March 15, 2009
What do you do when two Sunday services are not enough? That’s the
situation Fox Valley Unitarian Universalist (UU) Fellowship in Appleton, WI (599 members), faced in
2001. Despite two services, the sanctuary and religious education classes were
still too full. “We take seriously the rule that if the sanctuary is 80 percent
full it’s time to think about another service,” says the Rev. Roger
That’s when the fellowship added Saturday to the schedule,
beginning a service at 4:30 p.m. From the beginning it was a success,
Bertschausen says. “It started strongly and built over time. It’s been a really
successful thing for us.” An average of 85 adults and 60 children and youth
attend the Saturday service. Two years ago the congregation added a third
service on Sunday. The 8 a.m. Sunday service draws an average of 35 adults
(there is no RE at that hour). The numbers at 9:15 and 10:45 a.m. are 90/30 and
Bertschausen says Saturday attracts people who have to work on
Sunday, youth and young adults who want to sleep in, seniors, and a lot of
families. “By 4:30, daytime activities are winding down,” he says. “They come to
church and then they can go out to eat afterward. It seems to be a really good
time for them. And there’s a fair amount of youth sports on Sunday morning now.”
Another reason: “About half our congregation is ex-Catholic. They’re used to
going to Mass on Saturday afternoon.”
First UU Church of San Diego (819) started a Saturday service in
October, but it’s doing less well, says the Rev. Dr. Arvid Straube. “People love
the service, although we have an attendance of only 30 or 40.” He believes the 4
p.m. start time may be too early. “We’ll be going to 5 p.m. in April. “We think
there’s a market there.”
Are there drawbacks to Saturday services? “It is more time for me,
but it’s not a big deal,” says Bertschausen. “Most of my time goes into writing
the sermon, and whether it’s for three or four services doesn’t matter. This
actually frees up Saturday night for me because I have to write my sermon before
then. And I get to bed earlier and I can enjoy Sunday morning more.” He also
gave up teaching classes on Sunday evening. “That was part of the tradeoff.” One
drawback: Saturday weddings have to be done by 3 p.m.
Bridget Kramer, director of religious education at Fox Valley,
says a Saturday service means finding more volunteers, but that hasn’t been a
serious problem. “It’s more difficult, but not that difficult.”
The bulk of the middle and high schoolers attend the Saturday
service. That works well because they don’t have to get up on Sunday morning.
After the Saturday service they often gather for social events.
Bertschausen issues a caution. “Don’t add a Saturday service
unless your staff is already fairly compensated or you are willing to take away
some other responsibility.” He adds, “A Saturday service is more likely to
succeed if you frame it as permanent rather than an experiment.” The primary
additional cost for a Saturday service at Fox Valley is for the paid pianist and
heating and cooling. The choir sings monthly at all four services.
Fox Valley is planning to build a larger sanctuary in a few years.
“Even then I’m sure we’ll keep the Saturday service,” he said. “The people that
come to it just never came on Sunday morning. This is a time that works for
Several congregations have chosen to add a third or fourth service
on Sunday afternoons. Among them are First Unitarian Church in Albuquerque, with
a contemporary service at 1 p.m.; Unity Church-Unitarian in St. Paul, MN, at
4:30 p.m.; and First Unitarian Church in Milwaukee, WI, at 5 p.m.
The First Unitarian Society of Madison, WI (1,565), holds a
third worship service at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, as does First Unitarian in Des
Moines. After several years the Saturday service was only marginally successful,
says Madison’s senior minister the Rev. Dr. Michael Schuler, “but the people who
were attending felt so strongly about it they recruited others. After four years
it was clearly sustainable.”
From 90 to 120 adults attend on Saturday, compared to 350 to 425
at each of the Sunday services. RE attendance is roughly equal at all three
services. Says Schuler, “The service itself is a little less formal, but it is
of a high quality, including music. We could not offer second-rate music and
hope to attract people.” Adding opportunities for socializing and community
building also helped, he says. “It’s easier to get to know other people. Those
who attend really enjoy that.”
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Last updated on Wednesday, September 14, 2011.
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