The Huntsville First Seventh-day Adventist Church in Huntsville, Alabama will begin offering a Sunday morning service called "Surge Church" this weekend. Billed as a casual, come-as-you-are worship service, the 10:00am event aims to attract "unchurched" community members, according to an article in AL.com, an Alabama-based media outlet. First Church senior pastor Debleaire K. Snell told AL that the congregation communicated their intent to South Central Conference leadership, who allowed the service to proceed.
"We have communicated to the Conference office because they wanted clarity on this, but once we communicated the purpose to them, they saw that it is not a big deal," Snell said, according to AL's report.
The article went on to note Snell's insistence that the new contemporary service would not supplant Saturday worship services at First Church, but would supplement them. The service will target non-members who may feel more comfortable with the idea of Sunday services as practiced in most Christian denominations. The service will be offered for the first time this Sunday, February 8.
The Huntsville First Church is less than two miles from the campus of Oakwood University, and all three of its pastors are Oakwood graduates.
According to the First Church website, Snell, a Florida native, graduated with a B.A. in theology from Oakwood in 1999, and graduated with his M.Div. from Andrews University in 2001. In the four years Snell has served as First Church senior pastor, the congregation has seen rapid growth. Snell has twice been named South Central Conference Pastor of the Year.
Alfonzo Green, pastor for Discipleship and Administration also received an M.Div. from Andrews, and is currently pursuing a D.Min. degree in Missional Leadership.
Alfred Hill, pastor for Visitation and Pastoral Care, served in several districts in Mississippi and Alabama before joining the Huntsville First Church staff.
Snell expects some current members to attend the new "Surge" Sunday service. According to the AL report,
Snell said that many of his members have said they're likely to come on Sunday even after attending the Saturday, 11:30 a.m., service. The Sunday service, he said, would be a bit shorter, more informal and more focused on teaching than the Saturday service.
But in case there was doubt about the congregation's beliefs about the Sabbath, the church's website spells them out. The church's statement of beliefs includes a paragraph entitled "Jesus' Day" that states,
JESUS' DAY comes each week on the seventh day (Saturday). He called Himself Lord of this day and He faithfully observed each Sabbath. Because He initiated it during creation week (before the entrance of sin), Jesus desired that all of His people would keep this day as a memorial to His creative power. He also reminded us that His Sabbath is a sign of His power to deliver us. It is, indeed, the Lord's Day. This weekly Sabbath is a foreshadowing of the rest Jesus will one day give His people in Heaven! Mark 2:27-28; Colossians 1:15-17;Genesis 2:1-3; Hebrews 4:1-11
Still, that did not seem to appease many concerned commenters on the AL.com article, who clearly considered holding services on Sunday anathema.
One commenter called Shaz said, "As an ex-Muslim who became a Seventh-day Adventist I have kept, to the best of my ability, the Sabbath of the Lord, not always perfectly, but always intent on it, and I want to add the Sabbath of the Lord is NOT Sunday!"
Another respondent, Rudy Butler, had stronger words still:
Wrong choice! A Seventh-day Adventist Church should not have the formal worship service on Sunday. Here are the reasons: Sabbath worship is one of the identifying marks of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. That day sets Seventh-day Adventists aside from all the other protestant churches. Having Sunday worship will confuse the world about who Seventh-day Adventists are.
Nevertheless, if the Huntsville First Church's recent growth is an indication of its successful attempts to bring in new members, this new service may be more of the same.
Jared Wright is managing editor of SpectrumMagazine.org.