Shared Wisdom on Adding a Second Service
Shared Wisdom on Adding a Second Service

Here are some tips from congregations who have added a second service:

Why Did You Add Another Service?

  • Being near capacity on Sunday morning 
  • We need our values (freedom, respect, tolerance, and so on) in the larger community.
  • As part of our outreach effort in young adult ministries.
  • We were 80 percent full 89 percent of the time.
  • Crowding in seating, religious education, and parking.

What Were the Biggest Challenges?

  • Just getting started took almost as long as the actual planning and implementation did. It took a lot of soul searching on why we wanted to make the effort.
  • Fear—what if we have it and no one comes. Putting it in terms of a one-year trial helped, as did knowing the experience of others, how attendance would probably drop in the three- to six-month time frame, and so on.
  • Some of the congregants were concerned about losing the closeness
  • We had a Forum that met at 9:30. It took a long time and a lot of work and involvement of the entire congregation to get them to move the Forum to 1:00 in the afternoon.
  • Whether the choir would sing at both services
  • What to do about children’s religious education.
  • Opposition to having two congregations and not seeing friends.
  • Convincing the few who were opposed that we really needed this.
  • Getting the timing of the services right to balance attendance.
  • Getting over our history of its not working last time.
  • Recruiting more religious education teachers and persuading the choir to spend additional time at church on Sundays.

What Went Better Than You Imagined?

  • We hoped for fifty people on the first Sunday early service—we had seventy-five.
  • It was remarkably simple to gather a group of young adults who wanted to learn and to practice the arts of worship.
  • The actual change to two services went very smoothly, in part because we had taken so much time to consult the congregation and get their buy-in and consent.
  • After spending a year talking about it, nobody really said much after we did it.
  • My stamina was better than I thought it would be.
  • Pretty much all the logistics, like finding enough ushers and making sure we had coffee ready after both services.
  • From the beginning, attendance at the first service was better than we imagined it would be. 

What Was the Biggest Surprise?

  • I was hoping for about forty people to start with. We started with about sixty. 
  • For a while there was a cultural difference between the two services. One was more lively than the other. Over time, that changed.
  • How little trauma it all caused.
  • Nice to have aisles again.

What Was the Biggest Disappointment?

  • Not enough greeters.
  • It has been a less effective outreach tool than we had hoped.
  • The religious education program at the early service has been very slow in coming up to speed.
  • There is a loss. I know that some people do miss seeing “everybody” on Sunday morning. 
  • I’m sure some folks wish we could all gather as one body on Sunday, but with the growth we have experienced, it just wouldn’t be practical.
  • That many families are not willing to spend more than an hour at church, attending both religious education classes and worship services; there are a surprising number of children who come only for the religious education classes.

What Do You Wish Someone Had Told You Before?

  • Be sure your hospitality committee is ready.
  • Keep the additional service focused on outreach, or it will naturally become one more enrichment program for the people who are already active in the church. 
  • I wish they had told me it was not really a big deal.
  • How much more tired I’d be doing two services than I was with only one. I learned very quickly that I need to sit down between the two services. 
  • The follow-up assessment and report to the congregation on the transition are really important to some people and should not be skipped.

What Is Your Best Advice for Others?

  • Get as much of the congregation involved as possible, do your research, give it time, and be honest about why you want to make this change.
  • Remember what worship is for, work hard at it, and then let go.
  • Always provide excellent childcare or, better yet, structured religious education classes.
  • Be sure that whoever leads worship at your church has a strong sense of ritual authority.
  • Make sure the congregation has opportunities to express their views and concerns. Make certain the transitional work is defined, organized, and implemented prior to the change.
  • Take as much time as you need. Getting a large congregation to change its ways of relating is very time-consuming.
  • I think it would have helped if we could have changed the time of the original service as well.
  • DO IT. It serves more people. Get over the hesitation. Plow ahead.
  • Start early! We began studying the situation and doing public relations work with the congregation a year and a half before we began to hold two services. We worked long and hard to get congregational buy-in, as well as to gather all the wisdom from others who had done this before.
  • We presented the idea to the congregation as a “pilot program,” which helped with some of those who were very worried that it would ruin their experience. They could agree to a trial program much more easily than they would have agreed to an immediate permanent change. By the time the pilot period was over (one year), the vote to institutionalize two services was easy.
  • Keep everyone involved in the process. Consult with everyone who will be affected by the change. Let them know you care about what they think. Take their input seriously, but don’t be held prisoner by people who are simply afraid of change.
  • Communication with the congregation and the congregation’s trust in church leadership are key. The congregation needs to make a clear decision to grow. Leaders need to clearly communicate the negative impact of crowding on growth.
  • In making the decision and following through with it, leaders should expect some resistance to change and plan for it.
  • Don’t make such a change abruptly, without giving people a chance to be heard and to understand the issues and the various alternatives. The amount of process needed for acceptance varies with the congregational culture, of course.

About the Author

  • The regional Congregational Life staff are congregations' local connection to the UUA. All of the program Congregational Life staff have expertise in most aspects of congregational life and each also has a few program areas of expertise. See the UUA Congregational Life Staff...

For more information contact conglife@uua.org.

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