The worship service in churches that are over 30 years old has changed little. For those who attend such churches, the songs, the message, the schedule, and the style are predictable and comfortable. The service provides spiritual nourishment and growth that is important in participants’ lives; otherwise, they would not continue to attend. To expect faithful (and giving) members to accept substantial change in their worship style is unlikely and generally unwise.
At the same time, research indicates that people not presently active in church frequently regard such “traditional” services as “boring” and/or “irrelevant.” Because of this, they stay away in droves. In frequent contrast, those churches that are attracting unchurched persons design their service style and approach specifically to address issues of interest and relevance.
Here are four reasons why we believe nearly every church – regardless of its present worship attendance, sanctuary capacity, recent growth trend, number of staff, or existing facility – should add a new (style) service within the next year . . .
1. To reach new kinds of people
“The simple truth is that worship cannot be culturally neutral,” says James White (Opening the Front Door: Worship and Church Growth). For the most part, one service will not effectively reach or minister to more than one of these groups. To reach new “people groups” a new service – appropriate to those people – is required. (Churches that try to broaden their style to reach more people in one service, actually decrease their effectiveness and reach fewer.)
2. To provide more options
Americans want choices, in cars, cereals, detergents, television programs. Churches
that provide only one service . . . one style . . . one day of the week . . One time of day . . . are saying: “fit our schedule, or don’t come to our church.”
“Four out of five congregations that report a -change from one worship experience to two,” says Lyle Schaller, “add this was followed by an increase of 10% 20% in average attendance” (44 Ways to Increase Church Attendance). Whether the new service is on Saturday for the 27% of working Americans who cannot attend on Sunday, or 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.
3. To allow for change while retaining the familiar
If you desire to reach new people through your service, you have three choices, and three predictable outcomes: 1) Completely redesign your present service. Outcome: You will reach new people, but many present members will be unhappy and leave; 2) Incorporate more variety into your present service. Outcome: Rather than providing a service that makes everyone happy, you will likely have a service that leaves no one happy; 3) Add an additional service that offers a clear choice of styles. Outcome: You will have doubled your outreach and ministry potential, and will see new “kinds” of people begin attending.
If members sense that a change in their present service will mean losing an experience they have come to know and enjoy (even if it is for such a worthy cause as reaching new people), many will conclude that the cost is not worth the benefit. Change through addition is better than change through substitution.
Certain forms and liturgies become almost “sacred” to those who have grown up with them. But for the newcomer, they can often be irrelevant. Starting a new service allows a church to start from ground zero. The location, the style, the activities, the time of day, length of the service should all be negotiable. When a clear understanding of the “target group” is developed, then the components that make up an appropriate service can be identified and provided.
Every congregation, regardless of size, location, denomination, or present growth trends, should be offering at least two quality worship styles each week.
Here are eight guidelines for successfully beginning a new (style) service . . .
1. identify and describe your target audience.
Begin with the “target audience” grid on the opposite page. Determine which group you are presently reaching, then select a group one step away from your present congregation (horizontally or vertically). Adding a new service for this group will be much easier than moving diagonally or jumping a group.
2. Agree on the purpose/goal of the new service.
Write a one paragraph statement describing what you are trying to accomplish with the new service. This statement should be a)
measurable, b) theologically compatible, c) achievable, and d) controllable. (Welcoming the Stranger is a helpful new book on the
theology of worship as an outreach strategy.)
3. identify the relevant issues and themes to which the service can speak.
Survey your target audience, conduct focus groups, interview individuals, read books. Identify the key issues in their lives,
whether they see the church as an option, when they would consider attending, why they don’t now attend, etc.
4. Design the service/s.
Based on your research, identify appropriate themes for the services. If there are churches in your area reaching a similar group, visit their services and talk with their leaders. Don’t carry meaningless “sacred cows” into the new service.
5. Determine the time and place to meet.
One “sacred cow” may be a Sunday service. In your research, ask: “If all other things were equal, and you found a service worth your time and effort, when would it be most convenient to attend?”
6. Communicate with your target audience.
Good communication means: a) redundancy – the same message should be heard five times; b) variety – the more kinds of media used the more likely you will be heard: c) personal – individual invitations are better than mass announcements; d) interesting address issues on the minds of the receiver.
7. Follow-up visitors and prospects.
DO YOU NEED ANOTHER SERVICE?
Your subsequent contact with newcomers should have one objective: see them in church next week. The national average of first-time visitors who eventually join is 12%. The average of second-time visitors joining is 38%. The average of third time visitors who join is 55%. Do all you can to see newcomers return.
8. Evaluate the service.
Did you accomplish the goal established in Step #2? Distribute a “How was our service?” card (like those in restaurants that care about their service) to everyone in attendance. Find out which areas of the service were helpful and which were not. Then integrate the feedback in subsequent weeks.
Major building programs can do more to stunt the growth of a vital church than nearly any other issue. In addition, studies have shown that the number of pastoral breakdowns (physical, mental, moral, theological) increase dramatically during and within a year following a major church building program.
Here are four reasons why building programs often cause as many problems as they solve .
1 . The Problem of Psychological Displacement
Time breeds familiarity, which breeds comfort. With every church building program there is an inevitable displacement of the
congregation which results in a collective disorientation of the Body. Though some will handle this better than others, and newer members will not understand older members’ struggles there will be an uneasiness caused by this displacement that provides the atmosphere for tension, depression, and hostility.
2. The Problem of Anticipation Let-Down
Ninety percent of the fun of any endeavor is the anticipation. Yet, be it a vacation, a new car, a new house, or a new church building, few things turn out quite as good as expected. The average church building program lasts three years. During that time the fantasies of the congregation and pastor idealize the new building as a panacea for all ills. “Once we get in our new building …” is the response to many present problems. Such thinking is based on the frequently mistaken assumption that the church’s problems are all related to the building.
3. The Problem of Program Lag
With the intense involvement of church leaders in the building program, thoughts of how the new facility will be used for mission and ministry are often secondary. Then suddenly the building is finished! If ministry planning did not occur well in advance of the move-in, the old program seems obsolete and inadequate in the new structure. If leaders fail to initiate exciting new ideas in anticipation of the transition to the new facility, this void may appear as inadequacy of the spiritual leader.
4. The Problem of Transitional Grief
As we move through life, emotional attachments to persons, places, and things becomes inevitable. Members become attached to church buildings. It was in those buildings that some of their most meaningful life events took place. Though the structures may be archaic and deteriorated, those involved in “abandoning the church” will experience grief, and often guilt. As irrational as it may seem, both the new building and the pastor are likely targets of anger.
Don’t assume that a new building is the only solution to the facility problems you may be experiencing. In a coming issue of The Growth Report we will examine new approaches and options for space and place. In the meantime read the excellent new book When Not To Build by Ray Bowman. If you are already in a building program The Church Building Sourcebook will be a valuable resource.
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