This is a great question that we do internally review regularly and have considered a variety of solutions, but each has its own difficulty. Each option has plusses and minuses. Let me address a few of those.
1) We have 4 distinct congregations in one – 5:00 PM Saturday, 8:00 AM, 9:30 Am & 11:00 Am Sunday.
a. Which service would you remove?
b. On what basis would you recommend we remove a service - providing more education opportunities, numbers, children, to benefit families, volunteers? Depending upon your answers the choice of service may vary.
If we make a decision to remove a service (i.e. the 9:30 am service) based on a desire to dedicate an education hour, such as POP had several years ago, we would be making a decision to remove a worship opportunity at our consistently highest attended service. It may have a net effect of increasing percentages of people engaged in educational initiatives, but it will also have the affect of likely drastically decreasing our overall worship numbers. We see this vividly demonstrated when we go to our summer schedule without POPKids and worship coinciding. Based on our tracking of engagement with adult education, we cannot anticipate that removing the worship service will automatically lead people to attend adult Bible classes during that time. In our estimation, this move would cut against the grain of our mission to REACH all people with the good news of Jesus Christ.
2) Again, on what basis would you recommend we remove a service -numbers/others?
If we do it based on attendance numbers, we would likely remove 8am. Additionally if we do it with a mind to better serve our faithful worship volunteers and musicians, removing the 8am service would have a benefit to them as a 7- 7:30am check-in time for rehearsals, etc. is sometimes a difficult request, particularly for choir/musician teams that perform for all weekend services including Saturday night.
Further if we consider trends of requested times for baptisms (which is one of the clear ways we connect with disconnected people) and confirmation services, there is a clear preference toward having those at 9:30 and 11am Sunday services.
9-10am is widely recognized as a “sweet spot” on Sunday morning when churches are most likely to see the highest level of engagement with growing popularity of Saturday services.
So it would appear that removing the 8am service to be the most likely alternative. Perhaps then we could adopt something like our summer schedule through the school/ministry year: 9am & 10:30am services. In this model, it is recommended that we offer Sunday morning education opportunities during the 9am service. This proposal would be asking everyone to tweak their Sunday morning routine for the sake of a greater good. This kind of a shift seems the most palatable though based on worship trends, a desire to continue to reach new people, and a desire to create a more sustainable structure for those who serve in worship.
However, it is not anticipated that this would be a popular proposal for the average 130-150 8am worshipers. This runs a clear risk of having a negative impact on our overall worship engagement, unless worshipers were willing to start one hour later. So to what gain? – we have two potentially bigger services and we will lose worshippers all together. We have worshippers in our modern world who look at attending worship twice a month as the new norm. We have worshippers who schedule their Saturdays and their Sundays around activities so 8:00 AM becomes and equal option to Saturdays.
In summary, this will remain an issue that will be open for discussion but for now, perhaps you can see the dilemma of a service removal . The good news is that the metrics through April 16th have our attendance on the rise averaging 610 per weekend or an increase of 50 people more per weekend and is our best average since 2013. While this is far from our desire to fill our worship opportunities with followers and seekers, perhaps we need to be patient to see what impact recent developments might have in support of our desires for God's kingdom here at POP. Let’s pray to be in a situation that we need to figure out how to expand worship opportunities. Let's join Jesus on His mission and share the peace of Christ with family, friends, and neighbors. Who knows - maybe they will want to join you next Sunday.