The Two Services Task Force was created by the Board of Trustees in October of 2015 in response to a dramatic and continued increase in Sunday morning attendance that had begun in the spring of 2015 and carried over into the fall. The Board gave the Task Force two charges: 1) to research the pros and cons and make a “yes” or “no” recommendation as to whether adding a second service was in our congregation’s best interests, and 2) if the recommendation was yes, to create a proposal for the congregation to vote on.
As presented to the congregation on January 22nd, the Two Services Task Force has decided to make a yes recommendation, and to continue our work to create a proposal to present to the congregation prior to the May Congregational meeting, so that the congregation can then vote in May on the proposal after having a chance to review it.
A few key points from our researching and learning:
- If we knew then what we know now after having done all this research, we would have asked the Board to change the name of our task force and our charges to more broadly look at growth opportunities and growth challenges, and how to handle them. To properly research adding a second service, we have in effect done much of the work of exploring growth and growth challenges, and have asked the Board to engage with these opportunities and challenges in the areas beyond the specific charge to our task force.
- It has become very clear to us that although concern about numbers – specifically the number of available seats and parking – was the reason to start exploring adding a second service, numbers are actually far from the only reason to add a second service. In fact, numbers aside, our research (as outlined below) has made it clear to us that we have been stuck in a “hybrid” size church for at least ten years, if not twenty, and that the growth that typically accompanies adding a second service is likely exactly what we need to help us move out of this stuck space.
- All of us were skeptical at the beginning of our work together as task force, and we all had various levels of reservations about moving forward with this idea, reservations that ranged from mild to significant. Slowly, over time, as we listened, researched and looked at the big picture, we all became convinced that despite our own reservations, despite the reservations we were hearing from some members of the community, and despite some real risks, that adding a second service is something the congregation should pursue.
- While we are aware that there are risks to trying a second service as a one-year experiment, we think they are comparatively low, given that we can always roll back the experiment after one year and put things back the way they were. After much listening, research and reflection, the relatively high potential rewards of 1) making sure there is enough room for everyone who wants to attend as Sunday attendance has again been on an uptick and 2) helping us move out of this stuck hybrid space we’re in, seem worth it. Our congregation has faced much more difficult decisions, such as when we decided to construct a new church, as well as each time we call a new settled minister. Given that we can roll this back after one year with relatively minimal negative impact if it doesn’t work, it seems worth a shot.
From here, the task force is planning on offering as many opportunities as possible to share more deeply the information we’ve discovered in our research, as well as our thought-process that helped us overcome our own skepticism and reservations to arrive at a “yes” recommendation. We will also continue to meet with key stakeholders as we tweak and finalize the proposal we’re working on. Once it’s finalized, we’ll share it with the congregation prior to the vote for feedback and further adjustments based on the feedback. We’re also aware from talking with other congregations who have successfully moved to two services, that if we try adding a second service, we’ll almost certainly need to tweak and adapt our plan over the course of the one-year experiment as we find out how the format we set up works on the ground in reality. So while we will work together with everyone in the congregation to create the best proposal possible, we also know that whatever is voted on, if implemented, is not final. And so we also hope that even if you don’t agree with every detail of the final proposal, that we can focus on the big picture, and see the potential that adding a second service has to benefit the congregation positively for years, and even decades to come.
Finally, we don’t just expect everyone to take our word on this! Please, if you have not already, we ask every member and friend of the congregation to take the time to read and/or listen to research we have gathered – democracy only works well if our votes are informed ones. The best and easiest way to learn more is by reading/listening to the information below, originally presented during the Sunday Service on September 25th of this year. We have also listed the most useful primary resources we found, and we will happily provide you with a hard copy of the most relevant chapters from each book if you’d like, just e-mail us and ask. If you have reservations, we hope you’ll talk to us about them – we’ve had them too!
Your Two Services Task Force
Bea Sousa, Co-chair (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Rev. Seth Carrier-Ladd, Co-chair (email@example.com)
Ben Ewing, Secretary (Ben.Ewing24@gmail.com)
Jerry McKean, Event organizer (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Janay Sander, Statistics (email@example.com)
Susan Taylor, Publicity (firstname.lastname@example.org)
“Seeking the Future,” September 25th, 2016 Sunday Service
Our theme for September was Change, and so this service explored what members of the Two Services Task Force had learned over the summer. Our content, while addressing what we learned about a potential second service, also looked beyond that specific question to a broader consideration of the history and future of our church.
You can listen to the all the speakers in one podcast, or you can listen to each individual separately in the links provided below. The service began with a welcome from task force member Bea Sousa, which provides the context for the presentations that follow. The subsequent reflections which are summarized below were then shared by Task Force members throughout the rest of the service.
Introduction (Bea Sousa)
Listen to Bea’s Words of Welcome
As the Two Services Task Force reflected on what we had learned since coming together as a group, we came to view our church history over the past few decades as a journey, a journey on which we’ve become stuck at a watering hole. The watering hole is lovely, but… newcomers have a hard time connecting and finding a community of relationships at our church. Something needs to change, and we need to accept risk, and embrace change so that our church organization can become a healthier community.
The charge of the Two Services Task force was to explore the idea of going to two services. At the time the task force began meeting, we had had a season where our seats were filled to 80% capacity on numerous Sundays, which is the point where newcomers feel there is no room for them. Since then, the task force has learned that numbers are just part of the picture.
“Seeking the Future, Part I: History Tells Us” (Bea Sousa)
Listen to Bea’s Presentation
In researching church growth, the task force has learned about the levels of church size:
- Family churches have average Sunday attendance averaging 50 or less. Clergy in these churches have only worship and pastoral roles.
- Pastoral churches have average Sunday attendance averaging between 50 and 150. Clergy now are at the center of the church. Everyone knows everyone else. This is where our church was in the 1970s and 80s, when Drew Kennedy was pastor.
- Program churches have average Sunday attendance averaging between 150 and 350. Clergy, in these churches, are in charge of worship and are chief of staff, with pastoral care provided by trained lay people and with lots of cells of activity. It’s impossible to know everyone.
That description sounds like our church at this point in time. But our average Sunday attendance numbers aren’t able to stay above 150. We’re stuck at 130 – 150.
It seems we are not alone. There are other churches out there like us and there’s a word for this category of church size: a hybrid church, also called an “in between” church. Such churches operate like program churches but can’t quite make the leap above an average of 150 people on Sundays. Higher attendance numbers (and resulting volunteers) would help support our variety of programs. These hybrid churches, it’s written, are a difficult, high-stress place, where burnout is an issue for clergy and over-committed volunteers. (See the book list below.)
We have been a hybrid, in-between church for 20 years! Our annual Sunday attendance has kept pushing toward 150, creeping over a little (as it did just before the task force was convened), and then falling back. Over and over. The task force realized that we needed to ask and investigate WHY this keeps happening, what barriers are in our way, and HOW to get us unstuck from this uncomfortable spot.
“Seeking the Future, Part II: Change is Scary” (Janay Sander)
Listen to Janay’s Presentation
Janay’s section acknowledged that the task force has heard many concerns voiced about the idea of adding a second service. She reassured us all that fear is a natural response to the prospect of change, and then she shared a personal encounter with change – big time change – that she and her family had to decide to deal with. She shared how it was scary and uncomfortable, risky and also transformative.
She left us with a few thoughts. First: avoiding change may avoid risk, but it also prevents opportunities for healthy growth. And second: if we end up making a choice to try adding a second service, we are choosing to risk what is to make room for what can become.
“Seeking the Future, Part III: Our Mission Calls Us” (Susan Taylor)
Listen to Susan’s Presentation
As we consider the journey our church is on, our mission and vision really should act as our travel guidebook, encouraging us to look for ways to grow. Our mission includes the phrase “Practicing inclusivity” which clearly calls for us to stretch our arms out to others. Our visions says “We seek […] relationships that foster growth” and that we welcome all. Written quite a few years earlier, Section 3 of our church by-laws states, “With mutual good faith and good will we seek: […]to extend our own church in order to make membership available to all who would find the way of liberal religion an enrichment of life.” We are called to reach out, drawing others in to join us.
In order to live up to our mission, our vision and our church by-laws, we must acknowledge that growing our church is the next stage in our journey. And, now that we all know this, we need a sense of urgency. We’re hurting the vitality and health of our church community when we don’t take such steps.
“Seeking the Future, Part IV: What It Will Take” (Jerry McKean)
Listen to Jerry’s Presentation
As Jerry said, we love this church and because we do we take the risks of love. We need to nurture our church as we nurture our children, not knowing for certain what the future holds, but blessing them with the best we can offer.
This change toward making intentional steps to grow will involve lots of work, money, and risk of loss as well as gain. Like building maintenance, deferred congregational change leads to higher costs, greater efforts, and lower chances of success. So we need to get moving.
But it’s exciting to think about reaching the unchurched and the seekers in our community. We understand we have about four to five visitors each Sunday. If only two of those are seekers, that’s more than one hundred people looking for a place to belong each year. We need intentional change to bring those people in, however. The result of such intentional change should be to make us more genuinely and passionately us.
In closing, Jerry told us that our church will change; there’s no getting around that. We can allow the change to occur haphazardly and unpredictably, or we can plan for it and welcome it when it comes. We can live our mission and vision or treat them as platitudes. The choice is ours.
Two Services Task Force Primary Research Material
- The Myth of the 200 Barrier: How to Lead through Transitional Growth by Kevin E Martin
- Raising the Roof: The Pastoral-to-Program Size Transition by Alice Mann
- The In-Between Church: Navigating Size Transitions in Congregations by Alice Mann