The Church Revitalization Podcast – Episode 187
It is, unfortunately, a reality for many churches that you have to consider dropping a Sunday worship service because of attendance decline. If your church is in the opposite situation and thinking about launching a second service, we covered tips for you back in Episode 181 of The Church Revitalization Podcast.
A church in decline is painful for almost everyone involved, especially the leadership, but it may be time to make the strategic decision to go down to just one worship service. There is no definitive answer as to when you should consider moving to one service, but when the worship space is down to one-quarter to one-third full in each service, it may be time for this discussion.
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1. You need to have a plan beyond this change
It’s important to remember that declining worship service attendance is a symptom of a disease. You must first diagnose the disease before implementing a portion of a treatment plan – reducing the number of worship services. Put another way, going down to one service should be a strategy component of a bigger strategic plan to revitalize the church. The danger in not developing a full plan for revitalization is that after combining worship services things will feel better for a time. More people in the room will give the illusion of a larger, healthier church, but that’s a trap because you will not have addressed the reasons behind the decline to begin with. The now larger single service will continue to decline until it may be too late to recover.
What a strategic plan will do for you, if done well, is bring hope and excitement, and that’s a key ingredient in making a change like this and moving beyond it and back into a season of health and growth.
2. You need to be honest about the situation
Everyone knows the church is declining. Don’t continue letting it be the unspoken truth that everyone is aware of. Inasmuch as an addict needs to first admit their addiction, there is power in admitting that the church is declining. This is necessary to help build unity around the present situation and future strategy for growth.
3. You may have to make a tough choice on music
If you’ve had two similar worship services, then this is not an issue for you, but if like many churches, you have one “traditional” and one “contemporary” service, this is a tough decision. What it comes down to is vision. Do you envision the church reaching people in a demographic that would lean towards one or the other? Then that’s where you need to focus your attention. If you haven’t taken the time to work on future vision, see point #1 above and begin that work first.
4. Children’s ministry volunteers will love it or hate it
If you’ve had pretty close to the number of volunteers needed to cover two worship services, then your volunteers will more likely be ok with the change to one service. It will give them more time off to attend worship. If you’ve been short on volunteers, then this change might make things worse for them if you’ll be asking them to serve nearly every week with few opportunities to attend worship. Only the most committed volunteers will endure that for very long and it’s not a good position to put them in. Building on previous points, you need to have a plan for how you’ll address the volunteer shortage, and you need to communicate honestly and clearly to those volunteers.
5. You may accelerate some additional losses
Sorry to be the bearer of yet more bad news, but as with any significant change in the church, some people will decide it is just not the best place for them anymore. Of course you should do everything you can to prevent this, but it will be inevitable to some degree. It is still better to have sought the Lord, made a plan, enacted change and taken the short-term loss than to continue down the slow path to death.
I want you to know that you are not alone. Others have been in your situation before and weathered the storm. Pull your leaders together and seek help to develop a good plan for the future.
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A.J. Mathieu is the President of the Malphurs Group. He is passionate about helping churches thrive and travels internationally to teach and train pastors to lead healthy disciple-making churches. A.J. lives in the Ft. Worth, Texas area, enjoys the outdoors, and loves spending time with his wife and two sons. Click here to email A.J.