Home Outreach Leaders Articles for Outreach & Missions A Church in the Trenches: Breaking the Moldy Sunday Mold

A Church in the Trenches: Breaking the Moldy Sunday Mold

This city has one of the highest unchurched populations in the country. It may just foretell the future. And that may be a good thing.

There’s an innovative church here that’s bucking the odds. It’s growing. And not just in numbers, but in life change and commitment to Christ.

Union Church, in the middle of secular Seattle, sprouted in 2006. But this is no ordinary, cloned church plant. On your first visit, you might find the pastor sitting in a semi-circle with other worshippers. On your next visit, you might find the place deserted—everybody gone on a Sunday morning.

Pastor James B. Notkin explained that the pioneers of Union decided from the get-go they didn’t want to be shackled by the status quo of church as we know it. And he wasn’t drawn to the celebrity pastor model that characterizes many new church plants. He asked, “What’s going to grow disciples?”

What resulted was a fresh approach to invite people to focus on three things: a commitment to Christ, the work of Christ and the Body of Christ. The congregation rotates among these focal points from week to week.

The first and third Sundays of the month feature a fairly typical mix of music, prayer, preaching, scripture and communion. But the second Sunday breaks the congregation into small discussion groups that dig into God’s message for them. And every fourth Sunday, the members don’t do a church service, they do a service church. They disperse around the city to serve others in various ways. Notkin said, “People understand this is all worship.”

This changed-up worship appeals to the unchurched, the dechurched and “those who’ve been in the pews for decades but felt they weren’t growing,” Notkin said. “They’ve really embraced it.”

The discussion-oriented Sundays are bringing many men back to church. They really appreciate the give-and-take nature of the message.

The hands-on service activities on the fourth Sundays have provided a surprising outreach effect. Notkin thought the people they serve would perhaps eventually want to participate in Union’s church life. But, more often, unchurched people have accompanied Union members on the service Sundays, enjoyed the relationships, and have eventually plugged in to Union on the other Sundays.

After reading our book Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore, people often ask me for examples of churches that exhibit what we call the four Acts of Love—Radical Hospitality, Fearless Conversation, Genuine Humility and Divine Anticipation. Seattle’s Union provides a growing example—and just maybe a glimpse of the future.  

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Thom Schultz is an eclectic author and the founder of Group Publishing and Lifetree Café. Holy Soup offers innovative approaches to ministry, and challenges the status quo of today’s church.