Bob Wilkins, Director of Channel Initiatives, for Ameritech Cellular Company pulls his jet black Toyota Camry out of the garage every morning between 5:30 and 5:45 driving to work. He fights the traffic for an hour before arriving at his office thirty miles away. His middle management position places intense decisions and stressful demands during his ten-plus hour work day. Then it’s back in his car snaking his way home, arriving each afternoon sometime between 6:30 and 7:00 p.m. Despite the heavy time commitment in his current job, Bob left a retail company over a year ago to work for Ameritech so he could spend more time with his wife and teenage son.
Bob’s work commitment is not atypical. In my congregation the vast majority of workers travel more than an hour one way to their place of employment. Many, like Bob, drive, others travel by mass transit means of buses and/or trains. Many jet out on Monday morning to destinations that will take them to all parts of our great nation and others to distant places around the globe.
While commuting is heightened in an urban context like Chicago, it is not limited to the big city. Barry Lee, my brother-in-law, a computer programmer, travels forty miles one way from his home in Rogersville, Alabama, a small town less than a thousand, to the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville.
Bob and Barry, and thousands like them, spend large chunks of time traversing to and from their places of employment.
Recent polls indicate that the work week has increased by six hours to 47 hours per week from 1973. For professional people, the number is even higher: 52 hours a week. And, for the majority of people that attend my church, small business owners and corporate executives, invest 57 hours a week. These facts are frightening enough. But add the travel times of two or more hours per day to that over-committed work week, the impact is staggering. People have less and less time to spend with their families and in personal pursuits, much less church and spiritual growth.
What is a church to do in ministering to people when their time is limited? As I have worked with these types of people most of ministry career I made several observations.
1. Streamline Church Activities.
When I came to my present church over ten years ago, I realized very quickly that people did not have time to attend all the services that the church was providing. At the time, the corporate activities the church offered required people’s attendance over six hours a week, not to mention the extra hours if one served on a committee, or was involved in a visitation program, or sang in the choir or other music group. In previous generations such a demanding church schedule would be acceptable and expected, but in contemporary society, with job demands and commuting travel, people have less and less discretionary time available.
Early on in my tenure as Pastor in Naperville I attended a meeting where the speaker said that most people are willing to give three to four hours a week to a civic activity, community service project, or church. Fueled with this information, I set out to revamp our schedule. We settled on Sunday Service (a.m.), Bible Study (Sunday a.m.), Wednesday Worship, and Adult Electives (Sunday p.m.) for training and deeper spiritual growth. Each activity addressed a different purpose of the church and was aimed toward a different target audience. People appreciated fewer and better programs and events.
In recent years we have cut back our schedule during the summer months, especially on Sunday nights. And during holiday seasons we don’t hesitate in canceling Wednesday and Sunday night activities. I once thought such behavior was less than spiritual, now I know it is simply being sensitive to the needs of our church family and the demands on their schedules.