Juliet Fletcher explores how some churches are using Sunday night services to reach the unreached, by giving gospel music a prominent platform
There have been quite a number of changes in church life over the years. One of the biggest in recent times is the traditional Sunday evening service. Have you noticed that it seems to be disappearing? In its place has come the ‘alternative’ Sunday night event, which seems to be benefiting gospel artists in ministry and performance.
WHY THE CHANGE?
Before exploring the benefits this change has brought to gospel artists, let’s take a quick look at what might have brought about that change. There seem to be two main reasons of the several mooted. First and foremost: people are focusing on Sunday morning services; attendances have gone up on the grounds that, in the afternoons/evenings, families need more time together, and parents and children need to prepare for school and working week. Fair enough. The second reason is much more an assertive counter attack on the verbal ‘same old, same old’, where Pentecostal services have become almost ritualistic, with long drawn-out testimony times that weren’t so much about miracles but the ‘standard’ appreciation of God’s goodness in everyday life, and lightweight preaching on the same most popular stories of the Bible. I wouldn’t say anything is wrong, except that for congregations with a younger demographic, who want to experience a more dynamic, gritty and even challenging experience of church fellowship, the notion of creative worship or arts-based fellowship holds a much more attractive set of choices. And, more importantly, according to Denis Wade of Micah Ministries, it presents a powerful way of engaging non-church attending families and friends.
It was back in 1998/99 when I experienced for the first time a Sunday evening service – which was not a Sunday evening service – at ECC (Evangelical Christian Centre), where Denis Wade was a pastor. They had a series of ‘events’ entitled Stomp! And it certainly had the young people ‘stomping’ in!
When he planted the church, Micah Minstries, at the turn of the new millennium, Denis continued the innovative evening service once a month, labelling it ‘Sunday Night Live’.
“At Micah Church, we benefited greatly from hosting a regular concert/worship night ‘Sunday Night Live’. We had input from gospel practitioners, promoters and agents, who acted on behalf of artists; we had great input from the artists in performances. It has enriched our services and the life of our congregation, and souls were added to the church.”
Both local and international artists featured in the events. Denis added, “I’d encourage pastors to use this strategy as a method for reaching the unchurched, and for strengthening their congregation; where, in normal services, worship is often restricted time-wise, these events allow for a deeper, prolonged worship time. It’s also an excuse to invite people, and we found it rallied the saints together in effort.”
Denis surprised me further by letting me know that it wasn’t expensive to stage AND that they were happy to pay and be a blessing to artists and the industry.
In more recent times, my own church has featured many gospel artists, taking into consideration the congregation’s seeming love for reggae: Minister Junior Tucker, Stitchie, Carleen Anderson and King Arthur are just a few of the artists, who have had opportunity to ‘take over’ the normal evening service.
I know for a fact that a fair number of people in my church are there now – with their families – as upstanding, committed believers, because of the special alternative evening services we’ve had. That is why I believe our gospel artists should be treated with much more due diligence by our leaders.
“A fair number of people in my church are there now, because of the special alternative evening services we’ve had.”
Now event organisers and promoters are also using external venues, like theatres, restaurants, clubs and coffee bars; a Sunday from 2.30pm onward is the new ‘Christian social time’, and this is giving a new impetus to opportunities in reaching out, whilst enjoying expressions of our faith through the arts.
BEING BLESSED BEING PAID
“By any means reach some…” 1 Corinthians 9:22 seems to encourage us, and I think those who are adventurous are getting results. One such approach is the now national ‘Sunday Night Live’ event (different from the Denis Wade’s initiative), which uses Costa coffee bars and other venues all over the country, and is making a system of it through their website, www.sundaynightlive.org.uk. Any artist can apply.
I would like to see more of these initiatives but on the premise that Pastor Wade has, that quality artists receive remuneration from which they are able to sustain their full-time status in music – or, at least, a real opportunity for selling CDs and other merchandise.
It seems to me that these developments are real grounds on which we can build a recognisable gospel circuit. That has to be an exciting prospect for us all – industry, artists and audience alike.