Culture

July 08 2013
62

 

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.

IMG_2757

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.

62 comments

  1. Jen, not only did you refresh the memories of SNC for me, you’ve created a new vision for truly building front porch community and meaningful friendships.

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  2. I love this post! I didn’t grow up with SNC in the typical sense as I grew up overseas, but my husband did and has such similar stories. Sunday night is now the night when we try to have people over and connect in a world that doesn’t always leave time for relationship building. Thanks for a great reminder of the lifeblood of the church.

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  3. I’m interviewing at a church this week, and they still have Sunday Night Church, which at first terrified me because what churches still have SNC??? But then I remembered that some of my favourite church memories are also of the SNC variety and I agreed to the interview. :-) This post makes me think that was a good idea…and also that I need to make sure we’re having church on the porch too. Thanks Jen.

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  4. SNC was where the “real” Christians showed up. LOL! Interestingly my son was recently talking about missing church potlucks, the real ones where people brought homecooked food. He said he felt like that was true communion — the way Jesus had intended it to be. Church on the porch with real food and real talk sounds lovely!

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  5. Greta Gibbons

    I grew up attending SNC and going out after as well! We still attend SNC as a family and it is my favorite part of our Sunday, for all of the reasons you mentioned! We are blessed to be a part of a church with SNC and blessed to have dear friends to share the ‘porch’ part of the service with as well! Thanks so much for your post and thanks so much for the lovely memories and reminders of wonderful times and more wonderful times to come!

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  6. I adored SNC!
    We are trying to replicate not necessarily with and Bible talk, although it could happen, but more Hugh Halter fellowship style by inviting people over for tacos on Sunday evening.
    And if I don’t make tacos, my children get very upset.

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  7. Yes, this brought back lots of memories of growing up with SNC. My church still has SNC, but I prefer the back-porch (deck) version at the home of my BFF, with a various and sundry mixture of her family (mine by osmosis) and an occasional sprinkle of very close friends. We don’t always talk about God or church, but since we are all believers, at some point in the evening, the subject usually comes up. We do this most every weekend, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

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  8. :) Oh yeah, we had our weekly trek to White Castle for the little square hamburgers! Who can forget the white castle building! You are 100% correct – connecting with one another, good conversation, laughs, some food & LAUGHS is the stuff life & relationships are made from. So glad for the reminder today!
    Blessings,
    Joanne

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  9. I LOVED this!

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  10. What exactly do you do with *all the kids*??? That’s our biggest obstacle. We have fun getting together with the littles running all over, but there is not a lot of *deep* going on… with ages running from 12 to 0!

    Lovely post! You nailed the picture of late eighties-early nineties Sunday nights for me!!!

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  11. You had me until Texas country.

    But this is legit. In various forms; but the best guideline is to have as little form and as few guidelines as possible. Just make sure it happens and keeps happening. And years of experience have taught me that when I least want to go – that’s when I probably most need it.

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    • Dana

      Abbey, I couldn’t agree more with the “when I least want to go–that’s when I probably most need it.” Amen, sister.

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  12. This just makes me incredibly sad. I used to live in a city with a great community of young people who SNC’d all the time. Hours and hours of grace-filled, hilarious conversation (and sitcoms…and prayers…and pizza). I don’t think anybody needed to talk us into it–the whole thing was a blessing, not an organized practice. It was relationship.

    But I have since moved, and I don’t have that here. My church community is small, polite. I am the only 20-something in the pews by a long shot. My faith is a source of curiosity to my friends, not community. It has been far too long since I have even HAD a back porch and people who don’t raise an eyebrow at the word ‘God.’

    The heart of this post is lovely, but again, quite sad for me. I would love to read an article about what the rest of us are supposed to do in SNC spirit! :)

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  13. Stacy

    SNC-brought back so many good memories! We went to a place called Lee’s Chicken and had Tab’s and pie after youth group! Our pastor was a painter-when you arrived if you saw the white canvas up front you knew that in the time it took for collecting the offering he would create an oil painting of our local mountain or lakes. He would have previously told everyone that who ever brought the most folks with them to SNC would get the painting. My brother in law finally convinced my dad to go to church with that “carrot”. It hung in our house until my dad died. (He chose Jesus 9 days before he died btw) I truly wish my family could find a group of folks to do SNC with the way you do it now-it is what we are missing!

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  14. Wendy

    Flooded with beautiful memories as I read this lovely post. I grew up attending SNC. We would begin with a worship service in the Chapel, followed by a snack supper which always consisted of grilled cheese sandwiches and vegetable soup. Oh how the fun began after dinner because that was our Youth group fellowship time, where for 2 glorious hours we would play games, have Bible study, have a snack, laugh our heads off and then head home. Love how you have created vision and space for a new SNC model. Thank you for this.

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  15. We called our post-SNC events “Afterglows.” We rode in a bus.

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  16. Amy

    LOVE THIS IDEA! But, we still have fairly young children, and so do all of our friends. Do you all find babysitters each week or are your children old enough to be left alone with older siblings? Trying to figure out how to make it work without costing everyone a weekly fortune in babysitting dollars…would love to know how y’all work out the logistics of childcare.

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    • We are in that magical space with big kids old enough to hold down the fort. Plus, we live five houses down from one of the SNC couples, so we’re just right there. If one of us needs to be home for some specific reason, we just go to their house for SNC. If the kids have to be there, then SO BE IT. Give them a box of Popsicles and hope for the best while you sit on the porch with your friends!

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    • Debbie

      Grew up with SNC. We all went even as a young child. About to date myself here…haha but we would come home to a treat of eating dinner in the den and watching Bonanza.

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    • Shannon

      Amy, we have FNC several times a month with 10 kids 10 and under, so for the past five years we pony up $2-3/kid and hire babysitters in the 13-16-year-old range. We’ve actually developed some great relationships with teenagers as a byproduct.

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  17. Connie

    Loved. This.

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  18. Oh my… I was in my 21st year when I went and got saved… it was SNC that lured me in in the first place… who wants to get up and be in church at 9am on the weekends? Eventually – I did… but I expected it to be more like SNC (and yes – expected the gatherings that happened AFTER SNC too!) Due to the fact that SMC is – well – just not that… we have lived in Gatherings on back porches and around sofa’s and in parks for the whole of our adult lives… it is where we have learned to live Real… to speak life, to share and pour out… it has taught us the truth of this: “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.”

    Love this!

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  19. Dana

    I cannot believe how you totally nailed Sunday Night Church for Baptists!! And Mr. Gatti’s. Just, YES. All the time. To split one large pizza 45 ways, drink water and play Asteroids. However, this post has only exacerbated my already borderline-obsessed desire for a porch. Somehow, hanging out in the den just isn’t the same. Is it wrong to pray for a porch? :)

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  20. Couple things.
    1. The main soloist at our SNC sang Via Dolorosa oh, say, 30 times? 40? (Improvement was marginal. Bless her rouged cheeks.)
    2. We have MNC. It has changed the course of my life’s orbit and that’s no joke. I agree 100% with what you say about online communities and real life people. It’s so important to be grounded in what is real and imperfect.
    3. Our MNC group sounds an awful lot like yours except we have about 86 kids under the age of 8, so we pitch in and hire a sitter who comes in and whisks away the kids after our legendary pitch-in meal.
    4. A year ago we read Barefoot Church and then a bunch of us lady-folk read Interrupted and 7, so the Hatmakers are honorary members. We call you guys by name like it’s no big thang.
    5. We always end up in the weeds at some point. All. Ways.

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  21. Angela Spain

    Growing up SNC was after children’s choir. We went to Ms. Hazels office for a snack then went to sit with our parents of friends if they came back. I went to the same church as Jen and remember a lot of the stuff they did. SNC now had older folks and a row of two of young folks. It is still a good time to fellowship and relax with friends. The youth group still goes out after church and hangs out at a house or a restaurant.

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  22. Linda Economy

    As the pastor and wife – do you get flack for just meeting with 2 couples every week?

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    • Great question. “Meeting with two couples” would be a misnomer. These are our best friends. This is soul space and we need it. Public ministry takes a real toll, and spending time with friends who know and love us and won’t put up with our crap is just not negotiable. Our little faith community is special and no one has ever begrudged us our friends. We are so grateful for constant permission to be ordinary.

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  23. Lee W.

    I’m Episcopalian now, but was raised Southern Baptist in a small church in Mississippi, and not only did we have Sunday Night Church, but “training union’ before – kind of like evening Sunday School, followed by the evening service. And Wednesday evenings were for Prayer Meeting – usually a youth group meeting followed by a full church service. Needless to say, that is not a part of my life now, but it sure had a profound effect on me – both positives and negatives.

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  24. My husband and I were raised Catholic (in Wichita, KS–born and raised), so there was no SNC in our world. We ventured out into the vast world of Christianity and became Presbyterian 9 years ago and now attend a non-denominational church. While hangin’ with the Presbyterians, we were blessed to join a small group that met on Sunday evenings. We started with 5 couples, and now there are only 3 couples left in town. Our group no longer meets every Sunday, but they are our people. They are who we call when we need to have a drink and know that our kids aren’t insane–they are simply 5 and 8 year-old boys. We have shared births, loss, love, moves, and just about everything else in between. They taught us that it’s ok to ask questions and that we are all imperfect in our journey of faith. I thank God for our group on a regular basis.

    We have also, I must say, had some really fun parties with our group, including lake weekends and child-free New Year’s Eve celebrations. The men don’t get together so much anymore, but the wives make up for it with bi-weekly wine lunches. Summer is always hard, but we look forward to school starting again in the fall and the return of wine lunches!

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  25. Shelley

    Our SNC included all the youth sitting on the very, waaaaay back pew on the “wrong” side of the sanctuary. The holy people all sat on the other side. And our music leader at night was an ancient, bald man and his very loud, pianost, mezzo-soprano, wife singing the old-time hymns that I not-so-secretly loved. He would end his favorite songs by asking for a “goody for Jesus!” Then after, all the rebellious youth would head to our local pizza place for some double-decker and taco nachos. I love those memories!

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  26. jana

    Our SNC is Friends of the Grape….and it is all that you mentioned!

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  27. Dana

    I am CONSTANTLY in awe of the love and grace that God shows us through friends who are willing to dig in the dirt and weeds together! I’ve reflected frequently on the differences between the church culture of my grandparents, parents and now mine as an adult. There are definitely parts I miss about a church “program” like SNC or Wednesday Night Prayer meeting like I grew up in–but I don’t think I would trade it for how I see my peers living out what it means to be the church, to each other, and to everyone around them–this beautiful acknowledgement that the church is NOT a building.

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  28. Jen,

    I have been following your blog and this is my favorite post. I grew up much the same way as you did. My dad was the preacher, so we did the all day thing. SNC was my favorite. Training Union, Youth Choir, and all the things you mentioned are etched in my memory. These are precious memories, just like the song we sang in SNC, back in the day. I long for the sense of community that is lacking. I long to connect with other couples who are doing SNC. I may just have to start one myself. Thank you for the inspiration.

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  29. Zeynep Carroll

    You had me at SNC and spoke my love language at Texas music. Have you listened to The Departed? Check out Sweet Lord. I love that you keep ministry real!

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  30. I must admit Jen, I do miss SNC. We crazy charismatics were often at church until 2pm or later, then back again at 6. We were nuts. But it wasn’t the evangelists or the lingering altar calls. It WAS the community. You are absolutely spot on. And that’s what I miss. The families gathering at our house for a late lunch and hang until it was time to drive 30 min (how inconvenient, gasp) back to church for more. We don’t do community like that anymore and I miss it terribly. Thank you for this reminder and the call to take the good of our past and turn it into something even greater for our future.

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  31. Caryn Kirk

    A big smile/smirk is now on my face after taking a stroll down SNC memory lane! Every detail – déjà vu. My dad would even let me wear PANTS to SNC. I think the early VCR industry owes a debt of gratitude to youth groups on Sunday night.

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  32. Gena Hood

    My husband’s SNC is actually a MMC – - – Monday Morning Church. He meets his Christian men friends for breakfast every Monday morning before they all head off in their various pursuits. If my hubster will get up early for it, it’s got to be good!

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  33. When I was a kid, I loved SNC for the same reasons you did. It meant having fun with friends afterwards. Who knew that still counted as “church”? Or should, at least.
    I still love the smaller gatherings, sometimes spiritual, often not. But being in one another’s lives. My kids don’t realize they should be going to church way more than we do!;)

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  34. Stacy Reeder

    Thank you for sharing your stories that have taken me back to a time when social gatherings didn’t have to be a big life event. I miss those times of catching fireflies and playing hide and seek in the dark. While my parents sat in the yard with music going talking to the neighbors. I think it’s time I start my own SNC!

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  35. Loved this. So many great memories. I grew up Nazarene in So California. We went to church on Wed night for Pioneer Club and then Sun morning and evening. We called our naps, a Nazarene nap. Silly I know. I loved the fellowship and we’d often have supper in Fellowship hall. It’s sad that this is so hard to come by these days. You’ve inspired me to start my own SNC on our back deck. It’s the perfect spot. Thank you for bringing back the memories and the fellowship.

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  36. Cyndi Walton

    Oh sister girl, the memories you have just dusted off! I grew up in Wichita and we went to church at 13th and Oliver. Sunday nights were THE thing in our youth group. We all enjoyed this because, as you say, things were ‘relaxed’.(we got to wear pants under our skirts til we hit the back parking lot) We didn’t have to sit with our parents and were allowed to sit in the back couple of rows under the balcony. All of this was allowed provided we didn’t get the giggles or some such behavior that got them started. THey are very hard to swallow! We were able to hone our passing skills also when the offering plate came by. God forbid somebody wasn’t paying attention cause I’m just telling you, change can roll for rows and rows!!! The best part was going to Godfathers for the best pizza!!!

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  37. Joe G

    NO HANDBELLS!!!!

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  38. We have “big church” Sunday mornings and “little church” Sunday nights when we (5 couples) gather in one of our homes for 3 or 4 hours. We eat, laugh, cry, pray, confess, discuss, and eat and laugh some more. We have been doing this for almost 20 years, and it is the most important decision we ever made for us and our family. At one point we had about twenty children between all of us, 4 or 5 of them lined up on the floor in car seats. Generally, the kids were together in another home with a couple of very brave and enthusiastic sitters. Now several are married and the youngest is a preteen. We never intended it to be anything more than a small group experience, but it has become so much more. When my daughter was asked to describe her family the first day of high school, she described both her families, her biological one and her Sunday night family. We believe that our kids are all still connected to their faith because of what they witnessed and experienced in our “SNC”.

    All this to say, Jen is soooo right! People are the lifeblood of the church.

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  39. Rach

    I attend a church that still has snc. It’s a small baptist church in a growing town. I’ve gone there my whole life and my husband and I basically got together after snc at Tim Hortons. I find that the best fellowship happens after night church even now. Though its hard to drag our butts there some weeks!!

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  40. We call ours ‘coffee nights’. Makeup free, kids in bed, yoga pants abound, and goooooood coffee. Had 4 of my loveys over just last night, at 8:30 :). So grateful for my friends!!! http://coatsquotes.wordpress.com/2013/02/27/friends/

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  41. Man, the memories come surging back with this post. Thanks for that. Yes, it was a Big Deal. And yes, it was Youth Night Extraordinaire. In our particular town, it was Bob’s Big Boy – a drive-in, no less. And once a quarter we went to regional ‘sings’, sponsored by an organization called Christian Endeavor. Hundreds of kids singing the 1960′s version of ‘contemporary’ music. You really shoulda been there. . . or maybe not. :-) I absolutely love your back porch church idea. For a few years, we were part of a multi-generational small group that did this once a month – on Sunday after church and after lunch. Loved those times. Hmmmm. . . . maybe we need to resurrect that group and see how everyone’s doing. I do so love it when you visit here, Jen. Thank you!

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  42. Kelly O

    Totally remember SNC – especially in the summer when the youth group would go out afterward and descend on (for us) Hardee’s or Dairy Queen or Burger King and sit for way too long sharing an order of fries and talking about whatever was on our minds. (Although we got to use the church van.)

    And to whoever called it Training Union? I had almost forgotten about that until you mentioned it. The Sunday night equivalent of Sunday School. Less formal, usually more fun… Wednesday nights were Mission Nights – we did GAs and Acteens (or RAs for the boys.)

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  43. Jill K

    I, too, loved SNC! It was usually short and sweet and I couldn’t wait to go out with my youth group friends and eat pizza at Mazzio’s (South OKC). If it was summertime, it was even better because we could then crash at someone’s house and watch movies or something while the adults (our parents) could visit at another house. I grew up in the Church of Christ and SNC was a MUST because we had to offer communion to anyone who may have missed it on Sunday morning. By all means, you better make sure to get that in!! We have our own version of SNC (better known as small group now), but it is a bit chaotic with about 10 kids all under the age of 4! Looking forward to the day when we can give them popsicles and send them outside. Thanks for bringing up some great memories, Jen!

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  44. This post brought back so many amazing memories for me. Our youth group would also hang out after Sunday nights and it was such a fun time! I even had my first real date after SNC. :) I think that on some level, small group can have that sense of a place to be authentic and hammer out life but I do love the idea of a more casual, intimate gathering (without the awkward silences of no one wanting to answer the question presented) where you have the freedom to hash out whatever.

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  45. LaDonna Rogers

    Still have SNC at my church and these are the folks that love GOD! And the kids still go out after SNC for pizza, tacos, or McAlisters and hang out together! I remember these fellowships fondly from my youth and am glad for the camaraderie it continues to create for teen Christians as Monday peaks around the corner and the world comes rushing in. Sincerely wish more adults were open to this kind of gathering but, sadly, that is not the case in my current location.

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  46. I loved SNC- and like you, we went out after church- our hangout was Pizza Hut. We had a friend who ordered anchovy pizza every time so he wouldn’t have to share- NOBODY ate anchovy pizza. We listened to the latest songs on the jukebox, talked about what to do after eating and decided who would ride with who while running the main drag in town and who had to be home early and would miss all the fun. The best day of my whole week was Sunday. We had youth choir practice and our ensemble practice in the late afternoon just before SNC and then the “after”. Thanks for bringing back those memories- and yes I’m in Texas and grew up in a Baptist Church- do you suppose it was a prerequisite for being a young person at church to have an “after” group?

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  47. amy young

    Was tagged by a friend from the old days on this post. We have had over 100 comments and now we are planning a youth group reunion in the coming weeks. Can’t wait to see and hear what the Lord has been doing in the lives of these old friends for the past 20 + years. So Thank You for this lovely article and spurring me on to reach out to special friends. It was long overdue.

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  48. I just had to stop and comment on this. First, we had that of, only we called it vespers. Occasionally my dad would be in-charge of a weekend and that usually led to him playing the organ and me singing a solo or two. I hated it back then and looked forward to it being over cause after we usually went to TCBY or Baskin-Robbins.

    Second, this is what I want in life, really wha I need. I just graduated college in may and have moved back home and I don’t really have any friends here. (There aren’t a lot of 25 year olds around) But you’re right, we need face to face community. As soon as I can find a job and move somewhere I’m doing this. I think it’s what church and life should be like. Thanks for writing this and thanks for the hope. :)

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  49. Traci

    Pajama pants, also referred to as NNP’s (night night pants), in our house. :) And SNC = Sunday Night BBQ. It will never die.

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  50. catherine

    Still have SNC, which I lovingly refer to as fireside chats. Except without the fire. Because this is Tx after all, when we need a fireplace approximately 1/2 a day in February and that is all.

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  51. Frank

    I grew going to church on Sunday mornings, Sunday nights and Wednesday nights; I really miss those extra church services! I was saved on a Wednesday night and baptized the following Sunday (which just happened to be Easter) — you just don’t see that any more.

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