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The Art & Science of Changing Service Times

Are Your Service Times Optimal to Reach New People?

Recently in coaching a great church in the Columbus Ohio metro area—The Church Next Door—we suggested to senior pastor Doyle Jackson that they considering changing their service times. The Church Next Door accommodates about 900 people each weekend in four services: two on Saturday night (5:00 and 6:45pm) and two on Sunday morning (9 and 10:45am). The first one on Saturday night was okay, but the second one was super-sparce. The common theory on two Saturday night services is it’s easier to piggyback services and retain volunteers (serve one, attend one), but I think a larger issue is the lack of energy and sense of momentum when a new person enters a barely-filled large room: the vibe is, “No one really wants to be here.” And for my user-friendly, invitational bent, creating welcoming environments is a big deal. We suggested merging the two Saturday services into one and creating a more enticing and energized context.

Sunday morning was okay at 9:00am, but certainly had a lot of room to grow. The 10:45am was the heaviest attended. Our suggestion was to cut about 10-15 minutes of “fluff” from their often 75-minute services (in most churches, every service and sermon have unnecessary fluff: redundancy and over-information) and then readjust their times to 9:30 and 11am, making them more attractional and receptive to invitation and balanced time-wise.

The problem was: how to communicate this to the congregation. Will it feel like a take-away? And for notoriously consumeristic American Christians, what will convince them it’s for the better?

Here’s the email I sent Doyle for suggested communication:

Regarding changing your service times: be bold and brave. Don’t worry about the complainers. You want to mention (1) your church’s history, (2) values related to that history, and (3) why this is important. It could sound something like this:

“We have some exciting news about our weekend services. From the earliest days of The Church Next Door, we wanted to create a place that ANYONE could come to—a safe place to hear the dangerous message of Jesus and His radical love! Even this new series—“Finding Home”—is all about wanting everyone to find their home in God’s heart. And because of our deep belief that all people are valued by God, we want to make sure that our times to invite people are optimal.

“Since Sunday is typically when most people check out a church or to explore the faith, we want to shift our services so that we can reach as many people as possible who are apt to come during that “prime time.” So in two weeks, we’re shifting our times to 9:30 and 11. We want to make it as easy as possible for you to invite your friends and family…and we believe those are the optimal times—not too early, not too late.

“And then on Saturday nights, we’re combining our two services into one to make it as exciting and energized as ever so that new people who come in see how awesome it is to be in a room filled with people who actually want to come to church—people like you! The whole reason for doing this is to make a much more inviting and motivating environment for you to bring the people you know who don’t yet know Jesus. It’s really all about creating the best possible context for those exploring the faith. And as we’ve always said, “It’s not about us; it’s about God and others”…this isn’t a private party. So in two weeks, we’ll be having one room-filled, energized service at 5pm.”

And then add at the Saturday 6:45pm service:

“So for the 6:45 gang here, please join us at the 5pm service and make it a more energizing, welcoming service. Invite your co-workers, family and friends to 5pm and then take them out for dinner. Let’s use this time to bring as many people to Jesus as possible!”

“Today I want to talk about…” and launch headlong and energetically into your message.

PS: Pastor Doyle got zero pushback afterwards. Good, thoughtful communication is critical because people want to know why something changes. If you don’t communicate, they’ll assign their own reason to it…and it may not be flattering or accurate.

Dave Workman | Elemental Churches


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