Offer Them Christ
The Weblog Of J.F. Howard

What I Have Learned About Starting A New Worship Service (Part 3) Best Start Times

When I helped to start a new worship service, we were a congregation that already had 2 existing services. We were planning to add a third, more contemporary service, to go with the two existing casual/traditional services.

Our Sunday morning schedule prior to the adding of the third service was:

8:30 am to 9:30 am         Service #1

9:45 am to 10:45 am         Sunday School/Bible Study

11:00 am to 12:00 pm         Service #2

Since the target audience for the new third service was unchurched young adults, we set as our new service starting time 9:45 am to 10:45 am. Our logic was that our target audience was not attending church, let alone Sunday School, so having the new service run concurrently with the Sunday School hour was not a conflict in scheduling.

We emphasized to the current worshiping and Sunday School attending population, “We are not interested in taking you away from a class or a worship service that you enjoy. We are trying to reach people who are not involved in church at all.”

In addition, we decided to offer a second Sunday School/Bible study hour. Once the first Sunday School/Bible study hour was finished, we had the entire education wing vacant. We had access to every classroom for a second session of Sunday School. At the outset, we planned a limited schedule for the second Sunday School/Bible study hour. We would offer a nursery, a class for children, a class for teenagers, and an adult small group Bible study. Then as our attendance grew at the contemporary service, we would start additional classes and small groups.

So our proposed schedule looked like this:

8:30 am to 9:30 am         Existing Service #1

9:45 am to 10:45 am         Sunday School/Bible Study Session #1

9:45 am to 10:45 am         New Contemporary Service #3

11:00 am to 12:00 pm         Existing Service #2

11:00 am to 12:00 pm         Sunday School/Bible Study Session #2

The benefits of this schedule were that we had good traffic flow into the sanctuary and parking lot. We also had the use of the education wing two times on Sunday mornings. We were able to keep disruption of the existing services and Sunday School classes to a minimum. One of the key lessons that I learned is that the least amount of boat rocking on the existing schedule, the easier it is to get people’s support.

When we started the new service in the fall of 2005 we averaged 77 in attendance. Five years later it was the largest of the church’s three worship services averaging approximately 185 per week.

I later inherited a new service start-up less than a year after its origin. When I first arrived at this pastorate, the new service was meeting at 10:30 am, the same time as an existing traditional service. Having the two services going on concurrently led to an atmosphere of competition and division among a number of people in the church.

The associate pastor of the church was the founder of the contemporary service. She was the primary preacher at the contemporary service. The senior pastor did not have responsibilities in the alternative service. This contributed to the sense of division in the church.

Only about two dozen people attended the contemporary service at the time I arrived, one year into the new service start.

The service had already had other start times, including 8:30 am Sunday and a Wednesday evening time slot after the church fellowship dinner. None of these times had worked successfully.

I attempted to diffuse the sense of division and competitiveness by moving the contemporary service to 9:30 am (coinciding with the Sunday School hour). The attendance increased slightly. However a few months later complaints began to surface from those involved in the contemporary service. They did not like the idea that they could not attend the service and their Sunday School class if the service started at the 9:30 am hour.

It was then that I realized the contemporary service was not designed to reach the unchurched (who aren’t attending Sunday School to begin with) but rather to appease church members who did not care for traditional worship. They were clear that their Sunday School class took priority over their worship experience and that we had to move the start time of the contemporary service. Now to try to appease the fury of the offended, we moved the start time of the contemporary service to 11:00 am. I would finish preaching at the 10:30 am service and then go out the back door and down into the chapel, hopefully in time for the message at the contemporary service. It only took a couple of Sunday’s of me leaving the 10:30 am service for the outcry to begin. So I compromised: I finished the 10:30 am service, stood at the back door to shake as many hands as possible, and then ran down the steps and in to the front door of the chapel (usually late for the start of the contemporary service). This was a truly stressful schedule but I kept it up for several months. Eventually the 11:00 am time frame did not suit the people attending the contemporary service. Now they had a lag time between Sunday School and the start of the service. People who attended Sunday School did not want to wait around so they were going home and skipping the service. This time it was proposed that the contemporary service begin at 10:20 am with the main traditional service begin at 10:30 am.

I would start off in the 10:20 am service and then leave after preaching to go into the 10:30 am service about halfway through. The 10:20 am service began with a couple of songs from the praise band. Then I would be introduced to come up and bring the message. After I finished I asked the folks to stand and greet one another. When they did I headed up the aisle, out the door, and up the front steps into the sanctuary (hopefully arriving before the message time began there).

Back in the contemporary service, the praise band and lay worship leaders led music, the prayer time, received the offering, and closed the service.

Five years later the attendance had climbed in the contemporary service from the original 12 that I inherited to an average of 70 each Sunday.

Church consultant Bill Easum claims that the best time to start a new worship service is between 9:00 am and 10:00 am. Based on my experience, I think he is right. The contemporary service that I started at 9:45 am continues to grow to this day. The service I inherited which had times of 8:30 am, 10:30 am, 10:20 am, and 11:00 am still struggles and will do so for the foreseeable future.

Easum also maintains that starting a new service at the same time as Sunday School will not decrease Sunday School attendance, but add to it.

Once again a new service comes down to a simple issue: who is it for…existing church members, or the unchurched who are not part of a Sunday School class to begin with? As Easum might say, “Is it a service for them, or for us?”



3 Responses to “What I Have Learned About Starting A New Worship Service (Part 3) Best Start Times”

  1. Very interesting………..

  2. This is very interesting!!

  3. Your post, “What I Have Learned About Starting A New Worship Service (Part 3) Best Start Times” is quite an journey. Sounds like mine. I was almost out of breath when I got the end, identifying with your running from service to service. I think Easum is on target about the time and your observation about the focus of the contemporary service NOT being for the unchurched but for those who don’t like traditional is something I have not spoken about.

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