How are we looking? Sunday Services
Our 2014/2015 data survey, which gathered information from churches affiliated to FIEC, highlighted some changes – not least about the way we serve God on Sundays. So we asked five pastors to share their reasons for their current Sunday programmes.
When we published our data survey in January, it showed some interesting trends. One that really stood out was the changing ways our churches are gathering on Sundays.
For example, there is a marked decline in the Sunday evening service. 25 years ago more than nine in ten (93%) of churches had an evening service, today that is fewer than eight in ten (77%). It was also interesting to note that most new church plants don’t have two services – instead choosing to meet just once and not always on a Sunday morning.
So what is the rationale behind some of these decisions?
I spoke to five church pastors with different experiences. Some have never had two Sunday services; one has chosen to drop the evening service while a church plant has decided to meet once on a Sunday morning – after originally meeting on a Sunday afternoon.
We hope these stories will help others who are thinking through the way they serve God on a Sunday but we know that these experiences will not be exhaustive. If your church has a different experience or a different approach to Sunday services, why not get in touch so that we can pool the wisdom of our 559 churches?
Sawbridgeworth in Hertfordshire took the decision to stop their Sunday evening meeting. Pastor Gary Hanson explains the process.
When we made the decision to change our evening service we were smaller in number than we are now. At the time we were getting 80 along in the morning but only 12 in the evening.
Out of those 12 I would say that only 2-3 came because they needed it, maybe 3-4 because it was on and it had always been on and some of the rest probably came out of a sense of duty to support me.
The services themselves were a slightly quieter version of the morning service! This may have helped their decline; but alongside this I found them extremely difficult to prepare for. Our evening services were your ‘stereotypical’ evening service and so, after some prayer, we decided to drop them.
In their place we have used Sunday nights to host visiting speakers to cover topics of interest (Islam, homosexuality, persecuted Church, euthanasia) and these sessions have been very well attended. Also, we use one of our Sunday nights every month for prayer and they too are well attended.
So our decision to drop Sunday night was a pragmatic one (it wasn’t working) but also intentional as we wanted to have a space where we could teach on topics that are no longer as appropriate on a Sunday morning.
I think that a second service that simply mirrors the morning service is doomed to failure – unless both services are powerful and relevant or the demographic of the congregation is such that it is needed.
Alongside all of this, of course, is that the commitment of the average Christian is significantly lower than years ago. I heard a talk once that suggested 30 years ago a ‘committed member’ would be at church three times a week, but now is considered to be someone who attends three services a month.
My own thoughts on all this is that church is often very safe and middle of the road and at times not a place where we encounter God in the way that we should. People are yearning for more of God, to learn and grow but also to be in the presence of God and all too often church services fall far short of this – ours included. There needs to be a space where the Holy Spirit is allowed to move but in the context of true theological understanding of the Bible and deep fellowship with each other.
My experience suggests that when Church is safe people fall off, but when the Bible is taught and applied, when the style is informal and welcoming and where there is a clear spiritual response to the preaching and contemporary worship, then people want to be a part of it.
Since ChristChurch Redbourn was planted it has never had an evening service and there are a number of reasons why. Now the church has grown, it is considering a multi-congregational model as pastor Chris Smith explains.
A few different factors led to ChristChurch Redbourn not having an evening service.
Originally, we were planted out of ChristChurch Harpenden and for the first few years we had an independent morning service and a joint evening service with Harpenden.
Approximately ten people from Redbourn regularly attended the joint evening service but in the last few years a number have moved away from the area. We are now fully independent and have never had an evening service of our own, while five or six members still call in at Harpenden’s evening service.
My observation when we were two congregations but one church was that the evening service was attended by about 35-50 people from a combined morning congregation of about 400.
From what I can gather, one factor in this part of the world is long work hours and limited family time so many here would not really think about going out twice.
Another observation is that many move out of London to Redbourn and perhaps their church history is a one congregation system. I trained at Moore College in Sydney and many churches there run multi-congregational churches.
I was a student minister at a church with five congregations and a number of people served at one congregation and attended another. Many seemed very committed to their congregation and used other parts of Sundays to spend time with other Christians or non-Christians socially. It was an enormously positive experience for us as a family.
In this model Christians are taught and discipled in small growth groups alongside Sunday mornings so I don’t think there is a lack of teaching without having a second service. Before going to Sydney I thought two Sunday services was practically a biblical requirement - it took leaving the church scene here to realise it wasn’t.
All that said, we are now considering a second gathering at ChristChurch Redbourn and Sydney’s multi-congregation approach is one model among others being considered. Clearly there will be negatives that we will need to weigh up and think about and we will need to consider questions regarding venue and style.
Grace Church Manchester
As a larger church in Manchester with regular congregations of almost 200, pastor Mike Tindall says there would have to be a good reason for Grace Church to start an evening service.
Grace Church has always had a one service on a Sunday model but we put a big emphasis on missional community groups that meet through the week, rather than a second service on a Sunday.
My view is that a second service which is basically the same as the first is unlikely to see steady growth – a second service would have to do something different to be sustainable.
Here in Manchester we are considering what we do on a Sunday night. If we were to host a second service it would have to be addressing a specific need or be contextually relevant to our community. For example we could set something up to serve our student body.
Grace Church Hilton
Grace Church Hilton in Derbyshire is a two-year-old church plant. Like many new plants they started with a one service model but have now changed the timing of their main meeting as pastor Mark Selby explains.
When we first launched as a church plant we met in the afternoon but now we’ve changed that and most of the time we meet on a Sunday morning.
So what were our reasons?
We always have lunch together as a church, so initially we thought that it would be good to eat together and then have our service after that. It would mean that any new people who joined us had some time with us more informally, where we could get to know each other, before moving into the more formal time together.
We still have this pattern once a month as we’re involved in a local dog walking group which meets in the morning on the first Sunday of the month. Whilst we are small it’s easier to be flexible and shift things around so that we can still invest in these groups and relationships we’re trying to build.
However, the main reason we changed the rest of our meetings to a Sunday morning is quite simple. People were just too sleepy to be taking in God’s word after having lunch together!
We saw it was detracting from the usefulness of those times so we now meet in the morning when people are fresher and more awake and then have lunch afterwards. It seems to work pretty well like this.
I think people also quite enjoy having space in the afternoon for other things. Sometimes various groups of us will still do something together like go for a walk or play games at someone’s house but people can now use the afternoons to rest and get ready for the coming week if that’s what they want.
Bradley Road Baptist Church, Wrexham
Bradley Road has seen its Sunday evening service grow at the same rate as its morning service and Pastor Andrew Graham encourages the church to gather twice on a Sunday:
When I started at Bradley Road, the evening service had around 10-20 people attending, with 40 or so attending in the morning. We now have 80-100 attending the morning service, with anywhere between 40 and 60 attending in the evening. So the evening service has grown along with the morning service.
I think there are a number of reasons for this.
Firstly, we encourage the church and those who join us to commit to what the church does. What does our church do? Among other things, we meet twice on a Sunday for worship. Therefore, without being heavy handed, we aim to encourage a desire in believers to use the opportunities that their church gives them to grow in the Lord through worship and fellowship with brothers and sisters in Christ.
Secondly, although the evening service is sometimes very similar to the morning, we have listened to feedback from those who regularly come to it and have tried to implement some changes. These days it is slightly less formal than it was before, with more time for open prayer, and occasionally, for others to give out songs or hymns they would like to sing.
We sometimes have a prayer focus, using the FIEC Go Into prayer cards, or Operation World, or updates from the persecuted Church. We have testimonies and occasionally conduct interviews, for example, asking Christians who are in the workplace what challenges they face as a Christian in the workplace and how we can pray for them. This “different feel” does, I think, give people more reason to come along.
Thirdly we encourage parents to bring their children to the service, believing that it is good for children, even if they are young, to be in the atmosphere of worship and even from a very young age to be listening to the Word of God preached. It has been encouraging to have five, six and seven year olds asking me questions about the sermon!
Finally, we keep on asking people to attend – on and on it goes, the same old announcements! We always try to do this in a relaxed way, but it is direct – people know exactly what it is we are asking of them. We also suggest to those who come to the evening service that it is a good idea for them to be encouraging others in the church to come along to the evening service - but in the same relaxed way.
There is no pressure to come (I hope) but we believe that those who don’t come are missing out and we make this known.