This is part two of a multipart series of personal reflections related to adding a 3rd service at Portage Free Methodist Church, where I serve as Lead Pastor. Our third Sunday Worship service launches on September 7, 2014.
Part 2: How a 3rd service affects the church.
A few years ago, I was on staff at a church where we did three services on a Sunday morning. God did — and is doing — great things there. The extra service was a bit more work but well worth it because we were able to reach another 200+ people with the Gospel every week in our stout little building. It was a lesson in God’s faithfulness and a church’s desire to reach a community, which is a result of the Spirit’s work.
When a local congregation goes from one single service to multiple services, there are gains and losses. For example –Gains: space, time. Loss: sense of unity, momentum.
Gains: Space & Time
People like their personal space. Have you noticed what movie theaters are doing? They’re taking out seats and making huge aisles. If only the airline industry would follow suit! According to the studies of yesteryear, a sanctuary feels full at about 80% of its capacity. If a sanctuary seats 280 people, you would think that 279 would appear, mathematically speaking, spacious enough for one more soul. In fact it does not. Increasingly so, a person must see many open seats in order to see one open seat. Anything beyond 225, psychologically speaking, is full. Factor in parking, lobby space, and (most importantly) restroom capacity, and those numbers fluctuate. Throw in load bearing, view-impeding posts. Throw in cheap seats in the corner that give you a perfect view of a speaker’s profile but not their face. Anything that makes the space uncomfortable ends up having a negative impact. No one likes to feel left out our burdensome, and the subconscious (or conscious) feeling that surfaces in their minds is this: “I don’t belong here.” That’s the exact opposite of what we want to express!
People like optimal times. We could do a John Wesley style service that meets at 5am, and say that whoever shows up is holier than the others. We could have a service on Tuesday afternoons from 12-1, and only the true christians would leave work to come to church — what a great way to weed out the imposters! Then… reality kicks in. There are better times to have a worship gathering. In our culture, Sunday still has a bit of sacredness. A 12:00 noon service combines the set-apart-ness of Sunday along with the uniqueness of time. What do people do on Saturday nights? Quietly read until their 9pm bedtime? Some do; most don’t. Even the pastor will be up tonight until the Wolverines crush Notre Dame (which means I may be up for a long time). For those who live it up on Saturday night, will it be easier to get to church by noon instead of 10:30am or 9:00am? I think so.
So — in terms of gains, the church gains space and an optimal time for inviting people.
Unity feels lost because we’re not together. I’ve written about this before and have mentioned it here and there. Unity is deeper than physical coexistence. Unity is by the Spirit. Holding physical coexistence as the epitome of unity suggests that I am one with my fellow shoppers at Meijer. I am not. It is good for us to be all together, which is why we did an outdoor service and why we’ll look at somehow combining three groups into a larger venue someday down the road. Until then, we rely on the Holy Spirit to unite us, which is the way it’s supposed to be anyway.
Loss of Momentum: This is a doozy. One of the worst feelings in a group setting is “where is everybody?” This is where the risk lies. Critical mass is, well, critical. Adding a third service is like trellis in a pot — absurd at first, but life-giving to the plant that will eventually grow.
What do we do to mitigate loss? We make sure we’re uniting around Jesus and not a musical style or service time. We express patience and faith that God will grow His church up to and beyond the trellis. And we enjoy God’s goodness and holiness through it all. Integrity (togetherness) is found in Jesus and our common mission to spread the gospel and lead people to Him.