For years, the conventional wisdom has been that increasing the number of worship services is the best path to go. You rarely heard leaders advocating decreasing the number of services. The concern is that the reduction of choices results in lower overall attendance. So, don’t consider going from three Sunday morning services to two or going from two to one. Increase. Don’t decrease.
There is at least anecdotal evidence, however, that the “more is better” rule does not always hold. In fact, we at Church Answers have worked with a few churches that have actually increased their attendance when they decreased the number of services. What is taking place? Why is the sacrosanct rule subject to exceptions? We see at least five reasons this phenomenon is taking place.
1. Attendance is lower post-COVID. We recently conducted a poll, and the median decrease in worship attendance among the churches polled was 25 percent. The room is more vacant with fewer in attendance. The dynamics have changed significantly.
2. There is a greater challenge in getting volunteers. The more services a church has, the greater the challenge to secure volunteers. In some cases, it might be best to have fewer committed volunteers than more lukewarm volunteers.
3. Horizontal growth is a preferred strategy for many churches. Horizontal growth refers to the addition of worship services other than Sunday morning. Those services may include other venues, ethnic services, and multisite campuses. I am familiar with a church that is considering moving from three Sunday morning services to two. But they also have two other ethnic services and one other multisite service. Most of their horizontal growth has occurred in recent years.
4. There is often a palpable energy when the room is nearly full. We have missed that dynamic in many churches post-pandemic. Some churches have been reluctant to decrease the number of services because of their concern that a level of social distancing is still preferred. According to the last football game I attended, we are mostly past that concern.
5. For many contexts, the preferred worship attendance time is somewhere between 9:30 am and 10:30 am. It can be a challenge to fill the other worship service time slots around the preferred time.
To be clear, I am not advocating that the decrease in the number of Sunday morning services is best for all churches. But I am suggesting that it might indeed be the best option for a number of churches whose leaders have been reluctant to move in this direction.
Let me hear from you. What do you think of this development? Are you considering something similar in your church?
Posted on September 26, 2022
With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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Since Covid lockdowns here in Australia, we put our children’s ministry in a 4pm service and now some of the older people at the 10am service miss the children and feel separated from the higher attended 4pm service. I am wondering whether this is a sign of the busy times we live in when young parents prefer having the morning free with the family or whether we are pandering to ease which does not build a habit of church attendance in the long run.
Fascinating situation in your church, Bernie.
Reducing the number of services might prove difficult in the church in which I am a member. For the past eleven years the church has offered a “contemporary” service with a worship band, “contemporary” Christian and praise and worship songs, projection screens, and an informal atmosphere and a “traditional” service with a vested choir, ministers in vestments, “traditional” hymns and choir anthems, organ, hymnals, and a more formal atmosphere. Attendance in both services has been down since the COVID-19 pandemic and the sanctuary which was built to accomodate a large congregation looks far less than half empty at both services. Integrating the two services into one would prove difficult as both styles of worship have a loyal following in the church. The sanctuary might look fuller if people chose to attend the single service but combining the two services would bring with it a host of other problems and might not accomplish that goal. The church livestreams both services on the internet and broadcasts them live on cable TV. It also records and airs videos of the two services. Each service has a following on the internet and cable TV so there is a risk that it might lose people from these digital congregations. This is the kind of challenges that some churches face when reducing the two services to one is proposed. If the services are not much different in music and worship style, reducing the number of services becomes mainly an issue of time slot and convenience.
Well stated, Robin.
#4 is critical and I have often been surprised and frustrated by pastors who have not understood the principles of “critical mass.” It may not make as much difference when preaching (though it does make a difference), but having critical mass in a room is essential for impactful corporate singing.
Thanks for including that item.