Divided worship services at church: How multiple church services hurt your church

old and new hands

old and new hands

How multiple church services hurt your church

I grew up going to one church service on Sunday morning, one on Sunday night, and one on Wednesday.  When someone got married in the church, everyone was invited to the wedding. And singing Bible songs in Children’s Church. We were one big family. Everyone knew everyone else, except for visitors, so we would have Family day at the park.

Today, many churches strive to grow larger and larger.  To accommodate space requirements, churches will often divide their worship services into an early service, later service, even off-site services.

The Catalyst

Each time I drive by a church and see the words, ‘Traditional Service and Contemporary services’ I often wonder why. I wonder what the-traditional people think of the-contemporary people?

We went to a church that had three services.  The first Traditional Service was at 8:00 a.m. , then a Contemporary service was at 9:30 a.m. then another Traditional Service at 11:00 a.m.  So the pastor would dress up for the first service, dress down for the second, and then dress back up for the third.  Tie on, tie off, tie back on. So the shifts were traditional-contemporary-traditional.  They also had two other church meetings that ported in the pastor’s live message at the contemporary service.  So five total services on one Sunday from one pastor and ‘main church.’ Whew.  I’m tired.

There are reasons churches do multiple services, here are two;

  1. There are just too man people for their building.
    • Pick a good growth plan, and grow grow grow.  It’s what church growth is all about.  You plant a church, do demographic studies and cater your church to that demographic so you grow it as big as you can.  So at some point, you have too many people for the main service location.  The dilemma is too many people, so to keep growing, a second worship service is a way to go.  Or is it?
  2. It is strictly a cultural concern.
    • You have a thousand folks in your church.  And half of them don’t like loud music, they like hymnals instead.  This generation can’t really connect with the worship service direction, so you have to do something to please the unhappy folk. Or do you?
    • So what to do, you split the congregation by offering both traditional services and contemporary services. That makes everyone happy right?  But should our happiness drive church decisions?  Unfortunately, it does too often.  Otherwise, we take their marbles and go to a different sandbox, right? Sounds a lot like a consumer mentality doesn’t it?

What is lost with multiple worship services;

1. Support:

When we segregate a church meeting, we put up barriers to opportunities for support.  As a church family, we are to be there for each other.  But how are we to support someone if we never meet them?  While somewhat silly, an example goes like this.  Ms. Smith goes to the early service, but Ms. Jones goes to the later service.  Ms. Smith is going through a horrible life experience and it just happens to be what Ms. Jones went through last year.  If they never meet, there’s no opportunity for Ms. Jones to support Ms. Smith.

And of course, God can bring them together.  But if the church meeting structure is such that they are kept from each other, then how will they meet? Some would say community or small groups are the way. Regarding Small or Community Groups;

Small Group Story: My wife and I sat in our home as a fellow church goer lamented to us about an experience with the small groups at church we all attended.  She went to a community group and felt like a fish out of water.   As she continued to describe the small group demographics,  she realized she was twenty or so senior to most people at the group.  She then mentioned at some point it was suggested to her that a different community group might fit her better.  One that fit her age.  She was still upset about it when she talked to us. It was sad to hear how hurt she was, a sense of rejection from a part of church that is supposed to be supportive.

2. Mentoring:

As people age, their physical, financial, and emotional challenges increase with the loss of spouses, income, and family members.  When Jesus helped those in need, they were the marginalized of society.   When churches segregate one generation from another, people lose an opportunity to sit under the same roof with those who may have dealt with the same issues we deal with as younger folk. In other words, each segregated generation worships in a vacuum, and younger church folk never learn from those older church members.

The church should celebrate those church members who have advanced their faith as much as they have in age. In other words, we should learn from those who have gone before us.  Instead, with today’s post-post modern church, the goals are numeric growth and structural segregation based on demographics.  In other words, we put these people here because they are all ‘this.’

Instead, should we not have one family that can learn from each other, young and old?

What is Gained from Multiple Worship Services

1. Leadership Weighted Identity:

A church should never take on the identity of its leadership. The identity of a church meeting should resemble Christ.  So how is a church meeting with three different demographic or numeric services to resemble Christ?  Pastor worship is a real phenomenon in church. Most churches that have multiple services handle the main message a couple of ways. When we went to the traditional-contemporary-traditional church, there were actually two other church meeting branches that watched the live video feed of the pastor’s message during the ‘contemporary’ service.  Which meant, the worship of the other two church meeting branches had to time the end of worship so they could see the live feed of the ‘main message.’ Worship had to end on this particular time so the live feed of the Pastor’s message could stay on schedule.

The Defense of multiple worship services:

  1.  Our church does so much in the community because of the number of people that go there.  It is unquestionable that churches with more resources have a larger reach.  Is there inherently anything wrong with a large church service because of numbers, probably not.  Does a church get so large that people feel like a number? Yes.  Does a church get so large that the church takes on the personality of the leadership because they are the key figures in the church meeting? Yes.
  2. We have many programs that get people programmed into our church.  ‘We have this group, that meeting, that ministry and so on.’  ‘And that’s how we make our large church smaller.’ But is this a method that resembles a business?  Using a massive volunteer base to supplement a large infrastructure with only the leadership being paid salaries is odd logic and akin to a corporate methodology to maintain the multiple of processes.


What to think about.

When Jesus ministered on Earth, crowds followed him from town to town.  What we don’t find in his ministry is the segregation of ‘the flock’ by age or any other demographic for that matter.  Jesus and His message was for everyone.  He fashioned His message to reach the masses. He didn’t have hymnals for this service and loud contemporary music at another.

So what should our churches look like?  What is the solution to overcrowding? Should our message thereby church service be relevant and designed for everyone?  That is what Jesus showed us.  Are our multiple services done to grow numbers?   Do we grow numbers while sacrificing what a church meeting or service should be about? Are we a number in a crowd when we attend large churches?  Is the pastor so far removed from the flock that he is unreachable? Is the church so large that the biggest personality, is the pastor?

Should multiple services be based on demographics?  I would offer that it is one of the most damaging choices a church can make.   Quintessentially it creates two churches, one full of this demographic, and one of this other one.  The traditional-contemporary-traditional church we went to was like that.  Sometimes we overslept and went to the later traditional church.  Other than a few leaders such as the pastor and associate pastor, everyone was different, they had a choir, organist, and completely different order of service. And yes church pews.   And yet, they were only down the hall from the location for the ‘middle contemporary’ service.

What should a church meeting do when they grow so much there’s no room?  Good question.  If the solution is multiple services, then how is church support, mentoring and identity addressed?  Does it not make more sense to take a branch of the church to maintain support and mentoring across the church meeting’s demographic? Our church meetings should be for the masses.

Overcrowding is a good thing.  What we do with it, is the question.  Of course, it’s cheaper to have multiple services than build a gigantic building or establish another church.  But maybe it’s more the case that we need smaller churches than a gigantic one shuffling people in and out on a set schedule.  Maybe we should return to the focus of the Acts church, and that’s supporting each other.

And we should never be so arrogant in church work that we don’t question our methods.  We are, after all, imperfect people, therefore our actions are bound to be less than pristine. So we should be open about our imperfections, and humble about changing course with humility.


About the author:  Steven Davis is an over-cooked preachers kid, recovering social worker, musician, media producer, and writer.

Leave a comment

Not yours.