Book: How to Start a New Service

How to Start a New Service by Charles Arn. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1997. 269 pp. $17.99US/24.30 CDN

Charles Arn’s book is a technician’s delight. Its aim is clear. Its approach is confident. Its process is comprehensive. If you are thinking about starting another worship service in your congregation’s ministries, don’t do it until you have read this book (see also his article on p. 22).

Arn is in tune with most current views of church growth technology. If our congregational ministries are intended to engage our communities in order to transform hearts and increase the numbers of Jesus’ disciples as a result, then adding one or two or three or more new worship expressions must be considered honestly. Too many of us get rutted in the “usual” ways of ministry and forget what ministry itself is all about. The church is not in the business of propagating external forms and practices; it is the front line of the kingdom, giving shape to the world of tomorrow in the middle of today’s news and mess. Adding another worship service may indeed, as Arn confidently suggests, help us recover our vision of reaching beyond ourselves for Jesus.

Yet while Arn’s insights are 20/20 in the technician’s department, they may not see the whole landscape. It unnerves me a bit, for example, when Arn talks about “Churches That Should Not Add a New Service” (pp. 15ff.) and begins the list this way: “Do not add a new service if community is the highest priority of your church.”

Here is where the technician runs ahead of the visionary. Arn is thinking, of course, of congregations that are tightly knit and would be threatened by newcomers into “their” fellowship. With him I am disappointed in congregations that hug themselves in a huddle with no room for others of Jesus’ friends.

But when Arn pits “worship service” over against “community,” there is a seismic shift in worldview taking place. The church must be about “community” just as much as it is about “evangelism.” When worship services become a means by which to multiply Sunday numbers, and additional worship services the tool used to expand the diversity of demographic types, true mission may not result. How do all these people connect? Where do they become the body of Christ? What leads them beyond the attractiveness of time or style or convenience, or the programmatic excellence of the worship expressions toward authentic Christian testimony and lifestyle?

I hope many churches will follow Arn’s technical advice. But I also hope that they will go beyond the technician’s expertise to make sure that whatever expressions of worship or ministry are explored, all will bring people to Jesus (not just nice and convenient worship services), build true Christian community (not only add numbers), and foster transformation (not merely make people feel good about where they are at today).

One more thing. Arn emphasizes worship services as the main or first way non-churched people connect with a church and its ministries. That assumption is based on a common fallacy of Western Christendom, namely that the church is found in its liturgy. One of the reasons we are often less effective in our witness as Christians is that we turn our faith into “churchianity” and attempt to get people to our Sunday “main events” without engaging them in true social and personal transformation. Arn will help us get more people to worship services. My question to him and to myself is this: “Do I fix a problem by making my mistakes more endearing?”

Wayne Brouwer is a professor at Hope College, Holland, Michigan, and the atuhor of several books and articles on worship, preaching, and congregational development.