says Midweek Worship services must be flashy and “relevant,” we have pared down what we do to just-the-basics. We do not have 300 people attending, but neither do we have just three. On occasion we have reached the 30 people mark, but this really has proven to be irrelevant. We are a small group of people who have made this time the anchor of our week. Several have mentioned how powerful it feels to participate in the Lord’s Meal on a weekly basis. Others have noted how formational it is to sit under the words of Scripture and devotional readings without commentary or show, simply allowing them to wash over us.
At the end of these readings we participate in a short response:
Now that we have heard the words of God and of God’s People,
We receive them with gladness and choose to walk in the way of Christ.
This is who we are. With grace and years worth of practice, it will hopefully be who we become.