Offer Them Christ
The Weblog Of J.F. Howard

What I Have Learned About Starting A New Worship Service (Part 2) Get Widespread Buy-In

As an observer of two very different new worship service starts (one I envisioned and led, and other I inherited after one year), I have learned how crucial it is for the health of the new service, to get the buy-in of as many current members as possible.

It is hard enough to reach unchurched people in our world today, but if the existing church members are working against the start of a new service, the task is much more difficult.

In order to get the new service I helped envision and create off to a good start, I spent a good deal of time meeting with individuals who were questioning the need for a new service. I found the folks all seemed to have similar questions: “Why do we need a new service?” “Why is it going to be held in the fellowship hall?” “Will the new service present a watered down gospel?” “What is wrong with the worship services that we offer?” “Why wouldn’t anyone enjoy the worship service that I enjoy?”

During the run up to the new service start date, one of the long range planning committee members came up with a great idea: A congregational survey. The idea was that we would poll the congregation on a Sunday morning with a yes or no answer to one question: If we could reach people who would not otherwise come to our church by offering a new, contemporary worship service, and if it would not negatively affect the worship service you presently attend in any way, would you not work against the church as it goes forward to start this service?

When we ran the survey I thought that if we could get 70% support for the new church start we would be in great shape. Politicians who get 52% of the vote often claim they have a “mandate” to implement their campaign promises. I felt that 70% of the people would surely say they would allow us to start this new service without working against it we would have a good change for success.

When the survey was completed I was surprised to see that 94% of the people responded in support of the new service and just 6% responded against it. With this result I knew we were ready to go forward.

The final step we took to build unity and support was borne out of necessity. We needed a few weeks to iron out the wrinkles in our new service, so for the four Sunday’s prior to the new service launch we “test drove” the service during the Sunday School hour. We invited the Sunday School participants to come and be our “congregation” for at least one Sunday in the month. This would give us live people to lead in worship, and it would give everyone currently attending the church a chance to see the service for themselves. No longer would anyone have to rely on rumor and gossip. They could see with their own eyes what we were proposing.

The end result of these efforts was that when we launched the new service four weeks later, all the negativity and resistance disappeared. Those who were interested in the new service came to help out. Those who were not interested in it went back to their preferred worship experience and their Sunday School class.

The contemporary service that I would later inherit began by making nearly every mistake imaginable. From the outset nearly every constituency in the church was offended in some form or another. Those who were pleased with existing traditional worship services were told their services were dying and that only a new contemporary service would be able to keep the church alive. The pastor, music director, and adult choir were offended because the new service was made to look like it was due to people who did not like their ministry in the church. It was perceived that the group behind the new service was trying to start a church within a church. It quickly became an “us against them” spirit in the church. The existing members who liked traditional worship got their feelings hurt and became defensive. They struck back. They wrote letters of protest to the District Superintendent and the Bishop, calling the proposed new service an “abomination.” They worked to undermine the service after it began, in hopes it would fail. For months after I arrived as the pastor (nearly a year after the new service launch) people came to my office to tell me that they “prayed daily that the new service would die.” Instead of supporting the new service, the opponents looked for every reason to criticize the service.

I would often wonder during those months if the offense caused at the outset of the new service launch and the inner turmoil it caused would eventually drain the life out of the service.

At this writing, the service is just over 5 years old. It has survived the rocky start, but at a price. Five years into the new service, the attendance has plateaued at approximately 70 people each Sunday. It has become a comfortable expanded small group for the remaining families who pushed for a contemporary service. So much of their time and energy was spent in the early years defending their service and working for its survival, that little time and energy was spent in reaching out to the unchurched community at large. This is the main casualty I see when there is insufficient buy-in. Ultimately it will affect the evangelism and outreach of the new service because of the consuming energy needed to withstand the resistance and opposition from within.

Before starting a new service in an existing church, get as many people on board as possible. The souls of the unchurched are at stake!



One Response to “What I Have Learned About Starting A New Worship Service (Part 2) Get Widespread Buy-In”

  1. Great article,“What I Have Learned About Starting A New Worship Service (Part 2) Get Widespread Buy-In”. Your simple, yes/no question was risky. I suspect that there are some congregations that would have the same percentage, only reversed. The Sunday School run through was a great idea. Glad it worked.

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