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Different Strokes: 7 reasons your church should consider adding another worship service

  • Vineyard Community Church in Cincinnati, Ohio, has grown in fifteen years from six couples meeting in a living room to a congregation of three thousand that holds seven weekly worship services in its six-hundred-seat auditorium. Despite the fact that it has planted twelve daughter churches, it continues to grow. Twenty percent of its new members are recent converts. “I’m seriously praying about going to an eighth service,” says founding pastor Steve Sjogren, “because it would make room for more seekers. Even though that’s what we said about the fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh services, I still can’t find any biblical reason to stop.”
  • Westminster Presbyterian Church in Duluth, Minnesota, was a declining church in an aging community. By 1992, worship attendance averaged forty per Sunday, and the church had not reached anyone new for Christ in over five years. “They wanted to grow but didn’t know how,” said Rev. Chuck Laird, who was called as senior pastor in 1993. Two years later Westminster added a new worship service to reach Baby Boomers. By the end of the year the church was averaging over two hundred in combined attendance—the highest in its thirty-three-year history. “Through the new service we are reaching people we simply could not have reached any other way,” says Laird. “I believe God would have this church approaching one thousand within five years. But it will never happen with only two services.”
  • Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Carrollton, Texas, begins its Sunday like most other Lutheran churches—with a traditional, liturgical worship service. By the end of the week, however, they have conducted three more services, each distinct in focus and style, that attract people other than traditional Lutherans. “Each time we added a worship hour,” says Rev. Steve Wagner, “our attendance increased by 20 percent. I am amazed at the power of the worship style to define the character of the congregation attending. Offering distinctive choices simply allows more people to identify with our church and hear our message—the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

These three churches represent thousands of congregations across America. In every denomination and every part of the country church leaders are wondering about a new service. New phrases are entering our vocabulary: “alternative service,” “contemporary service,” “Saturday-night service,” “multi-congregational church,” “seeker sensitive,” “seeker targeted,” or simply “second service” (or “third” or “eighth”). But the issue is similar: Should we add another service? If so, when? And how?

I was recently part of a comprehensive five-year study conducted by Church Growth, Inc. (Monrovia, California) analyzing churches that had added a new worship service. The outcome was a detailed strategy that I believe greatly increases the probability of any church successfully beginning a new worship service. (See How to Start a New Service, Baker Books, 1997, reviewed on pp. 46-47.) One outcome of this study was the conclusion that approximately half of the 315,000 churches in the United States could add a new style of worship service to their weekly schedule of activities, and of those, eight of ten will experience a measurable increase in (1) total attendance, (2) total giving, and (3) total conversions.

Here are seven reasons why I believe your church should consider adding a new worship service in the next twelve to twenty-four months. Whether you have one service, two, three, or more, the reasons for—and value of—adding a new service do not change. You may resonate to one reason in particular. Others in your church may find a different reason more compelling. In reality, a shared congregational motive for beginning a new service is not important. What is important is a shared congregational goal—namely, to begin a new style of service within the next two years.

Reason 1: A New Service Will Reach the Unchurched

Of all the reasons to begin a new service, this should be the most compelling. To reach non-Christians should be cause enough for the 152,500 churches in America who did not add a single new convert last year. To reach non-Christians should be cause enough for the 260,000 churches currently plateaued or declining in worship attendance.

Why do new services increase the number of people a church reaches with the gospel of Jesus Christ?

A new service focuses your church’s attention on the unchurched.

Starting a new service has many similarities to starting a new church. Those who have been part of planting a new church know the strong sense of mission, group spirit, and excitement that is found in planning to reach new people with the gospel. These dynamics also occur when a church becomes involved in starting a new service. Like a new church, a new service focuses on people not presently involved in a church. Members must ask, “Who is the new service for?” “Why are we starting another service?” and “How are we going to reach these new people?” These questions—and answers—lead a church beyond its own walls.

A New Service Helps You Repackage Your Message

“In order to reach our communities with the unchanging truth and love of Jesus Christ,” observes Rev. Arnell ArnTessonni, “we may be required to remove the cultural wrapping in which we have cloaked the Good News. Frequently it is not the Word of God people are rejecting as irrelevant. It is the outdated clothing in which we have dressed our Lord” (Arnell ArnTessoni; lecture, Greenlake, Wisconsin, April, 1993).

Certain forms and liturgies become almost “sacred” to those who have grown up with them. For many sincere and well-meaning folks there is only one “right” way to worship, one “right” music to sing and play, one “right” time and “right” day to have church. Anything other than the familiar worship patterns will never seem “right.”

Starting a new-style service will force your church to ask an important question: “What are our forms, and what is our essence?” What are the changeable conventions by which we conduct church activities? And what are the essential ingredients that comprise our unchanging message? Starting a new service allows you to shed cultural or sociological forms that may be keeping you from effectively reaching a new group of people.

A New Service Allows Your Members to Invite Their Friends

Research shows that the primary way churches grow is through the invitation of members to their friends and relatives (Win Arn and Charles Arn, The Master’s Plan for Making Disciples, Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 1998, p. 43). However, too many members of non-growing churches do not invite anyone. Why? Because they don’t believe their friends or relatives would find the service interesting or relevant. When a church offers a new service that is relevant, appropriate, and well-presented, church members show a dramatic increase in the number of invitations they extend to others.

Reason 2: A New Service Will Minister to More Christians

Eighty percent of the congregations that move from one style of worship to two find their overall attendance jumps by at least 10 percent (Lyle Schaller, 44 Ways to Increase Church Attendance, Nashville: Abingdon 1988, p. 50). Whether the new service is on Saturday for the 27 percent of working Americans who cannot attend every Sunday . . . or on Thursday evening for Baby Boomers taking weekend “mini-vacations” . . . whether the new service is for those who prefer contemporary music . . . or parents who want to worship with their children in a family service, the more options you provide, the more people you will reach.

People today want choices—in their cars, their cereals, their detergents, their television programs. Businesses know that the more variety of products they offer, the more people will select one. Coca Cola offers nine choices of Coke. Ford offers seven lines of cars with a variety of color and interior options for each. This insight is crucial for churches in today’s world of choices. Offering only one service . . . at one time of day . . . on one day of the week . . . with one style says to your community: “This is your choice: take it or leave it.” Guess which option most will choose?

But when their choice is no longer “take it or leave it,” but “when” . . . “what” . . . “how” . . . or “where,” then you greatly increase people’s options. And the more choices you provide for a worship service, the more people will say yes to one of them.

Reason 3: A New Service Will Reach New Kinds of People

A new-style service will not only help you reach more non-Christians (reason 1) and help you minister to a greater number of people (reason 2), it will also help you reach different kinds of people than you are presently reaching. Here’s why.

The worship service is the primary “door of entrance” for people to become involved in congregational life. Visitors decide to become active in a church based primarily on their experience in and around the worship service. And, like it or not, your service is attractive to some people, but not attractive to others. “The simple truth is that worship cannot be culturally neutral,” says James White (Opening the Front Door: Worship and Church Growth, Nashville: Convention Press, 1992, p. 29). No single service can be all things to all people. Consequently, it is most important to ask the question,“Who finds our present service attractive?”

Most church services in America are appealing to one (and generally only one) of the following six groups. The following grid can help you consider the people to whom your existing service is attractive. And, by default, it will identify those who do not find your service attractive.

TO WHOM IS OUR PRESENT SERVICE MOST ATTRACTIVE?

A mistake some churches make in an effort to broaden the generational and/or spiritual range of people attracted to their existing service is to diversify the music or liturgical style. In so doing, however, many churches actually diminish the effectiveness of their present service among every “people group,” including their predominant one.

One style of service will not effectively reach or minister to a large number of persons in more than one of these six segments. If you desire to increase attendance in your existing service, then the best strategy is to find and focus on people in your community who are in the same category as those already comprising a majority of your present congregation. But if you desire to reach new kinds of people in your community (from different people groups than are attending your present service), you will need a new service with a style focused on this new group.

Reason 4: A New Service Will Help You Break Out of Your Normal Life Cycle

The life cycle of a church is both normal and predictable (Aubrey Malphurs, Pouring New Wine into Old Wineskins, Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, pp. 161-162; 1993). Like gravity, it is a law that simply exists. And, like it or not, all churches—including yours—are subject to it. The life cycle describes a local church’s infancy, maturity, and death. The sobering fact is that at least 80 percent of the churches in America today are on the flat or back side of their life cycles (“Is Your Church in a Mid-Life Crisis?” The Growth Report, Number 7, Monrovia, Calif.: Church Growth, Inc., 1992).

Graphically, a typical church life cycle looks like this:

In the early stages of a church’s life there is a high sense of mission among all involved. The congregation is purpose-driven. Their motivation is outreach. And the result is growth. As the formative years give way, the church reaches a comfortable size and generally stops growing. An emerging pattern of institutionalization is reflected in the increasing number of committees and the decreasing degree of accomplishment. The final stage of the life cycle—decline—often begins around a church’s fortieth or fiftieth birthday. Few, if any, members reflect the passion of the founders. Decline in worship attendance begins. And most people, including the staff, believe the church’s best days are behind them.

But what about those churches that rise above this predictable life cycle pattern and experience growth beyond the first twenty to thirty years? As we have studied and charted the growth of churches that don’t fit the mold, a fascinating pattern emerges. Rather than the constant or linear pattern of growth one might expect . . .

. . . growing churches that have broken out of their predictable life cycle reflect a “stair step” pattern of growth:

Here’s a key insight: Most churches that are growing at a time when they should be plateaued or declining have begun new life cycles! Something has interrupted the church’s normal pattern—I call it an “intervention event”—and a new life cycle has begun before the old life cycle has pulled them into decline or death.

Here is a list of intervention events that may (but do not always) initiate a new life cycle in a church (“How Do You Begin A New Life Cycle?” in The Growth Report, Monrovia, Calif.: Church Growth, Inc., March/April, 1994, p. 7).

  • Change of pastors
  • Crisis
  • Planting a church
  • Closing and then reopening a church
  • Renewal of laity
  • Denominational involvement
  • Outside consultant
  • Relocation
  • Beginning a new service

Of all the controllable intervention events that can begin a new life cycle, the establishment of a new worship service is the most likely to do so. Or, more directly: the best way to begin a new life cycle is to begin a new service.

Reason 5: A New Service Will Allow for Change While Retaining the Familiar

If you wish to attract new kinds of people to your worship service, you have essentially three options. Each option results in a fairly predictable outcome:

Option 1: Completely redesign your present service.

Outcome: This approach will indeed reach new people and potentially be the beginning of a new life cycle in a church. The cost, however, may be a considerable loss of present members who become unhappy and leave.

Option 2: Incorporate more variety into your existing service.

Outcome: The intent of this strategy is to provide a service that provides a wider range of people with something they like. A few old hymns mixed with contemporary praise songs plus a couple of 1960s choruses should make everyone happy. But in the effort to provide a service where everyone finds something they like, you will discover you have probably created a service where everyone finds something they don’t like.

With both options 1 and 2, incidentally, the financial implications of your decision should not be overlooked. Those who will leave because of the change in style are frequently larger givers than those who will be attracted. One recent study found that seven new Baby Boomer members were required to financially replace one senior adult member who left (LIFELINE Newsletter, #12 Arcadia, Calif.: L.I.F.E. International, 1994, p. 3).

Option 3: Add an additional service that offers a clear choice of styles.

Outcome: This option is based on an important principle of innovation that every church leader should memorize: Change through addition will be more successful than change through substitution. If church members feel they are losing something of value (i.e., “their” service), even though it may be for a seemingly worthwhile cause, many will resist it, believing that the benefit is not worth the cost. Through adding a new-style service, without deleting your existing one, you double your outreach and ministry potential while allowing those members who prefer the present service to continue receiving their spiritual nourishment.

Reason 6: A New Service Will Activate Inactive Members

In studying churches that have added a new-style service, I have frequently observed a serendipitous benefit—the percentage of inactive members decreases. In the typical American church approximately 40 percent of the membership attend a service on any given Sunday. Reasons for inactivity vary. But regardless of the cause, the people who stay away are nonverbally saying the cost of attending is not worth the benefit. It is not uncommon, however, to see a new-style service boost the member attendance percentages from the 40 percent range to 60+ percent.

Once a formerly active member stops attending church for longer than six months, it generally becomes too uncomfortable and too embarrassing for that person to return. A new service, however, provides a perfect “excuse” for many inactives to give that church a second chance. While they won’t usually return to the church they left, some inactives will return to something new. When sensitively invited, 15 to 20 percent of resident inactive members can be expected to try your new service.

Reason 7: A New Service Will Help Your Denomination Survive

Denominational church families that desire to be effective and vital in the twenty-first century must see a large percentage of their churches participating in one or two growth strategies: (1) the active establishing of new churches, and/or (2) the intentional starting of new services.

There is little question among church growth scholars that starting new churches is the single most important activity for assuring the future of a denomination. But is it not as commonly known that the widespread creation of new-style services among existing churches is the second most important strategy. When a large number of churches in a denomination are starting new services to reach a new target audience, they are, in effect, accomplishing many of the goals and realizing many of the benefits inherent in planting a new church.

A Challenge

Many church leaders—perhaps you among them—read about the success stories or attend the seminars of churches that seem to have “figured it all out.” How easy it seems for them, and how difficult for us.

I won’t be so presumptuous as to suggest that a new service in your church is the simple solution to all your problems. But I can tell you, with utmost certainty, that there is opportunity in your church for new growth and outreach. As long as there are unreached people groups in your community, there is an opportunity for your church to share God’s love with them. For many of these people, that love may well be experienced through a new service.

There is little question among church growth scholars that starting new churches is the single most important.