If you didn’t grow up in Christian subculture, this will probably make zero sense. But for you who did, do you remember Sunday Night Church?
Listen, any yahoo could manage Sunday Morning Church, but SNC was for the die-hards. Having barely snuck in an afternoon nap, it was straight back to church at 6:00pm for the dyed-in-the-wool Baptists like us. We didn’t even play, man.
SNC was the canvas for looser programming, having already pledged allegiance to the choir, Sandi Patti-esque soloist, and senior pastor in the a.m. SNC was the space for traveling evangelists, missionary testimonies, Youth Group Camp Reporting Night, and my dad’s favorite…quartets. (To this day, I can pick out a bass line in a gospel ensemble in one bar.) You knew it was a whole ‘nother deal when the pastor wore his casual khakis and no tie. With those sorts of liberties, we were but one emotional outburst away from clapping.
But I’ll tell you why I loved SNC. As you might have surmised, it wasn’t the guest preachers or hand bell concerts. In fact, it had nothing to do with the programing at all. It was simply this: the youth group “went out” every Sunday night after church. We begged $5.00 off our parents and put one dollar of gas into willing drivers’ cars (<–true story) and unleashed a whole gaggle of young evangelicals onto the unsuspecting city of Wichita, Kansas. Mr. Gatti’s, sand volleyball, swimming, whatever. Once we rented a movie and one guy accidentally chose a horror flick with a little T&A, and as self-respecting True Love Waits graduates, we shamed him until he drove away in a huff.
These comprise some of my favorite memories.
I don’t even know if Sunday Night Church is still a thing, but let me tell you how we’ve carried the tradition forward. Our little hippie church doesn’t have a night service, but we get together with our two best couple friends virtually every weekend for “SNC” on one of our porches, which we’ve all named with inventive tropical irony. We know that after the big lunch has digested and the naps have been taken and the littles are put to bed, it’s time.
Tray of SNC fame had these letters hand-carved for us, because this is the sort of thing we spend actual money on.
After sussing out the details over texts, we gather on someone’s patio with wine and cheese and leftover desserts, and we have us some church. We’ve solved practically every problem on earth, or at least hashed it out real good. Usually SNC is for laughing and pure folly, such as watching funny YouTubes like a bunch of juveniles. Sometimes one of us is in the weeds, and we do a lot of listening. Occasionally we wade into theology and orthodoxy, as we’ve all stretched further than we ever thought these last few years. Or we watch football and pledge to finally break up with the Cowboys.
The same connective thread remains 20+ years after my youth group days: If Jesus is the heart of the church, people are the lifeblood. There is a reason He set us in community and told us to practice grace and love and camaraderie and presence. People soften the edges and fill in the gaps. While believers can wound each other beyond measure, they can also make up some of the best parts of the whole story.
We live in a strange, unprecedented time where face-to-face relationships in actual time and space are becoming optional. It’s tricky, this online connection, because it can be so meaningful and true, and I’ve personally experienced it give way to actual in-real-life friendships I treasure. But it can also steal from friends on porches, the ones who know your middle name, talking about real life over cheese and wine. I fear it is no substitute for practiced, physical presence, and it will certainly never take the place of someone looking you in the eye, padding around in your kitchen in their bare feet, making you take a blind taste test on variations of olives, walking in your front door unannounced, without knocking.
Maybe it’s time for you to start your own SNC. Perhaps it won’t start until 8:30pm like ours because of All The Kids. Maybe it will be a MNC or a WNC or a standing breakfast date on Thursday mornings where you become so regular you have “a table.” Whatever the opposite of fancy is, that’s what we’re talking about here. 90% of our SNC dates are in pajama pants.
Don’t imagine that because connecting doesn’t take place on a church campus it is any less sacred. Prioritizing each other and creating a space to belong is holy territory, whether a Sunday School class or a back porch. In a media world with a thousand accounts and profiles, life can still be crushingly lonely. When my online world has gone off the rails and folks misunderstand me and all the internet chatter is just too much, nothing fixes me right up like sitting on a porch with old friends, Texas country on the speakers, real life taking its rightful place again.
So here is my invitation to establish your own version of SNC…traveling evangelist optional, although I highly recommend the hand bells.