August 13, 2018 Tony Morgan

Transitioning Worship Service Styles & Times: A Sample Plan & the Rationale

I recommend you go with one service style on Sunday morning, but if it’s going to be a two-step to get there, here’s what I’ve seen work best.

Not too long ago, I facilitated a planning retreat for a mid-size, traditional United Methodist Church congregation that had multiple worship service styles on Sunday morning. A leader from the church emailed me a little while later with a dilemma I think many of you may also be facing.

As this church was taking steps to become more outwardly focused, and specifically, to reach more young families, they were considering making changes to the schedule of their worship services. And that necessarily came with some challenges.

Their current schedule might look familiar to you if you lead in a mainline denomination:

  • 9am Traditional Service
  • 10am Contemporary Service
  • 11am Traditional Service

At the Traditional Services, they were averaging 100 worshippers at 11am and 150 at 9am, in a sanctuary which seats 600.

Both services were full only on Christmas Eve and Easter.

They held the Contemporary Service in the Fellowship Hall, which only seats 200. It was bulging at the seams every week.

The leadership was struggling to pull off all of these services back-to-back without compromising in some areas they considered key to engaging attendees well.

And, it had become clear: The Contemporary service couldn’t grow further as a single service in its present venue.


Sidebar: Why You Should Stick with One Service Style on Sunday Morning

If you follow The Unstuck Group’s content, you know we recommend churches stick with one service style on Sunday morning. When you give people more options, you make it easier for them to attend and also to invite unchurched friends.

Beyond that, we’ve been finding in our data, published most recently in our quarterly edition The Unstuck Church Report, declining churches are twice as likely to be offering multiple styles of worship.

I also wrote recent about how this approach that seems like it’s offering “options” actually contributes to a having a segregated church. We’ve been finding in our data in our most recent quarterly edition The Unstuck Church Report, declining churches are twice as likely to be offering multiple styles of worship. Click To Tweet


Practically speaking, I understand that many of you have a complex journey towards simplifying your weekend services. I hope you’re taking action in that direction with a good strategy and ample support, but I also know you sometimes have to address this in stages.

As the church leaders at this particular church were weighing the pros and cons of several different approaches, I shared what I’ve seen work best in my experience. Some of you may also be able to glean something from this.


+ RESOURCES


A Sample Plan for Transitioning Service Style Times on Sunday Mornings

Here’s some background on why I recommend what follows:

  • Every trend we’re seeing is that growing churches are finding more future growth potential in contemporary worship rather than traditional worship.
Every trend we're seeing is that growing churches are finding more future growth potential in contemporary worship rather than traditional worship. Click To Tweet
  • Churches are finding that traditional services commonly reach older generations, and older folks tend to prefer earlier service times. (This church’s attendance numbers seemed to be in line with that.)
  • More contemporary services tend to reach younger generations… with kids.
  • It’s the “with kids” part that tends to make it difficult for younger families to attend early services.
  • Generally, we find anything before 9am is challenging for them.
  • I recommended this church move to this schedule with both services in the main sanctuary, eliminating the space constraints of the Fellowship Hall as a venue.

Then, as the contemporary service grows, they could add a third service by introducing three new times:

If you don’t have these same service times, you can still take this approach into account as you’re thinking through how to make your transition. Keep these things in mind:

  • Future growth for your weekend services is more likely to occur in contemporary worship rather than traditional worship. Our “Vital Signs” data from hundreds of churches confirms this trend.
  • Older generations are more likely to attend an early service time. That’s the best place for a Traditional service if you’re trying to reach the unchurched, and specifically, young families.
  • Getting to “critical mass” in your sanctuary in any service will help raise the energy level and make it more inviting for first-time guests. Critical mass for most sanctuaries is at least 50% full.
  • Make sure to communicate “the why” very clearly when you’re making this change. And then don’t drag your feet. Take the plunge.
Make sure to communicate “the why” very clearly when you’re making this change. And then don’t drag your feet. Take the plunge. Click To Tweet

Lastly, keep this in mind. The primary reason I see churches getting stuck is because the way they do church becomes more important than why they do church. Please don’t let service styles and times get in the way of why you do church.

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Tony Morgan

Tony Morgan

Tony is the Chief Strategic Officer and founder of The Unstuck Group. For 14 years, Tony served on the senior leadership teams at West Ridge Church (Dallas, GA), NewSpring Church (Anderson, SC) and Granger Community Church (Granger, IN). He's written several books and articles that have been featured with the Willow Creek Association, Catalyst and Pastors.com.
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