Grace UMC is located in South Central Pennsylvania about 60 miles north of Baltimore,Md. The community of Hanover is growing about 7-8% annually. Overall population of the community within 10 miles of Grace Church is about 40,000. Grace Church has plateaued in its Sunday Worship attendance for over 15 years at 200 in two morning services, an 8:00am and 10:30am service. The sanctuary accommodates about 200 total.
In January of 1994, the church completed a building expansion that included a gym, classroom space, and office space. The gym will hold 250 persons. The hope of the congregation was that this would produce some new growth.
In October, 1994, the church held a Church growth with Integrity Consultation with Bill Easum. One of the recommendations from that consultation was to launch a new service at 9:00am on Sunday mornings during the Sunday School Hour. This was to be the “Blue Jean Service.”
I began to work out the plan for this service even before the ink was dry on the report. I did not have any musicians at the time and did not know where I would get them. I did have two women in the church choir that I thought could help with the singing. In December, 1994, I shared with them the thought of a new service, to be held in the gym, during Sunday School. Target date was the first Sunday of October, 1995.
The format was to be informal, relaxed and inviting to unchurched folks. We would use CD’s and canned music if needed. We would use contemporary praise music with a country flair. Coffee and donuts would be served throughout the service. Time for singing, praying, sharing, teaching/preaching, greetings/announcements, and a time for laughing and crying would be part of the service experience.
We began in January, 1995 with the three of us looking at music, thinking about what might work. I then met a man who played guitar but was not involved in any church. I shared with him what I was working on. His response was immediate, “Hey, that sounds like a church I would like to come to.” Then I asked the BIG question. “Would you like to play your guitar and join the team?” He was hooked and by the third week of January was working with us.
Bill then said that he knew a keyboard player who played for a jazz band and did not go to church anywhere. He asked if we would be interested in this guy joining us. Needless to say we were thrilled at this prospect. Bill invited Bob and he joined the last week of February. From the first week of March, 1995 until the last week of May, we ended up with a 16 y/o drummer, four more singers (one a teen), two sound person (both teens), two persons who wanted to help supply the coffee and donuts each week, and three others who just would do anything.
The first week of July we had a trial run at the 10:30am service to introduce the concept to the congregation. The church board freaked out, the Max and Maxine threatened lawsuit, and the teens loved it. So did the parents of those teens when they found out their kids would come to church without a fight.
After some heated debates in the Administrative Council, a phone call or two to the Bishop and District Superintendent, and the refusal of the controlling fathers to grant permission to start this service, we began the first Sunday in October as planned. What a great day it was. 52 people were present that first Sunday. We had advertised with flyers and on the “Weather Channel.” Of the 52, 20 were first time visitors.
On October 1, 1996, we celebrated our first anniversary with 141 in attendance. What a great thrill this service has been. We have seen over 70 new faces in the church over the past year and 4 months. The church board still has not given us permission and the battle still continues over the right of the pastor to use our building for this outrageous stuff.
The Blue Jean Service now averages 100-120 each week and is now the largest attended service of the three. The 8am service is down from 35 to 15, the 10:30 service is down from 140 to 80. Our overall averages still show us on the plateau, but the good news is we have many new people coming. The sad news is that I received request from over 50 folks to transfer the memberships to other more traditional churches.
As this service continues to develop, and as we continue to see the Holy Spirit moving and working, I can only believe that in the long run, Grace Church will see significant growth for the Kingdom of God. There have been over 30 persons confessing their faith in Jesus Christ for the first time as a result of their participation in this new service. If only one had come to Christ, it would still have been worth the effort. Praise be to God!
This note came in later from the pastor:
Now for some additional thoughts. January saw a “new” board take office. Tonight they formally accepted the Blue Jean Service as a part of the worship experience of the church. By the way, it did not hurt to mention that over 60% of the weekly offerings come form this service, even though we do not take “up” an offering. Offering boxes are placed at each entrance and people just use them.