The following is an excerpt from our upcoming book, 21st Century Strategies for Church Growth.

One of the consistent messages we hear during onsite consultations is that the church is committed to reach those beyond the church walls. One of the realities these churches have to face is that there are a limited number of non-active Methodists, Lutherans, Baptists, Presbyterians, or (fill in the blank for your denomination) in town just waiting for someone to invite them to church. Nearly everyone who wanted to be in church last weekend was in church. Indeed, this is true for every non-churched Christian in the community. If they wanted to be in church, they were in church. What that means is that regardless of a church’s identified target audience, those folks don’t have any great burning desire to say yes to an invitation. Frankly, they don’t want to be in church. Therefore, if you are going to reach these folks you’ll have to remove as many barriers from church attendance as possible.

The three most common reasons given for not attending church are:

  1. The church is filled with hypocrites.
  2. The church is irrelevant to my life.
  3. The church is boring.

Creating, adopting, and living a congregational covenant of conduct and a meaningful leadership covenant will pretty much deal with the first point (other posts have dealt with these). The second two points are best addressed by developing a worship service that is designed specifically to speak into the lives of a macro-group or multiple micro-groups.

Macro-groups are segments of your community that have much in common. For instance, retirees make up a well-defined macro-group. Every person in that large group has something in common. However, within that macro-group are a myriad of micro-groups. A couple of examples include retirees who retired from blue-collar jobs, those who retired but have children living at home, and retirees who have lost their spouse.

When it comes to targeting worship, the modern church is best equipped to reach macro-groups and/or multiple micro groups that are largely defined by generation. The reason for this distinction is because each macro-generation shares significant traits.[1] For instance, those raised before the popularization of television learned to appreciate the nuances of human speech and learned to study the written word well. Those who grew up with television discovered they learn best when imagery and video accompany words. The latest generation has become dependent on screen technology, digital communication, and experiential participation in order to process and retain information.

As you can probably deduce, it is unlikely that a single worship service would be effective in reaching all three of these generations well. The Radio Generation depends on listening carefully to the spoken word whereas the Digital Generation depends on participation and interactions – just designing a sermon that both generations would fully embrace is neigh on impossible. But that doesn’t seem to stop churches across the nation from trying.

Some churches are unwilling to start multiple services in order to reach younger adults. The reasons for this are myriad, but generally include the following: (1) we won’t know everybody anymore, (2) we don’t have enough people to offer multiple services, and (3) young adults need to learn to love traditional worship. We’ll deal with each objection momentarily. These churches tend to try and incorporate a “blended” worship service or else to set aside one or two services a month for a contemporary service. The results for either of these are nearly universally unmitigated disasters. For one, both of these attempts are focused on us, not on those the church is trying to reach. An unchurched visitor with little church experience finds blended services confusing on multiple levels. First, typically the only thing that changes in a blended service is the “music.” Virtually everything else remains the same. Once the music is finished, blended services tend to “revert” to traditional worship with the inclusion of responsive readings, litanies, confessions of faith, confessions of sin, the Lord’s Prayer, Gloria Patri’s, Doxologies, and a sermon that addresses very broad issues because they’re addressed to an intergenerationally broad congregation. Thus the visitor is presented with mixed messages.

However, the more troubling issue with most blended services is that the “contemporary” parts don’t receive the resources to be anything more than mediocre. Adding a drum kit, bass and electric guitars, personal monitors, and appropriate amplification are rarely even considered. Instead, someone who can strum an acoustic guitar and perhaps someone else who can play a keyboard and a couple of vocalists offer their best, but without the support, resources, and rehearsal time, their best rarely meets the quality of even an underperforming choir. In other words, the value of excellence is missing from virtually all blended services.

But what about the objections? Let’s quickly address each one.

(1) We won’t know everybody anymore. This may be true, though rarely does a parishioner actually “know” everybody in a church with more than 75 in average worship attendance. It is true that everyone pretty well recognizes everyone else in a smaller church, but that “knowing everybody” claim is typically exaggerated. I demonstrate this in churches regularly. Randomly selecting two people from the congregation (and determining that they’re not kin), I then pepper one of the volunteers with questions about the other … “What’s their middle name? How long have they been married? How old are their children? What job did they have before the one they have now? Where were they born? How did they meet their spouse?” and so on. Typically, the point is made within two or three questions.

But there’s one more point to be made. In any church with over 50 in an average worship service, there are already multiple “congregations,” even if there is only one worship service. Observing the interactions before and following worship service quickly reveals this reality. Watch how people interact with each other. There will be those who enter the worship center and shake hands with almost everyone they meet, but then they engage in real conversation with only a few. These folks are the ones who will go out to lunch together, meet each other for coffee during the week, and have a number of commonalities. Those in one generation rarely hang out together, much less with those of a younger generation… they just don’t have that much in common. And although everyone shows up for a single worship service, the reality is there are multiple “groups” in the church… also known as congregations. 

Finally, any church committed to ensuring that “everyone knows everyone else” has made a commitment to remain a small church … i.e., one with less than 100 in worship, which means that the church will soon find that it doesn’t have the funds to support a full-time pastor, let alone a pastor and staff (in today’s economic climate, it takes an average worship attendance of approximately 130 to generate the funds needed to support a full-time pastor).

(2) We don’t have enough people to offer multiple services. First, there are churches of under 100 that have successfully started new services. These churches are located in all settings from rural to urban and pretty much everywhere in between. The real problem with this objection is that if the church “waits until it’s big enough” to start a second service, it will never launch one. The reason for this is primarily that these churches have already demonstrated how difficult it is to grow in their present circumstances. If the church isn’t growing now, what will change to make it grow in the future? A new service is a church’s best chance at experiencing new growth.

(3) Young adults need to learn to love traditional worship. In a word, “Why?” Worship styles change with each generation and will continue to do so. There is nothing sacred about the classic worship service style … and the classic worship services of today look nothing like the classic worship service experience a century ago. For instance, it’s a rare church that separates the congregation with a divider in the pews that keeps the women from sitting with the men. That was a common practice a century ago. The length of worship services a hundred years ago was rarely as brief as one hour. And of course, the music was significantly different in terms of selection, tempo, and instrumentation (pianos were still a controversial instrument). Bottom Line: Today’s classic worship service will almost certainly see a significant shift in the next ten to fifteen years as the Boomers find themselves having to contend with an aging Gen-X group (who have already begun turning fifty!).

In the end, those churches that try to do a blended service discovers that no one is truly happy with the change. Those who love the classic worship style usually don’t care for the contemporary, and vice versa. At best it’s a compromise that leaves both sets of worshippers a little less than fulfilled.

Therefore, in order to reach multiple generational macro-groups, growing multigenerational churches have discovered it is most effective and efficient to develop multiple services.

Question: How have you seen your church (or another church) grow from beginning a second service? Share your experiences in the Comments section below.

[1] When it comes to macro- or micro- groups we refer to the majority of those who share traits – a bell curve description. Targeting is focused on reaching the largest majority in that group, knowing that there are those on both ends of the curve that have other preferences. For instance, we probably all know seventy-plus year olds who would rather listen to a screaming guitar than an organ anthology … and twenty-year olds who prefer classical music over classic rock-n-roll.