One Sunday Morning, Two Worship Styles: Twelve churches tell how it works

The 930 a.m. service has ended, and the organist slips off the organ bench with her Handel and Bach pieces. Downstairs, the choir members are hanging up their robes. The director congratulates them on having sung a difficult arrangement of "Praise to the Lord, the Almighty." A few members come back up to the sanctuary and begin setting up for the 11:OO service.

Microphones, sound monitors, and music stands come from the equipment room. A pianist sets up her electronic keyboard, and a bass player plugs his guitar into the amplifiers. Three choir members, now minus their robes, stand around the keyboard and discuss how many times they'll repeat the chorus on "Shine, Jesus, Shine." One of them steps off the platform to set up the slide protector and check that all the songs are in order.

Twenty minutes later, the second service is in full  swing. An older woman from the first service lingers  in the narthex, talking to a group of friends over coffee.  Listening to the unfamiliar music and the heavy  bass beat, she shakes her head. "I don't know how  they can call it church-what goes on in there," she says.

Who's Doing This —and Why?

Two distinctly different morning services~it's a  growing trend in Reformed, Christian Reformed,  Presbyterian, and other similar coneresations. What's the reasoning behind this move? Is it simply adesire for an alternative style of worship? What does it have to do  with community outreach and evangelism?

Reformed Worship explored these questions with  twelve churches who have made the decision to have  two services. These congregations are surprisingly  diverse, and they've had varying degrees of success  with the second service. But their thinking and their  experiences blend together into a remarkably similar  picture of why some congregations should consider a  second-and different-morning service. They also  give lots of advice regarding the challenges and pitfalls  of introducing a new style of worship.

It Takes All Kinds

What kind of church would consider adding a second,  more contemporary service to its Sunday morning?  Not just young churches. Those who responded  to RW's questionnaire range in age from 10 to 100-  plus years.

Not just the churches whose people are young,  either. Some who responded report that as many as  30 percent of their members are over the age of 60.  (Most, however, average 10-15 percent membership  in the over-60 range.) As a general rule, however, the  under-40 membership in churches who make this  decision is at least 60 percent.

Geographically, the churches dot the map from  the east coast to west coast, from British Columbia in  the north to Maryland in the south. They are evenly  divided between urban, suburban, and small-town  churches.

The congregations stretch from 80-plus to 800-plus worshipers each Sunday. Most, however, averageover 400 worshipers in their morning services combined.

One common factor: the second service is relatively new for each church; most started up between1990-93.

Why Did They Do It?

Setting up an entirely new second service  demands a huge amount of time, planning, energy,  and thought-a point mentioned repeatedly by  churches who responded. It also opens the door to  criticism and potential division.

So why did these churches do it?

Two-thirds of the churches surveyed appear to  have "fallen into" a second service, due to crowded  sanctuaries. Some were "packed out" on Sunday  mornings. Others were about 80 percent full and  knew that in order to grow numerically they  needed at least 25 percent of their seating empty  on Sunday mornings.

It's important to note, though, that these  churches have deliberately chosen to give a different  flavor to the second service, rather than making  it a carbon copy of the first. In almost every  case, this decision has been motivated by a desire  for community outreach. Listen to what one worship  coordinator wrote to his committee:

The big decision that remains for the church is whether  to make a second service alternative in style, and ifso,  which model to choose. . . . To offer two identical services  would not be advantageous. I believe that this is  especially true because ofthe nature ofour o.f our. first service.  While the liturgy, music, etc. of the 9:30 service is very appealing to many church members and is a big part of[our church's] identity, I don't believe that it is especially appealing to unchurched people.

Half of the churches surveyed mentioned that some members desired a more contemporav, less formal worship service. But in most cases, that was secondary to the desire for community outreach.

"The original purpose of our second morning service  was to provide a kind of service that our members  could bring their friends, coworkers and  neighbors who were unchurched to, so that they  could hear the gospel," writes one pastor.

Another senior pastor says that his church  "decided to present a broader spectrum of appeal  by having two styles of worship for a broader target  in the community."

A third wrote, "Congregational planning was  very beneficial to our congregation. A majority  decided that the church needs to evangelize and we  truly want to be a community-oriented church.  With this behind us, it was easier to implement a  seeker-type service. In other words, we implemented  a seeker-sensitive service to reach out to  the community, not just for the sake of change."

What Do These Services Look Like?

For most churches, the new service is a departure  from tradition. The original service-which  remains unchanged, for the most part-has followed  a predictable format of Reformed liturgy,  with psalms and hymns sung from songbooks, usually  accompanied by organ and led by the pastor  (or whoever is preaching). If the church has a choir,  it sings one or two anthems weekly or biweekly.  Responsive readings and special numbers are common,  as is the traditional offering, collected by deacons  and accompanied by organ or piano offertory.

Some of the churches surveyed have made only  mild changes to this format in the second service.  They substitute a few contemporary praise choruses  for some hymns, add the piano to the organ,  and use a song leader during the opening songs.  Aiming for a more informal style, they encourage  prayer requests and a "family" feel to the sharing  time.

The majority of the churches, however, have  made dramatic changes. Setting the organ aside  altogether, they bring out the piano or an electronic  keyboard, drums, bass guitars, and other  instruments. These instrumentalists often join with vocalists and worship leaders to form a "praise team" that is responsible for leading the entire worship  service except for the greeting from God, congregational prayer time, the Scripture and sermon, and the parting blessing (with some variations). In other words, the praise team relieves the pastor of almost everything but preaching and praying.

In most of these services, music is lively and contemporary. If familiar hymns find their way into the liturgy, they are sung with a contemporary beat.  Songs often flow from one into the other, with  words projected onto an overhead screen so that worshipers are free to raise their hands during worship and don't have to fumble with unfamiliar  songbooks.

A few churches regularly include drama that  relates to the Scripture reading. The pulpit is sometimes  moved to the side so that the pastor can  stand on the level of the people. The person leading  the prayers asks for requests or personal sharing  before beginning to pray. There may be laying on  of hands during prayer for those with special  needs. Testimonies are welcome.

Members are sometimes asked to leave their  pews for communion, gathering in smaller, more  intimate groups to receive the bread and wine.  And, out of sensitivity to visitors who may be suspicious  of requests for money, the offering boxes  are placed at the back door.

These changes, while considered the norm in  many new, growing, evangelical churches, can bea  great leap for churches of the Reformed tradition.

Change = Pain

Change, of course, often brings discomfort and  opposition. Words like "divisive," "emotional," and  even "vicious" surfaced occasionally in the questionnaires.

A few churches have somehow escaped this  pain. One pastor notes, "We have totally avoided  (by God's grace) any divisiveness or the sense of two different congregations ("the real Christian versus the churchgoer," etc.1, but this has just happened on its own - not by our design." Another reports, "It has not been divisive-fears have proven to be unfounded."

Younger churches may have the advantage here-especially if they have been started with a vision of outreach and evangelism. One church (this one only ten years old) has made such a strong commitment to community outreach that both of its services are predominantly contemporary-with no complaints. Another young congregation (also ten years old) that has doubled its membership in the last two years writes, "There is little negative reaction along the lines of being a  fragmented or segmented congregation. From day  one we have been committed to growth, and that  will not change."

At least half of the churches, however, report  having to struggle with a backwash of negative criticism  in their congregations. "There were feelings  of jealousy," writes one pastor. "Those who  strongly prefer traditional worship didn't like the  fact that two-thirds were attending the less traditional  worship service." As a result, he notes, "I  think that a feeling of division dampened the  evangelistic spirit."

One church that tried a "Willow Creek"  approach to its seeker service reports that "unfortunately  the service has evolved into a contemporary  service where the younger generation has separated  themselves from the older to worship the  way they want. . . . The church has certainly  become more 'open' to new people and the new  people have brought other newcomers. However,  the church continues to grieve the separation of  the young and old as well as the lost sense of 'one  church."'

Another congregation began a "seeker-sensitive"  format at its second service for six months, then evaluated  whether to make this service a permanent part  of the church. "At the end of six months, it failed permanent  passage by three votes. The traditional opposition  grew and became emotional and somewhat  vicious during the next six months, with the result  that it was voted out."

A worship coordinator describes the struggle  between the two factions at her church this way: "I  am relatively new here . . . and I was very shocked  at the strong feelings and statements that were  being thrown back and forth between these two  groups of worshipers. In ill honesty, I wondered  what I was getting myself into."

Because of such divisiveness, two of the  churches surveyed have decided to go back to a single  morning worship service, hoping instead to  simply give a more contemporary flavor to their  traditional format.

What Worked?

The way in which the second service is received  seems to be directly tied to how thoroughly the congregation  is prepared for the change. Does everyone  in the congregation understand the mission purpose  behind the new service? Do they agree with it? Do  they feel ownership of it?

Churches reported that a strong sense of vision or  purpose on the part of some leaders doesn't always  translate into strong ownership by the congregation.  The churches that were most successful in introducing  the second service held "open forum" meetings  regularly, both before and after the new service was  in place, to air questions and feelings.

Another key factor for most churches was the congregation's  commitment to community outreach. If  members were convinced that their neighbors preferred  a contemporary format and if members were enthusiastic about evangelism, the congregation was  much more willing to sacrifice its own comfortable  format for the sake of making others feel at home. As  one worship coordinator stressed, "You must have a  clear sense of purpose as to why you should have two  different services. Keeping the congregation informed  and behind the effort is imperative!"

Counting the Cost

It's important for congregations who are considering  this change to count the cost of adding  resources they will need to provide a new service. A traditional Reformed service requires one organist; a  contemporary service can require a keyboard player,  drummer, several guitars, singers, and a person gifted  in leading the worship. An adequate sound system is  crucial, as are copyright privileges and a good overhead  projector and screen. Because of the "flow" necessary  in such a service, the teams need extra  rehearsal time and the "order of worship" demands  careful planning.

All this translates into extra time and effort on the  part of the congregation. "Our greatest challenge is to  train enough worship leaders and worship teams so  that burnout is minimal. It takes a lot of effort to  equip and encourage the worship teams," writes one  pastor.

But that's not the only cost. Congregations who  take this step should expect newcomers to join the church-and to need nurture, assimilation, and training.  Most of the churches surveyed listed this as a significant challenge. The largest church surveyed, which has gained about two hundred new members in the past two years, reports,

Our chief problem is assimilating (more specifically,  discipling) new members, many of whom are new  Christians or nominal Christians. . . . We have a number  ofsmall groups, but they are hard to find andget  into for new members (a continual frustration). . . .  Most new members are assimilated into our adult  Sunday school program between the two services at  9:30. This has grown 164 percent over the past five  years. The two congregations relate and blend at 9:30.

Almost half of the churches responding to the  questionnaire do not have a significant small-group  ministry in place. Four said they rely mainly on  Sunday school or other adult educational groups to  assimilate new members; two mentioned church  socials and potlucks. A few encourage their new  members to become involved in the church's ministry  by identifying and using their spiritual gifts.

The Fruits of Their Labors

The hidden costs can be higher than anticipated,  but they also bear fruit. In the past two years, all of  the churches involved in the surveyÑeve the "divisive"  " cases~havese en growth rather than decline.  Two of them report that over two hundred people  have either joined or begun attending church regularly  during that period. Over half report between  fifty and one hundred new attenders in the past two  years. One pastor notes,

It has increased evangelistic interest in that manypeopie  are excited about both our services and are bringing  unchurched friends. . . . Both services are well  attended: 250 to 325 at the traditional service, and  170 to 200 at the contemporary service (which began  with a mere25people meeting in ourchapel, just three  years ago). Although there is a wide cross section ofall  age brackets at both services, there are more families  with youngchildren, andmorepeople in the twenty- to  thirty-five-year age bracket at the contemporary service.  A majority of the people in our new members  classes seem to come out of that service. Many ofthese  new members testin that they were initially drawn to  our church by the presence and quality of the contemporary  service, and yet they also appreciate the availability  ofboth styles ofworship services.

Those churches located in college towns have enjoyed large numbers of students attending the second service. A Canadian church reports, "God had brought to us... a number of young adults, some with Christian Reformed Church background, most with other or no church background, who come and attend regularly. It's been a good experience. We are  now thinking of going to a Saturday evenmg format  of praise and worship, with contemporary message,  geared to young people and young adults."

A young suburban church in the Midwest writes,  "We have experienced such significant growth in our  education and youth programs that we find ourselves  unable to accommodate increasing growth onsite.  We find ourselves in the position of having to  plan for our second building in less than three years  after occupying our first facility."

Is growth primarily from transfers? In most cases,  no. Typical of the churches surveyed, one congregation  reports, "The [community] group has added  about fifteen folks, the [traditional] about seven or  eight. The [community] additions were previously  without a church; the other additions were transfers!'

There is one exception to this: a church that sees  its second service primarily as an alternative for its  own members. "Quite a few people have begun to  attend the service (perhaps 50-100) who did not  attend before. About twelve have joined because of  the service. All of them transferred their membership  from other churches. Not one person has made a profession  of faith or become a Christian because of the  second service." The pastor notes that those who  attend this service do so "to worship the way they  want." The tone of his responses communicates the  tension that this approach has caused.

In other words, merely changing the style is not  the key to making worship evangelistic. Pastors and  worship leaders make it plain that the church's heart  must be firmly committed to avision of reaching out  in its community. That alone will get members "over  the hump" of having to change their familiar, comfortable  form of worship.

Pray, Pray, Pray

No one says starting a second service will be easy  or that it's something every congregation should do.  Because of the level of commitment demanded from  such a move, congregations should not plan a second  service unless they firmly believe God is callmg  them to do so-and are willing to pay the price in  time, money, and ministry.

Perhaps the advice most pertinent to Pentecost  comes from a seasoned worship coordinator: "If you  don't feel you have the support you need, wait and  pray."

One minister echoes this: "It was clear to us that  God's timing enabled us to start this service. I would pray that everyone who considers such a change  would have as clear an indication from God that he  was bringing together the resources to start this ministry."

"Pray together!" writes a pastor. "Bathe the  process in prayer, both personal and especially congregational,"  adds another.

Pentecost prayer can be powerful. "After the  believers had prayed, the place where they were  meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the  Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly." This  quote, of course, comes not from the questionnaires  but from the Acts of the Apostles, But next yearwho  knows? Whole communities and congregations  may be shaken by God's Spirit.



Advice from the Front Line

RW asked, "What two pieces of advice would you give to churches considering a move to two services?" Pastors and worship coordinators responded with lots of suggestions.

  • Recognize that people appreciate choices, particularly in worship
  • Try not to throw the baby out with the bath water. Keep what is good, beneficial, and edifying from your tradition and enhance it with contemporary vehicles that do not compromise your Reformed faith.
  • Recognize that many members think more traditionally about worship than they reflect biblically in worship. We need to assist and encourage our members to study Scripture for its guidance in our worship.
  • Recognize that some members might leave if you start a new service, but that too might be okay. Be certain the consitory is firmly committed to the concept of two services and the reasons for this change
  • Make sure you talk about it — a lot. Let people express their fears ("This will split the church," "We'll have two congregations of people who don't know each other," etc.) Have leadership (staff and council) committed to making the change before presenting the idea to the congregation. That is, staff should be united, then the council will be united, and then it will "fly" in the congregation
  • Communication is important between council and congregation-haveTown Meetings every month to update what's going on.
  • Communicate, be open with each other, talk about potential problemsbefore they turninto baggage for your congregation.
  • Make sure the services are different enough from each Other to offerpeople a dear choice of worship style.
  • Talk to churches who have already done it, so you're not reinventing thewheel (especially the glitches). And be sure to think about child careand sound system needs.

Who Are Your Neighbors?

Craig Van Gelder, a professor at Calvin Seminary who has done extensive  research into the makeup of contemporary North American society,  stresses that music and "small courtesies" in the service will be a key factor  in making neighbors feel at home. A congregation that wants to draw in its  neighbors will want to look carefully at what will help its neighbors feel  'drawn in."

For example, churches in a low-income, primarily African-American,  urban neighborhood will probably want a service that is informal, responsive, and lively, a service that

  • uses down-to-earth language.
  • mixes gospel and perhaps some rap music with traditional hymns
  • allows flexibility in the worship for lingering on a particular chorus or prayer need or sermon point.

Congregations whose neighbors are mostly baby boomers shouldbe aware  that this "mission field" prefers some of the following elements in worship:

  • conversational "90s" English (no religious jargon)
  • contemporary music ranging from pop to light rock to country or jazz
  • choruses that not only feed the mind but stir the emotions
  • lively drama
  • exuberant and spontaneous worship
  • sincerity rather than slick performances
  • highly practical Bible application


Questionnaire for Worshipers at Second Service
  1. Did anything in the service distract from your worship?
  2. Did the worship leader help you worship? Why or why not?
  3. Were the songs easy to sing?
  4. Do you have any comments about the musicians? Song leaders?
  5. Did the drama relate to the sermon?
  6. Did the sermon communicate a message to you personally?
  7. Was the time of sharing and prayer helpful in guiding your prayer?

-submitted by Ann Arbor CRC

Churches Who Participated in the Survey

RW is grateful to the following congregations for their valuable help in taking the time to respond to this survey:

Harderwyk Christian Reformed Church, Holland, Michigan
Olentangy Christian Reformed Church, Columbus, Ohio
First Christian Reformed Church, Calgary, Alberta
Haven Christian Reformed Church, Zeeland, Michigan
Fourth Community Fellowship (CRC), Mount Vernon, Washingtop
Aim Arbor Christian Reformed Church, Ann Arbor, Michigan
Faith Community Church, Wyckoff, New Jersey
Central Presbyterian Church of Baltimore (PCUSA), Baltimore, Maryland
New Hope Reformed Church, Powell, Ohio
First Reformed Church, Oak Harbor, Washington
First Christian Reformed Church, Langley, British Columbia
Trinity Reformed Church, Orange City, Iowa

Edith Bajema is a freelance writer and editor and a member of Oakdale Park Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan.


Reformed Worship 35 © March 1995, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Used by permission.