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Thinking about adding or changing a worship service?

By Cindy Solomon
September/October 2016

Before swatting at the potential hornet's nest of tweaking or adding a worship service, consider the issues involved in making the change and learn from the experiences of those who have been there, done that. It may take the sting out of doing something new or different.

The pastor and church leaders are in the best position to change or add a service when the church has the capacity and opportunity to do so, explained the Rev. Taylor Burton-Edwards, director of worship resources with Discipleship Ministries.

"Capacity," Burton-Edwards said, "includes physical space, social space, requisite number of people on board for launch and time, tech and financial resources. Opportunity consists of the availability of a new time or place, ability to reach new worshippers and a service design aligned with the purpose of the service you are creating — whether for discipling, evangelism or a principal public service."

Burton-Edwards highlighted the following changes or reactions — some subtle and some obvious — to consider and navigate once a church makes the decision to change or add a service:

Changing a service, rather than adding one, takes away a service from people who are accustomed to it. Expect grief reactions — including sadness, depression, anger, threats to leave and some ultimately leaving the church.

Some of the grief responses to adding a service, rather than changing one, are less likely to happen if the congregation is larger than 350. These churches have higher vitality with multiple kinds of services.

Expect more work — a lot more work. Whether you are adding a service or changing an existing service, you are substantially adding to the overall workload of those responsible for planning, leading and supporting the worship services.

Be aware of the need for more sophisticated and careful organization and administration, particularly if you are adding a new service. Six months to a year is the recommended time frame for doing the groundwork to launch a new service or change an existing one.

Change with confidence. A can-do attitude is essential for leaders. Being tentative increases the level of anxiety and critique.

Signal before changing lanes. Don't make noticeable changes without letting folks know you are doing it. Give enough lead time for the coming change to sink in.

Develop and share plans with key leaders for addressing structural and systemic changes. Changing worship – especially when it draws new people – may mean changes in other parts of a congregation's life.

Communicate and implement with everyone as needed. Have your leadership on board before you take things public.

Been there, done that

With three services already in place (two on Sunday morning and mid-week evening prayer), Franconia United Methodist Church in Alexandria, Virginia, added a new contemporary service in May 2015. The Rev. Catharine Guest says the catalyst for the service was a nine-month re-visioning process discerning how to best reach out to their community – a young community with young children.

Preparation for the new service included researching what type of screen to install, defining the order of worship and involving the children's ministry team leader so that Sunday school offered during the new service was up-to-date and relevant.

Its worship leader was introduced prior to the first contemporary service. In addition, the church actively publicized the service for several weeks before via an electric outdoor sign, community publications, Facebook and the church's website and bulletin.

Guest's words of wisdom to other church leaders include:

  • Keep the congregation informed throughout the process.
  • Constantly work to refine the service. Flexibility, information sharing and collaboration are critical.
  • Practice, practice, practice because there are so many moving parts – instruments, singers and technology.

Grace United Methodist Church in Greer, South Carolina, went from a being part of a multi-church charge to a station church in early 2016. During the transition, the Rev. Robert Cox, pastor, church council members and leaders discussed the need for a second worship service.

"With our worship attendance doubling from 45 to 90 over the last few years and my being available all Sunday morning, we decided the time was right to add another service," Cox said.

Conversations about the change began several years ago.

"The first step was to talk about it in the church," Cox said. "We gave time and space for informal conversation in order to allow anxiety and suspicion to lessen before we began any formal discussion in committees. Then for two years, we looked at our community and researched what style of worship would reach more unchurched people." For Grace Church, the answer was a contemporary service.

"In the worship team," Cox said, "we talked about how best to create such a worship service. We determined that we did not have the musical skills in-house to do this so we ran articles in the local paper and on the church's Facebook page and website (www.gracegreer.org). The responses we got helped us to form a band with a jazz guitarist to lead it. The leader had experience creating contemporary services and did an excellent job of recruiting volunteer musicians, creating a band and planning music."

"The biggest piece of advice that I can give is to plan years out," Cox said. "This is not something that can be rushed in a couple of months; it must be done well from the very first Sunday."

Cindy Solomon is a marketing consultant, freelance writer and recent empty nester living in Franklin, Tennessee. See a longer version of this story at Interpreter online