Less than a year after planting Focus Church in Raleigh, North Carolina, we went from one service to three services. Following a season as a portable church, we expanded again. We now have three locations and five weekend services. The decision to embrace multiple services has directly influenced the ability to grow our church.
If your church is contemplating making this shift, here are 10 guidelines:
1. Don’t make extra services the starting point for growth. I have met a few pastors who thought adding a service would generate growth, but that has not proven true.
Churches that successfully make the transition from one to two services usually do so because of capacity issues. Perhaps the children’s area is too crowded, for instance. Multiple services work best when the congregation can see the obvious need.
2. Don’t fixate on volunteer numbers. The fear of not having enough volunteers often holds churches back from adding services.
However, I have never been to a church of any size that was no longer accepting help. There will never be enough volunteers. Adding services creates space for new people to serve — maybe even some you never thought would step up.
3. Treat volunteers like VIPs. Whether through catering, compensation or words of gratitude, let volunteers know you appreciate them.
Set up a special room for them where they can get snacks and beverages. Budget and account for this each time you add a service.
Offer childcare for volunteers who are arriving early. It’s the least you can do for the audio technician who woke up three kids before 5 a.m. to be at sound check on time.
4. Generate momentum through careful timing. Ministry happens in seasons. There are certain windows of opportunity for maximizing growth potential.
Our church always grows early in the year. Few people vacation in winter, the sports activities are limited, and the new year brings a fresh sense of commitment.
Adding services creates space for new people to serve — maybe even some you never thought would step up.
Adding a service later than February may not generate enough momentum to get through the summer, when church attendance is lower. I suggest starting the new year with new service times. Alternatively, consider a date between mid-August and mid-October, as a new school year begins.
5. Keep the services unified. It may be tempting to try two different kinds of services, such as traditional and contemporary. However, this approach can divide the congregation. If each service is different, people will have to pick sides. It also makes future adjustments more difficult.
Identical services unify the church and give guests plenty of options. Having the same songs, same sermon, same energy and same programming will keep everyone on the same page.
6. End on time. A multiple service model only works if there is enough lead time between services. Getting this right may mean adjusting the service structure, but the entire church needs to function on a system. There must be time for cleaning and resetting the kids’ rooms. The sound director needs a chance to get some coffee. You have to end on time, every time.
7. Count the cost. Adding a service can be expensive. For a portable church that is contracted per hour, you will have to add additional time. Over the course of the year, that time can add up.
There are also marketing costs, such as changing the signs, reprinting invitation cards, and updating the website.
Just because you increase the number of available seats does not mean you will automatically have the additional income. You’ll need at least six months of expenses in the bank to float until the income catches up.
8. Don’t neglect your health. The risk of burnout in ministry is real, even with only one Sunday service. Establish some boundaries and healthy habits. Find a place to rest between services, such as a corner of your office.
Keep healthy snacks and water close by. Stay hydrated to make it through and preserve your voice. And when the services are over, schedule some down time.
9. Start with a seasonal approach. There are some things you have to figure out by trying. Add a service on a temporary basis before committing to it long term. If it doesn’t take off, simply revert back to a single service.
10. Prepare your ego. Preachers love full rooms. But when you spread out your attenders over two service times, it shouldn’t be surprising that the room is no longer full.
Remember that a full room means it is harder to reach anyone else. It takes some adjusting, but creating space — and opportunity for outreach — might be the best thing you’ve ever done.
This article originally appeared in the September/October 2020 edition of Influence magazine.