We recently switched times for our two services. As folks settle into new routines, a few have asked, “Why two services?” I thought that this would be a great time to refresh us on our strategy.
Just before the pandemic, we launched a second, contemporary service. This service was designed to meet the unchurched closer to where they are. I have followed polls by Barna, including large research projects like “Making Room for Millennials,” as well as research by Thom Rainer and more mature pastors in Disciple Heritage Fellowship. I have also been interviewing, as best as possible, folks who visited our church and didn’t land here. Their comments were consistent and lined up with what Barna, Rainer, and others have found.
One hundred years ago, it seemed like almost everyone went to church; only 50 years ago, it seemed to be that the vast majority did. Church greatly influenced culture, but church was also a culture unto itself. The music, the language, the traditions — all were passed down inside the church by lines of families who went to church together. Meanwhile, significant trends that really gained steam in the 60’s saw an offshoot of people walk away from the church.
The unchurched developed their own culture, and the church largely didn’t interact with them. As 60 or so years went by, the use of words, music styles, and traditions all diverged in ways far sharper than ever before in U.S. history. That meant that those who grew up in church and younger people who were more exposed to the world’s culture — as well as those who had never been to church — communicated in vastly different ways.
Churches have noticed this trend for some time; hence, Maranatha Music’s inception and the continued evolution of contemporary Christian music. Combine that with the digital age, and even the way churches are built has changed, as we seek to both “feed the sheep” (John 21:17) and “reach the lost” (Luke 15:3-7).
Young people and the unchurched largely want dark places of worship, so they aren’t distracted by the crowds and can focus on hearing the message and the worship lyrics. They long for a more contemplative, yet casual, atmosphere and a more personal experience. They want music and rhythms that sounds familiar to them, like on the radio. In contrast, those who grew up with a church heritage value rich older hymns, the familiar songs they knew growing up and a bright atmosphere where they can see others worshipping as a communal event. They value tradition in a greater way than the young or unchurched. The two groups also don’t usually like the preferences of the other.
Since it is hard to have a service both well lit, and dark featuring all classic songs or hymns, or all songs that would be familiar to young people, both full of tradition, and yet feel relevant, we decided two different services were necessary.
How is it working out? We have young people who weren’t regular attenders just a year ago volunteering in our sound booth and singing on stage. Having two different times has brought new people just for the time convenience. Having different worship options has relieved some of the stress of Chuck trying to play to two distinct audiences. We have seen new visitors and new regular attenders who prefer one or the other. In other words, it’s helped us reach more people and given more opportunities for people to serve.
When Chuck suggested that we flip the services to better meet the needs of young parents, it was easy to relate as a young parent myself! So far, the change has worked out great for both worship teams, as well.
As we work on projects, like being able to close and open the curtains on our big windows — a function that it was originally intended to have — the two services will continue to look more distinct from one another. We will have the option of playing with the service order of the contemporary service more, while still providing something more traditional.
Despite the two services, we are still one church. Both hear the same message; both hear about the same small group and event opportunities to encourage mingling together; and both glorify God. This two-pronged approach allows us to be more diverse in our impact and is an important piece of the strategy of reaching younger and unchurched people in our community for Jesus.