For many overbooked Christian families, Wednesday is the new Sunday

Each Wednesday, the Latzke family heads to their Bloomington church for an evening of religious education and a worship service. Sunday is too packed to squeeze in church, so now Wednesday is their day — as it is for thousands of busy Minnesotans.

“Wednesday is the new Sunday,” is what some clergy call this trend reflecting the scheduling quirks of modern families.

“This works really nice for us because we’re so busy on weekends,” said Robyn Latzke shortly before the service at Transfiguration Lutheran Church. “She dances, and she plays volleyball,” Latzke said, pointing to her daughters.

“And I farm on weekends with my brother,” added her husband, Jeff Latzke.

As churches across Minnesota try new ways to accommodate the hectic lives of the faithful, Wednesday night services have emerged as a popular option.

For churches that already offered religious education on Wednesdays, adding a worship service was a logical fit. For others, a Wednesday service helps folks who travel on weekends, hold down jobs, or schlep children to hockey, soccer and other events.

“The on-demand culture has affected church people as much as society,” said Scott Thumma, director of the Hartford Institute for Religion Research.

Keeping folks in regular attendance is critical, as irregular churchgoing often fizzles into no churchgoing, Thumma said. Mainline Protestants, those most avidly embracing Wednesdays, have seen a steady decline in attendance. Median weekend attendance at U.S. churches, for example, dropped from 129 people to 80 from 2005 to 2015, according to the institute. The study advised: “To grow, distinguish yourself from other congregations.”

Food and faith

Wednesday nights at Transfiguration are much like those at other churches, starting with a meal, then worship, then religious education. Sue O’Reilly is among the regulars. The nurse was among those seated at tables in the social hall, enjoying lasagna and a salad.

“I’m a busy weekender, going to the cabin, sometimes working,” said O’Reilly. “Coming on Wednesday, I get a full church service.

“If I had a bad day at work, I like to come here,” she added. “It just kind of settles you.”

The Rev. Ed Treat said the church was targeting adults like O’Reilly as well as teens when it began the Wednesday “Oasis” in 2015.

“We were trying to solve the problem of getting kids to church on a Sunday morning,” said Treat. “We were teaching them confirmation, but they never came to worship.”

The service now is one of the most popular, he said.

“People are starting to see it as their own service,” Treat said.

Abby Titus, a seventh-grader sitting with O’Reilly, appreciates the night. Said Titus: “It’s kind of like a break from sports and homework and from the rest of the world.”

Courting families

Churches began experimenting with Wednesdays about a decade ago. It has steadily grown since then.

Pioneers included Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Burnsville — which now has two Wednesday night services — and Mount Olivet Lutheran Church in Plymouth.

“It’s a different demographic,” said Pete Erickson, Mount Olivet’s faith formation director. “Our trend on Sunday morning is younger families — preschool to about fourth grade. On Wednesdays it’s families with older children.”

Mount Olivet’s Wednesday worship, kicked off in 2007, exploded to become the church’s largest service with up to 300 people, he said. In recent years, attendance has leveled off to about 150 to 170 people. Erickson attributes the drop to even more traveling sports teams and school events.

Wednesday worship is not just an urban trend. The Detroit Lakes United Methodist Church started a Wednesday service that was specifically “child-friendly,” but also appealed to hospital workers, shift workers and the many weekend travelers. It’s been a tremendous success.

“The first night we had 90 people,” said the Rev. Brenda North. “We figured we were on to something.”

Parents with shared custody of their children turned out to be among the regulars, said North, as “it’s hard to build a church habit if you have your child every other weekend.”

The lure of the lakes, the North Shore and beyond remains an ongoing motivator for midweek services.

“This is Minnesota, land of 10,000 cabins,” said the Rev. Karen Bruins, of the Well Methodist churches in Rosemount and Apple Valley. “People start going to their cabins in spring, and stay until fall.”

Not a panacea

But clergy warn that simply opening the doors on Wednesdays won’t start a stampede. Church leaders need to figure out if it’s a good match for members, and be willing to shift the start time and other options as needed.

“You need to get a feel for the pulse of the community, and what fits into their lives,” said the Rev. Deb Stehlin, director for evangelical mission at the Minneapolis Area Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Timing is also key. If the service is before 6 p.m., fewer people come, clergy said. If it is launched for the summer, there could be even fewer.

The Rev. Stephanie Espinoza, for example, gave Wednesdays a try last summer at Cross of Peace Lutheran Church in Shakopee. The service, she acknowledged, “wasn’t super attended.” She’s trying Monday this summer.

Bruins, meanwhile, discovered that a night of sitting didn’t mesh with energy levels of younger kids. Now the church plans to restructure Wednesdays, she said, to be “more creative, more interactive, more active, given that they’ve been in school all day.”

Some folks question whether the Sabbath — which the Bible says is “the seventh day of the week” — can even be celebrated on a Wednesday. Clergy insist it can be. Said North: “Worshiping God can happen any day of the week.”

The trend is no surprise to the Rev. Dawn Alitz, director of lifelong learning programs at Luther Seminary in St. Paul.

In fact, the seminary is offering a summer session entitled “Rethinking Sunday Morning,” she said. The message: “God may be working more than just on Sunday mornings.”