“If people take a break from worshipping, they sometimes don’t pick that habit back up,” said Owen Williams, a longtime deacon at First Congregational, a United Church of Christ congregation. But because Wednesdays keep people coming, “we have a depth of commitment throughout the year.”
Summer has a way of thinning out pews on Sunday mornings as the sun-loving faithful take to trails, outdoor markets and backyard projects. The predictable pattern poses challenges, especially for smaller congregations.
More and more, however, churches are rediscovering Wednesday — a traditional midweek church night — as a prime time to gather the flock for casual worship in summer. Early adopters report improved attendance, slightly fatter coffers and invigorated spirituality as curious newcomers drop by and join in.
“It is becoming more common for churches to experiment with different times, days and venues for worship gatherings,” said Elaine Heath, associate professor of evangelism at Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University. “The prevailing attitude of church insiders, though, seems to be that the worship gathering that really ‘counts’ is the one on Sunday morning.”
This Wednesday (July 18), First Church Congregational in Methuen, Mass, will begin a three-week experiment with Wednesday worship. For the first time this August, the only worship services at Plymouth Congregational in Plymouth, N.H., will be on Wednesday evenings. Worshippers will exit to the sounds of live music as crowds arrive for outdoor concerts on Plymouth Common.
“People were a little taken aback initially,” said Emily Knapp, a deacon at First Congregational Church of Georgetown, Mass., where a shift to Wednesday worship has boosted average summer attendance from 15 to 40. From September to May, attendance averages around 80.
“But churches sometimes get stuck,” Knapp said. “This has helped us say, ‘Yeah, let’s try new things. Let’s be innovative.’”
Midwestern churches are also joining in the summer Wednesday shift.
Good Shepherd Church in Owatonna, Minn., also added a Wednesday service this summer and began immediately seeing new faces in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod congregation.
Immanuel Lutheran Church in Eden Prairie, Minn., has held summer Wednesday services for three years and draws only about 20, most of whom come on Sunday, too. But it’s nonetheless important to make the services available to those who’re away on summer Sundays, according to Senior Pastor Paul Nelson.
Wednesday nights aren’t necessarily an easy sell. Trondhjem Lutheran Church in Lonsdale, Minn., has revived its Wednesday night worship this year but attracts only a few Sunday regulars.