Our church had hit a plateau. We continued to welcome new members, but worship attendance stubbornly remained flat. We were bumping up against what consultants call the 80 Percent Rule. When 80 percent of ideal seating is full, the feeling of crowding will limit a church’s continued growth. So we began a third worship service, and, within the year, worship attendance was on the rise again.
Growth is more likely when you use the new service as a chance to try something new and reach a completely different group of people.
Are you considering starting a new worship service? Leaders often plan new services that mirror what they already have with only minor changes. But growth is more likely when you use the new service as a chance to try something new and reach a completely different group of people. Here are some things we learned.
Take time to people-watch in your neighborhood grocery store, parks, and shopping areas. Ask your school district for their latest demographic studies. Notice the people who are part of your community, but not your church. Is there a segment you feel called to reach? A group God has already gifted you to serve? One church realized they were missing young adults. They designed a “casual yet sacred” worship service to reach them. Another realized their blended worship didn’t appeal to seniors retiring to their area. They added an early morning gospel service to appeal to them.
Venue and Time
What venue would best minister to the group you wish to reach? Get creative! Worship doesn’t have to happen in a sanctuary. Your church’s covered patio, a nearby park, or even the bar down the way might be better, depending on whom you want to reach. Choose a venue that will create a welcoming atmosphere for your target demographic. The time also has to work for those you want to involve. Test out some options. Adjust if you get it wrong in the beginning.
Row seating is not always the best option, depending on whom you wish to reach. Acknowledging this, one church removed a section of pews near the back of their sanctuary and replaced them with colorful carpet, rocking chairs, and quiet toys. Their worship space proclaims their desire to be in ministry to young families. An established downtown church filled their new fellowship hall with couches, a coffee bar, and small tables with eclectic chairs when they began a worship service that targeted people with little or no church background. Consider what type of seating would best fit the needs of the people you wish to serve.
Discover the music popular among your target group. Radio stations provide advertisers with their station’s demographics. Ask! Listen to the music blaring from that car next to you. Notice what families picnicking in the park are playing. Ministering to new groups means going beyond our own preferences to discover the types of music that sing in the souls of those we long to reach. Don’t force new people to learn your favorite praise songs or hymns. Challenge yourself to find a music style that connects with them.
Will you have a traditional sermon or an interactive discussion? Could you receive communion around tables instead of up front? How long will the service be? (Jesus never decreed one hour.) What about traditional practices such as passing the plate? When we start our fourth worship service at a local Icehouse next fall, the “offering plate” is going to be a cowboy boot near the door: perfect for people who live in our area of the Texas Hill Country, and assume that all churches talk about is money.
When you start a new worship service, design it for those you wish to reach. Allow new worship spaces to welcome unreached people into God’s house in ways that seem familiar and natural to them.
- Community Outreach Essential to Launch New Worship Site by Junius B. Dotson
- Moving Beyond Personal Preferences into Missional Thinking by Ed Stetzer and David Putman
- The Missing Person in Worship Planning by Lovett H. Weems, Jr.
- Be the Welcoming Church Video Tool Kit