A decent number of churches face a space crisis at least once in their lifetimes. They have lots of momentum and they’re growing quickly when all of a sudden their growth stops because they’ve run out of space. It usually doesn’t take too long before the financial realities of their options start to sink in. A new building will cost millions, a new church plant will cost hundreds of thousands, while an additional worship service will only cost tens of thousands. In light of this it’s pretty easy to see why starting another worship service would be a popular option.
However, a lot of churches try and fail to successfully launch a new worship service. Prior to my arrival, one of my previous churches had tried and failed more than once. What goes wrong?
1. No service differentiation
Starting a new worship service is a fantastic opportunity to dramatically increase your reach and appeal in the community. Though some in your congregation will be blind to this, the fact is that people in your community will have a very broad range of cultural tastes and preferences. Your current worship service, whatever it may look like, will only be able to effectively reach just one segment of the local population. If you merely clone your existing service, as you may be tempted to do, you increase your church’s appeal by exactly 0% – which doesn’t exactly guarantee ministry success.
The lack of a broader appeal will affect the people you already have. Why should any of your own people choose your new worship service? If it is an exact, or nearly exact clone of your established service, most people will go “where the action is” and will eventually end up in the same well attended service and avoid the poorly attended one – which will inevitably die.
2. Lack of vision
Unfortunately, most churches who add a new worship service do so with the intent of merely redistributing their existing congregation. They really don’t have a vision beyond wishful thinking to reach people beyond the walls of the church. However, merely redistributing your existing congregation is bound to fail – and there is a mathematical reason for this.
Your sanctuary has a natural growth “sweet spot” when it is between 50% and 80% full. When your attendance is in this range new people will see that there’s something really happening here, and that there is room for them to be a part of it. Once your attendance exceeds 80% of seating capacity, growth will stop because although there is something really “happening” here there’s no room for visitors to be a part of it. On the other hand, once your attendance drops much below 50% you fall below the critical mass threshold and the room becomes “dead”. It is very difficult to grow a church that’s less than half full because an empty building gives your visitors the impression that your church is dead and going nowhere fast.
When you attempt to merely redistribute your existing congregation, even the best case scenario simply won’t work. Inevitably, you need to go to two services because you’re already at that 80% high water mark. However, even if you can redistribute your congregation exactly evenly, you go from one room that’s at 80% capacity, to two rooms that are at 40% capacity which is too far below the 50% critical mass point needed for growth. All you’ve done is gone from one service that can’t grow and created two services that can’t grow.
What inevitably happens in a mere redistribution is that the split will never be exactly in half. What you will usually see is that you go from one service that is 80% full to two services that are 50% and 30% full respectively. News will eventually get out that once service feels like it has potential, while the other feels dead (especially if people were accustomed to an 80% full sanctuary). Within a couple of months you will notice that your 50-30 split has become a 60-20 split. A few months later this will gradually shift to a 70-10 split by which time one service will obviously be dead while the other obviously alive. The dead service will eventually be cancelled and you end up right back where you started with once service that’s 80% full with no potential for future growth.
3. Lack of Will
There’s a good reason why launching an additional service should cost tens of thousands of dollars – and that is if you want to use your new service to actually reach new people, you have to let people outside of the church know that you have a new service just for them. This costs money.
Conceptually, you should think of launching a new worship service in the same way you would think about launching a new church plant. This means that not only are you trying to fill your new service with new people from outside of your church, but also that those people need to know that they know that they know that the new service exists. Notice that I didn’t say they have to merely “know” that the new service exists. Simply sending out 10,000 postcards once will not get you any results. You have to make an impression on these people 6 or 7 times before they will be moved to act. If we’re talking postcards, this means hitting those 10,000 homes with 6 or 7 different cards during the month prior to launch (about 2 cards every week). When we did this at my last church the day we launched our second service our church grew by 50% (thanks to the couple hundred new people that showed up on our steps). Once again, for this to happen you’ll really have to put your money where your mouth is.
4. Lack of commitment
Whenever the Kingdom of God advances, the Gates of Hell will resist. Satan is the last person on Earth who wants your church to grow and take more lives out of his dark grasp. Because of this, you can expect legions of naysayers telling you that this will never work, and even when it does work they will do what they can to undermine what you have accomplished. If you and your leadership team lack the resolve to stand up to the naysayers then your plans will never succeed. If your congregation lacks the faith and vision to pass a budget necessary for your new service to be promoted properly, then things are unlikely to work out the way you hope. If your volunteers are unable to increase in number and involvement, then your advance will slowly grind to a halt.
When you launch an additional service, especially with the intent of filling it with new people, your church will have the potential of reaching more people for Christ in one year than the past 20 years combined. There can be more momentum and explosive growth than you thought was ever possible. However, this will take some serious commitment on the part of you and your church. A commitment to plan, a commitment to pray, a commitment to give, and a commitment to spend. A commitment to proclaim, a commitment to defend, a commitment to advance, and a commitment to persevere.
The road ahead is filled with excitement and adventure, but it is not for the faint of heart.