In the January, 1991 issue of GROWING CHURCHES John Vaughan pointed out that most growing churches are multi-congregational churches. An estimated eighty five percent of fast growing churches are in multiple services on Sunday, some even have Saturday night services.(1)
Ours is one of those churches. We have recently started our sixth and seventh weekend service. The long range planning committee is looking at a plan, though not adopted by the church, that would have us in thirteen services by the year 2000. These services would be under the direction of several preaching pastors and musicians. We have come to believe that the multiple service approach is not so much a result of growth, but a cause of growth. Why is this so? How could multiple services encourage the growth of a church?
I set before you four reasons why the multi-congregation approach is practically advantageous in terms of the Great Commission.
There is an enormous savings of money.
This savings helps two ways. First, you have more resources to spend on staff, advertising program expense, and missions. Second, you don’t have to badger your people for money. Baby boomers are especially suspicious of organizations who are constantly harping on money. Yet, the costs of providing space is enormous.
Lyle Schaller predicts the cost in the following way. “Experience tells us the answer [to the question, ‘what will it cost’] will turn out to be two or three or four times the original estimate.”(2)
The actual numbers can be calculated very simply. Consider this, Southern Baptist have spent $6000 for every many woman and preschooler that we have attending our churches. A church averaging 100 in Sunday School has spent $600,000 on capital assets.
George Barna puts this into perspective for us: “The average church in America allocates about 5 percent of its budget for evangelism, but approximately 30 percent for buildings and maintenance. Another study reported the American Church as a whole spending $3 billion [with a “B”] per year on the construction of new buildings.” [emphasis mine](3)
Yet we live on a fixed income. Every man, woman and child that walks through the door and sits down in a Sunday School class brings about $22.00 with them and drops it in the offering plate. At least that is the average. I put together this chart of weekly giving:
- $23.20 Southern Baptist Convention nationwide average
- $23.70 New Mexico Convention average
- $21.62 Dona Ana Association average
- $22.45 Calvary Baptist(4)
There is a tendency to think that we can have big enough buildings to seat everyone in one service and have enough to staff for growth and other programing expense. This is naive.
My mother taught me this principle. When driving home from church on Sunday night we would often drive by McDonald’s. I would ask to stop and get a hamburger, instead of cooking something at home. She suggested that we save the money so that we could give it to world missions. I responded, “Oh Mom, we can get a hamburger and still have money to give to world missions”. “No, son, the money you spend on McDonald’s hamburgers you cannot also give to world missions”. Mom tells me she learned this principle from Winston Crawley when he was area director for Southeast Asia for Foreign Mission Board. (My parents were missionaries to the Philippines for 25 years.) The missionaries would suggest that they build an orphanage or other project. Winston Crawley would always respond, “That is a good idea for a ministry. But remember, the money you spend on an orphanage you cannot also spend on placing a church planter in a new area.” We cannot spend the same dollar on buildings, staff, program expenses, and world missions.
Jesus taught that the bottle neck of the evangelistic process is laborers.
Matthew 9:37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.”
Luke 10:2 He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into His harvest field.”
“What is the need of the hour?” Dawson Trotman asked after years of laboring in the harvest. “Is it more money or better equipment or more resources? No! It is for people who believe that God is God and will do everything He promised”.(5) The bottleneck has always been laborers. They are more willing to hear than we are to tell. They are more willing to receive than we are to send.
In light of this, I was surprised to learn that laborers are, in fact, available. I heard Dr. Russell Dilday, President of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas, say in a message several years ago that there are more ministers coming into the system than leaving. In fact, he pointed out that there are about 500 more ministers graduating from Southern Baptist seminaries than there are jobs opening up through ministers retiring, dying, dropping out of the ministry, and new churches being planted. Five hundred more laborers coming into the fields every year! Why are churches not hiring these people? Why are trained, committed, available laborers not being placed on church staffs to do evangelism, singles ministry, administration and other needed ministries?
In a word, money.
What church would not love to have additional staff if they could afford it? Perhaps God could use this method to release resources to enable these laborers to minister full time. There is an old rule in Sunday School life that says if you want to have 1,000 in Sunday School it is simple, just get 100 teachers. And each of them will get 10 pupils. Correspondingly, if you want to increase the size of the harvest, increase the number of full-time laborers in the field. Our church has been able to continue growing partly due to maintaining a staff to Sunday School attendance ratio of below 1 to 100. There is plenty in the field; the bottleneck is the number of laborers.
It allows us to overcome the number one obstacle of the people we are trying to reach: inconvenience.
Rick Warren cites a major study done by Chrysler Corporation. The study discovered that the number one thing Americans will not put up with is inconvenience. The airlines say, “We are ready when you are”. They list dozens of flights between the same locations. In contrast, we say, “We offer the life saving message of the Gospel on Sunday mornings (usually at 11:00). If you are not available then, too bad. Apparently it is not important enough to you.” Obviously no one feels this way consciously, but the result is the same for the outsider. Carl George is insightful at this point, “We have a custom for worship on Sunday, but for an increasing part of our population that is not working. Why can’t we have worship sometime besides just Sunday? We don’t think in those terms. We think of a worship service, or two worship services and then we run out of imagination.”(6)
The people we are trying to reach do not need very good excuses to stay away from church. Inconvenience is quite enough. The symbol of American life is the 122 channel cable ready TV with, of course, remote control. We do not ask, “What show are you watching?” We ask, “What shows are you watching?” People love choices. A whole rack of magazines just for computers: PC, Amiga, DOS, Apple, portables, business use, home use, etc. Choices, choices, choices. Anderson says this is especially true of Baby Boomers:
They are happy that the church has a Sunday evening service; they will probably never attend… The Baby Boomers like several churches not only at different hours, but with various styles of music. They also like having several pastors; a solo pastorate seems quite restrictive.(7)
The more choices on the menu, the bigger the ticket and the fatter the tip. And the longer the line at the door. Do you want to go to a restaurant with only one entrée, even if you like that entrée? I envision an advertisement that says, “We are ready when you are”, and then lists the times of our services. Perhaps we can provide 12 to 15 services a week on various topics by various preachers pitched to various audiences and interests. Lyle Schaller has also seen this, “Contemporary society is much more complicated than it once was and to minister to the contemporary needs it is necessary to conceptualize the church as a community of communities.”(8) In other words, choices.
In addition to offering seven times of worship services per weekend, we also offer three different approaches. Two of the services are believers services which offer heavier expository preaching. Five of our services we call “Seeker Services”. They sermon titles read like the cover article to a Reader’s Digest Magazine but with Biblical answers. Two of these services are contemporary with drums, base guitar, synthesizer and a vocal band. The other three are more traditional. Both meet a need and are reaching people.
The multi-congregation approach allows us to spend a significant proportion of our income on advertising.
A church can spend, with great profit, at least five percent of its income on advertising. The retail clothing industry spends three to five percent. The key is getting this cash free to spend. The multi-congregation model is one way to get significant cash savings.
Many media can be used, but among the most effective and predictable is direct mail. “Direct mail is the most cost effective method of new member enlistment available to churches”.(9) Experts tell us that for every 100 pieces of high quality and creative mail dropped in the mailboxes of neighbors, a church can expect to see between and and 3 of them visit the church.(10) In our experience, 1 out of 3 of those who visit will join. Our attendance will increase by 1 for every 2 people that join, and our giving will increase by $1,000 per year for every person attending Sunday School. Direct mail campaigns can be done turn-key for $.15 per piece (includes printing, mailing list, postage and processing). Summary: a 10,000 piece mailing will cost $1,500. We can expect 50 to 300 people to visit as a result of our $1,500 investment. If 54 visit, 18 will join. They will increase our attendance by an average of 9 and will give $9000 their first year. You spend a dollar and get 6 back, not bad return on investment. If all that was at stake was money, we would have to conclude that whatever we could do to control expenses so that we could invest more money in getting the message out through advertising would be worth it. There is an old adage in church life that churches do not have money problems, they have attendance problems.
But money is not all that is at stake. We are in the people business. If the $1,500 was an outright expense that we never expected to get back, it would still be worth it to touch these 50 to 300 lives and have 18 or more join the church (six of them by baptism). But if we also have to provide space for these people at costs ranging from $3,000 to $6,000 each, the cash flow problems become prohibitive. We know that part of the money they give will have to be spent on staff, program expenses, utilities, etc. We give about 20% to the cooperative program, association and other mission causes. If we can control capital expenses, it will allow us to touch lives through advertising. If we don’t have the money because it is tied up in buildings we simply lose the opportunity. But there is more.
I saved the best for last.
Each of these people we touch will come from the “pagan pool”. They have other friends in the pagan pool and will invite them as their lives are changed. Most of the people who visit our church are invited by friends who attend our church. Most of these friends are people I and the “core group” do not know. They are “fringe” people, new people, I suspect. Each time advertising attracts one of these people, they put us in contact with a whole network of new people. This is why Schaller laments, “Few use direct mail advertising to invite people to special events and programs. Very few long established congregations are willing to affirm that spending an amount equivalent to 3 to 5 percent of the annual budget is a cost effective component of a larger strategy… [to grow]”(11)
Our experience has made us big believers in the multiple service approach. We no longer look at it as a means of getting out of a temporary jam, but plan to use in on an intentional, permanent basis.
1. John Vaughan, GROWING CHURCHES, January, February, March.
2. Schaller, Lyle E. Choices for Churches, p.117.
3. George Barna, The Frog in the Kettle, p. 135.
4. These numbers are taken from “The Quarterly Review”, Baptist Convention of New Mexico State report and the brochure, “Meet Southern Baptists”.
5. Dawson Trotman, The Need of the Hour, Navpress.
6. Carl George. Breaking the 800 Barrier Seminar.
7. Leigh Anderson, Dying for Change, p. 88.
9. Walter Mueller, Direct Mail Ministry, p. 9.