Several weeks ago, I was shopping during “normal” Sunday church hours. I had been to worship on Saturday in St. Louis, so I took Sunday morning to do what many do on Sunday mornings: whatever I wanted! I was surprised at just how busy the stores were. Why weren’t these people in church? Why were all these other people working? Do they ever go to church? Where? When?
Here are two dates that changed the world which you will probably never see on a calendar. The first is August 28, 1921. That is the day the first movie theaters were open for business on a Sunday. The second date is August 6, 1991. That is the day the World Wide Web became publicly available.
Why do those dates matter? The first changed the shape of the work week from six days to seven days. The other changed normal business hours to a market place open twenty-four hours a day.
Think of the implications of the first movies being open. People “had” to work on Sundays. Sure, the movies created a novelty for people off of work, but it created a whole new class of workers. Suddenly, restaurants, stores, gas stations and more were open for business. This expanded the market place, but restructured society, especially concerning the normal times of church and family functions. When would these new working families gather, eat, and rest?
If movies changed the market place and community flow of life, the internet rewrote what the market place is and redefined community, especially concerning when it could meet.
Here is an example, I have a friend who does an online ministry. He posts a worship, music and message update once a week with a weekly service project to do in your own city or town. You can “log in” at 10 PM on a Monday night, center yourself for worship, hear a really good worship song, read along with the scriptures, receive a positive/uplifting message about the Good News of Jesus, and then receive a ministry challenge for the week, such as volunteering at the food pantry or giving away a coat. Many groups formed in regional locations where they would do their ministry challenges together. One message read, “Hey Columbia, SC people! We are meeting at the Salvation Army Tuesday evening to organize the bells and signs for Christmas. Meet us there at 6 PM.” They would worship together online anytime and meet at their own convenience. Also, your prayers could be sent by email and you would receive a confirmation that, yes, indeed someone else had prayed for your specific request. They had a bookstore and children’s video messages with special links to other kid friendly church videos. It was a virtual church. There was no building, no sanctuary and no fellowship hall. Some would say this isn’t a real church. However, for the hundreds of thousands who attend a “virtual church,” it is very real. It also meets a real need. Many of the people who attend virtual churches are working professionals and trade specialists, as well as artists, wait staff, and musicians. These people work those off hours created by our 24-hour, 7 day a week culture.
It is easy to judge how strange this sounds. The Holy Spirit teaches us through 1 Corinthians 13:5-6 that "love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful.”
Another friend of mine started a theology on tap ministry. She hired a guitar singer to play sing-a-long hymns at a local pub on the square. Then those who want to gather in the back area of the bar are given a brief scripture and hot topic to discuss based on a lesson from Jesus. They have another sing-a-long hymn; then they close with prayers for each other and a local offering to be given away to a need in the community while singing their last hymn. Many hang out for a couple of hours chatting in a bar about God and life.
Sometimes I dream about doing church in a whole other way at a whole other time in Mount Pleasant. Does anyone else? What would you do? Want to try something crazy to meet people where they are? Or maybe we could just do something different in our own space? Maybe we will!
Rev. Trey Hegar