Transforming Church Team Blog
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Bad Math Lie #3

Trevor Bron

Trevor Bron

The truth about adding services to reach more people

I was 25 years old when the young adult ministry I had been leading for four years launched as a church. It had been a wild first four years, and we were excited for a new journey. While we were technically planting a church, I do not consider myself a church planter. I have huge admiration and respect for the people who move into an unknown city or state, join a health club and start a Bible study in hopes that they can bring those two things together and start a church. Our plant was a bit unusual in that we had become a “church within a church,” so that when we launched, we did so with about 800 people. We had been meeting on Tuesday nights, and we were committed to continue doing our main service during the week. Our first move away from our mother church was to another church about two miles away that was kind enough to let us use their space on Tuesday nights. We had moved for two reasons. First, to gain more of our own identity and second, we needed more space. Our new location was amazing. It was a cool-looking warehouse space with great sound and lighting. There was one challenge, however. It sat 1,800 people and we had only 800. The room felt overwhelming. At first, we did all we could to control seating and lighting in hopes that we could push the crowd forward and closer together. We then turned off all the lights above the seating sections we were not using. Our thought was that if it was dark, then maybe people wouldn’t notice the 1,000 chairs not being used. It wasn’t long until we began to grow into our new space. We quickly went from 800 to 1,500, and it was then that I first heard Bad Math Lie No. 2: When you reach 80 percent capacity in your auditorium, you are full. The pastor of the church we were meeting in came to me and said that we were at capacity and needed to make a move to two services so our growth would not be thwarted. I have since come to believe that this is Bad Math Lie No. 3: Going to two services is the solution to reaching more people. You may have heard the phrase, “The more hooks in the water, the more fish you can catch.” Technically this may be true, but logically, it’s not. If you have one pond with hundreds of hooks in it, at some point, you are all competing for the same fish. Going from one service to two services is not placing another hook in new water; it’s placing another hook in the same water. While some growth can happen this way, that growth is limited – or a short-term solution, at best. In the article, “Dealing with Bad Math Lie No. 2” (Church Solutions July 2009), I used this analogy: Your church runs 240 people on a Sunday morning. Your auditorium seats 300 people. This means that according to Bath Math Lie No. 2, you are at capacity. You decide to go to two services. After the initial excitement, you find that your first service is attracting 48 people and your second, 192 people. Both services take the same number of people to lead. The first service will most likely grow at a much slower pace. It is usually viewed as the “default” service that people go to on a Sunday when they can’t go to the main service. The second service will grow more rapidly. It won’t take long to gain just 48 people, which means you’re back where you started, but with fewer options. Two Are Better Than One While this may be true for people, it’s not always true for churches. Making the move from one service to two seems to be our first option when wanting to reach more people and/or deal with an overcrowded room. However, going from one to two services should be our third or fourth option, not our first. Accommodating growth can be a huge challenge – and when momentum is on your side, you want to do all you can to keep it going. That’s how we felt when our new church went from one service to two. If all churches had to deal with what we had to, I think more churches would be creative in finding alternate solutions. For most churches, going to two services means adding another Sunday morning option. For us, it meant doing two services in a short evening window. We had an early service (6:37 p.m.) and a late service (8:17 p.m.). The early service was designed for those who would leave work, pick up the kids, grab dinner and come to church. The second service was geared towards those who apparently were night owls. By the time the last service ended and we cleaned up our shared building and headed out, it could be close to 11 p.m. As many of you have already experienced, the two-service solution is rarely what it’s cracked up to be. The growth in one of the services is slow, the leadership is overworked, the innovation drops and it seems, at times, that it’s all we can do just to maintain. The church I attend now is a small community church of 200 people. In the past five years, we’ve had two services off and on. Sometimes the second service was added to accommodate for growth, and sometimes a second service was added in hopes that new growth would occur. In both instances, however, there came a time when two services were not realistic. The move back to one service is usually done during the summer, with the explanation that attendance is down, and it’s a nice time for us all to be together in one service as a church family. Usually when the fall comes, the move back to two services never happens. Back to the Church Plant After two years of two services and a building change, we were once again faced with what to do next. A third weeknight service was just not an option. (We didn’t think a midnight service would attract anyone.) For the first time, we were forced to have an honest dialogue about the “best next thing” to do. In hindsight, I wish that we had that conversation before going to two services. On occasion, I’ve taught at churches that had three to five services. By the time I got to the third service, I couldn’t remember what I had said and to whom. By the fifth service, I couldn’t remember who I was, much less what I was saying. Since then, I’ve talked to many pastors who live in that nightmare each week, and I’ve learned that many use a script to keep things straight. While manuscripting, for many, is a great way to deliver a message, I couldn’t help but wonder what was happening to the spontaneity, the move of the Spirit, the sanity of the communicator. Many Hooks, Many Ponds? I think there is little thought given to what I call “the compelling.” The compelling is dialogue that occurs (usually late at night) among a table of committed Christ-followers who want to see the church doing more than what it’s been doing. Going from one service to two is not compelling: It is at best convenient – and at worst, contrived. Compelling means that we are willing to search and settle for nothing less than the most imaginative thing we can do. Our God tells us that he desires to do more than we can ask for or imagine (Ephesians 3:20). Can God make this promise to us because he knows that we rarely ask for or imagine much? God wants our imaginations to be big so that we can see that he is bigger still. Glimpse the Compelling During the past few years, I think we’ve begun to see glimpses of this. The current move to multisite is a good start. Churches that are willing to go not from one service to two, but from one site to two cast more hooks in multiple ponds. Doing more than one site may or may not give you additional seats in your one service, but it can gain new people who would not come to a second service at your current location. Some churches are doing multiple services at the same time in the same building. For instance, while there is a traditional service in the main sanctuary, there’s also a contemporary service in the fellowship hall. The result is different venues, lay leaders and teachers – reaching different people, but using the same resources, vision and commitment. In our ever-advancing culture of technology, we continue to see churches that are willing to use nontraditional spaces and methods. One church in Houston uses movie theaters on Sunday mornings. The band is live, but the message is beamed in live via satellite from the main campus. There’s a church in Rockford, Ill., that for the first several years, didn’t have a teaching pastor, so they played DVDs of other pastors from other churches. A church in Edina, Minn., just launched its Sunday night service into a church plant. And there’s a church in Denver that still meets on Tuesday nights (in a shared building) and is reaching people who can’t or won’t go to church on Sunday. If we keep doing the same thing with the hope that the outcome will be different, we’ll be called insane. If we try new things with the hope that the outcome will be different, we’ll be called creative. If, however, we try compelling things with the hope that the outcome will be remarkable, we’ll be called passionate Christ-followers. What’s the most compelling thing your church could do to reach people or to gain a few more seats? What’s the most outlandish idea you can come up with? What does God want to do that is beyond your imagination? Trevor Bron is a senior consultant with TAG Consulting (www.transformingchurch.net), a transforming church consulting firm. He has experience as a church staffer and planter, business owner, event planner, entrepreneur and speaker. With clients spanning the nation, Bron’s strengths include communication, marketing, leadership development, organizational management, administration, and facility and site location.

[This article will be published in the November 2009 edition of Church Solutions Magazine]

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