Any change is difficult for an organization, but the change in number of worship services seems to prompt some particular fears and feelings. They need to be articulated, recognized, affirmed, and responded to so the change can move forward effectively. The following are some common concerns and suggeted ways to respond to them.
Adding an Additional Worship Service Will Split the Congregation, and We’ll Lose the Sense of Being One Religious Community
When more than one service is held, things do change. Sometimes members’ best friends (or their children’s best friends) end up going to another service. Sometimes when more people come to a service, longer-term members feel they don’t know anyone anymore. The losses are real, and it is best if the congregation talks openly and honestly about them. This discussion needs to take place in an atmosphere where people can truly communicate their concerns. Immediately addressing the concerns and seeking quick solutions is tempting, but it can result in the need for long-term remedial work.
People’s concerns should not be overestimated, and many of them can be overcome. Often the “we know everyone here” feeling is more a sense of recognizing the faces rather than truly being one big, happy congregation where everyone knows everyone’s name. Talking about this reality can help alleviate concerns. Also, friends and families can check with one another about the services they will each attend, and they can plan to attend the same one to mitigate the sense of loss. The congregation can (and should) plan several all-congregation social events, where people from the various services can interact with one another. It may be possible to hold a joint social time between services, if parking space and timing allow. Communication must be heightened; with more than one service, things need to be said more than once, and in a variety of ways. Written communication may become paramount.
If We Add More Services, We Will Lose the Family Feeling in Our Congregation; We Will Be Too Big
The concern that they will lose their close-knit feeling is heard from all sizes of congregations. Yet congregations of all sizes can be friendly or not, depending on the atmosphere they cultivate and how they choose to interact. Family feeling can be there, whether the family is a two-person unit or one that includes multiple generations and extended groupings. The major determining factor is how people relate to one another and whether they have the chance to fit in and be seen. Some congregations have found that small group ministries or other sorts of affinity or interest groups break down that sense of isolation and allow places for members to meet others and interact more personably than they can during corporate collective worship. Other congregations find that offering active social justice programs is a way to connect people, whereas others rely upon continuing education programs for this linkage.
We Already Have a Problem Staffing Our Religious Education Program; With Another Service We Will Be Stretched to the Breaking Point
This legitimate concern is hard to deal with, and it reveals one of the paradoxes of congregation life. Often we tout our children as the future, yet too often a struggle ensues to find enough people willing to teach our most precious resources, regardless of the number of services. Adding an additional worship service calls for creativity in solving this problem, yet it also provides a unique opportunity for recruitment.
Because an additional service will be held, some people who have been reluctant to teach because it meant giving up worship now have the chance to do both—teach and attend services. Or it may be a time to try a different structure, such as team teaching, shorter terms, interest centers, or parent volunteer commitments. Team teaching allows a natural flow of several individuals through the classroom but doesn’t require teachers to forgo worship for a large number of Sundays in a row. By seeking out curricula of a fixed length—one month, two months, or ten weeks—teachers may make a finite, limited commitment. If parents are required to teach, the pool of teachers increases; fewer people feel trapped into the commitment, because it is shared more widely. Clearly, good cooperation, coordination, and involvement of the religious educators are needed as the congregation moves forward into implementing an additional service, but the obstacles can be overcome when the desire to add a service is real.
How Will We Handle All the Events After Worship When We Have More Than One Service?
If the additional service is on the same day as the preexisting service, the nature of congregational life on that day will change. If congregational meetings have historically followed the single Sunday service, then a decision must be made: to hold the meeting between the services, hold the meeting after the later service while dealing with overcrowding on that one day, or hold the meeting on an entirely different day and at a different time. Special celebrations will need to be examined, too. Some congregations handle special celebrations by doubling the events, others rotate them through the day’s calendar, and still others change things more dramatically by changing the days and times of the events altogether. Some congregations have moved pre-service events to a time slot after the last service, and at least one congregation has discovered an increased interest in the former pre-service event since it was moved. Many congregations leave events after the later service; they find that some members and friends who attend the early service come back for the special events, whereas others choose not to return. Every congregation will have to wrestle their way to the decisions that work well for them.
If We Go to Two Services During Our Building Campaign, Will We Be Able to Go Back to One Service After That?
Some congregations move to the use of multiple services as a temporary measure. Most often they are beginning a building addition, and their dream is to return to one service after the building is completed. For some congregations this strategy has worked, and they return to one service quite happily. Others, though, have found that the growth they experienced during the building process was so great that even after the new space was completed they could not return to a single service. Every situation will be different, and this question should be addressed during the planning phase: What happens if it turns out that we cannot return to one service? For some congregations this scenario would be a crisis and for others, a great opportunity and success. The possibility, though, should be addressed before the problem arises.
How Long a Trial Period Is Necessary, and How Do We Know If the Addition of Another Service Was a Mistake?
If a trial period is desired, it should last at least six months, and preferably a year. Some congregations have noticed an initial increase in attendance at the additional service, only to notice a decline as people reconsidered what worship patterns work well for them. Later, attendance at the additional service picked up, and overall attendance once again increased. Making a decision too soon may hamper growth for the foreseeable future, whereas with patience, concerns may evaporate over a longer period.
Some congregations find that the additional service is not successful in addressing either overcrowding or outreach. Before dropping the service, they should assess why it has not succeeded. Was there adequate congregational support? Are age-appropriate religious education and childcare offered? Is the style of worship appropriate for what the congregation is trying to achieve or for the target population, if one exists? Was the time of the existing service changed so that people would be forced to make a real decision about their churchgoing habits? Is the time and day of the additional service the problem, and what would happen if it were changed? Did the planning committee understand the needs it was trying to address by the additional service? Congregations may find that evaluating the process and the service will provide solutions other than eliminating the additional service.
Sometimes the additional service does not work for a variety of reasons, both internal and external to the congregation. The closing of a major employer may reduce the level of attendance and membership, and internal congregational fights often have disastrous effects on attendance and membership patterns. In cases where the service is clearly no longer necessary or where it is not fulfilling the actual needs of the congregation and community, it should be ended. The congregation should celebrate the success that occurred and pay attention to those things that did not work, keeping good notes for people to review in future congregational planning.
What If We Can’t Decide Whether or Not to Add a Service?
Success in adding a service increases as the support from the congregation increases. Although a service could be added if 51 percent of the congregation were in favor, chances are that a service with such low support would not succeed. Under these conditions the plan is better put on hold or refocused as an education process rather than risk the failure of a plan with only a lukewarm response. If a decision cannot be reached, then more discussion is recommended, paying particular attention to the reasons for resistance. Deciding not to decide is also a decision—one that shows the level of ambivalence, fear, or concern in the congregation. Stepping back, listening more deeply to the voiced and unvoiced concerns, and addressing them before proceeding is advised. What is clear is that if no broad-based support emerges for the decision to add another service, the new service will not be successful.
Communication Is Difficult Enough Now; What Will Happen When We Add an Additional Service?
As congregations grow, communication techniques must become more deliberate and effective. The best advice is to repeat, repeat, repeat. Spoken announcements made at one service must be made at all services, and people must be more intentional about planning ahead in the promotion of events and in sharing news and information. Written communication becomes more critical through the order of service, video displays and newsletters, and Web sites and social media accounts are essential tools today. (Take care, though, to ensure that information is equally available to all. Electronic communication works well for those who have access to a smart phone or computer, but if information is shared only through this medium, those who do not have access to it are shut out.)