This Sunday, December 20, 2015, PFM will hold its final Third Service. We’re stepping forward into a new Sunday morning format starting January 3, 2016, with two essentially identical worship services at 9am and 11am. I’ll be taking on the role of Worship Pastor (while doing my best to maintain the Lead Pastor stuff). It’s a liturgical shuffle that our leaders feel will best help more people find, follow, and be like Jesus.
When we launched Third Service, we weren’t sure how it was going to go or even what it would look like. We had two dimensional ultrasound images and genetic makeup to take some guesses, but by and large we let ‘er go and find a path, hoping for a worship environment that was laid back, simple, interactive, and unique to our other services. In summer of 2014, we rearranged our first and second service to make room for the new baby service in September. It launched with strength and found its vibe pretty quickly. Strangely unaffected by the externals of calendar, season, and weather, we had a solid 38+ nearly every week — a few Sundays with only 20 or so in the room got a little uncomfortable, but we committed to do the service and so we did, best we could. I’d like to think that this not only honored the Lord but also communicated that we were doing this to make a place for people to worship, even if it was only a handful on a given Sunday.
Anytime a church does some kind of ministry, we end up with cold stats and warm stats. The cold stats, things like attendance, giving, conversions, and staffing, are easier to measure than the warm stats, which include how God is moving, how people are growing, and whether hearts are being touched. Though we have no way of really knowing what the warm stats are for Third Service, we do know that significant impacts were made on people, many of which found their way to pfm through an eclectic Sunday Worship service that started at lunch time — of all times!
My favorite memory of Third Service took place on a baptism Sunday. In first service, we heard four powerful testimonies and dunked four people. In second service, we heard four powerful testimonies and dunked four people. And that day, in little Third Service, we heard five testimonies and dunked five people! What does that mean? It means that God used multiple venues in a little church in Southwest Michigan to reach the people he loves. What an honor to be part of that, and what a point of praise as I consider the fruit of God’s work, especially in the era of our Third Service.
I suppose I haven’t really answered the question as to why we’re stopping Third Service, especially if it really is this good. Well… most of it has to do with our ministry filters of simplicity and excellence. Though it was exciting to have three separate worship orders and styles, it certainly was complex, especially for a church our size. And, though our musicians and technical artists are brilliant and committed to the worship ministry at pfm, we were really asking for a miracle for things to magically come together, in many cases with only a few minutes for a sound check and rehearsal of half a song. And, though our sanctuary has plenty of room, our parking lot, lobby, and bathrooms really didn’t allow for so much circulation across multiple services with less than 15 minutes between. It’s certainly not because we think it’s a waste, and definitely not because we are disappointed by the results. In actuality, this was a terribly difficult decision to make, and only came after much prayer and seeking. It really comes down to our being stretched a bit too thin in almost every way. And we know that we must be excellent — not just pretty good, but excellent — in our ministries here, especially in this season.
Who’s idea was this, and who pushed the organization to the brink? Me. I mean, I had leaders behind me and people in 100% support, but I can look back with hindsight and say “yep, maxed out the system there… oops.” But I also see God’s wisdom in this. After all, we wouldn’t have pressed on without a sense of His guidance and peace. I don’t have all the hindsight yet, but my hunch is that the era of three services back to back may have helped our church to realign for a new day of ministry and growth. This is my hope and prayer.
Why would I put such dirt on my blog? Well, I want to share what I’m learning and what we’re experiencing here. A few of my ministry friends followed the posts I tossed up when we were getting this thing off the ground. It seemed right to finish the story arc and bring an update. If this helps, great. If nothing else, everyone hopefully sees that we’re doing our best to follow God, which often involves taking risk and trying new things. I’d rather do that than maintain. There’s too much at stake.
Heads up: Starting January 3, 2016, a new day begins in the worship services of Portage Free Methodist Church. Services at 9am and 11am. Text your questions/comments/thoughts/recipes/emojis. We’ll sing, hear the word, remember the Story of God’s salvation, respond to His grace, and be sent out as Kingdom Citizens. As we go, I believe God will help us to point people to Jesus, and I trust that, as we look to Him in our worship times together and personally throughout the week, we will become more like Him. That’s what corporate worship does: it resets our focus and reminds us that we are a living community who serves Jesus. Best of all, it’s not us who build the church: it’s Jesus. I put my trust and faith in this simple and glorious fact.