This past Sunday at Grace Bible we implemented one of the biggest changes in the history of our church: we provided for the first time an adult education curriculum on Sunday mornings (called Core Seminars, after the ministry of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C.), and we officially moved to one Sunday morning worship service at 10:30.
A Two Service Church
It was a big change because for the past six years we have been a two Sunday morning service church. I led our elders to go to two services soon after I arrived as pastor in 2011. At the time, I thought it was a good idea simply because it gave us room to grow. The auditorium we met in then wasn’t very big and most weeks was already three-quarters full.
We probably were able on well-attended Sundays (like Easter or the week the students come back in the fall) to squeeze 150 more people onto our campus than we could with one service. However, those mornings were rare. Most Sundays, we probably didn’t really need two services to accommodate all the people that wanted to worship with us. This became even more true when we started meeting in a significantly larger auditorium in 2015.
For years I had no qualms with two services. I didn’t think we could possibly be losing anything by adding a worship service. After all, we weren’t using different music styles in the services, so we weren’t risking splitting the church into the usual “traditional” and “contemporary” congregations. We had the same sermon each service. And while only the people in one service got to see new members presented or witness a baptism, I felt that wasn’t a compelling argument against two services. I also easily brushed off the objections from members that they “didn’t know anyone in the other service.” I’d tell myself that having two services gave our members more options: they could sleep in and go to the late service, or go to the early service and have the rest of Sunday “to themselves.”
Church is a family
But then this past Sunday happened, and all I could think was “why didn’t we do this sooner?” For reasons I can’t entirely articulate, the worship service was a powerful experience for me.
Why was that? I think because God used last Sunday to remind me that the church is fundamentally a family. Repeatedly in the New Testament the church is referred to as “the household of God” (Galatians 6:10, Ephesians 2:19, 1 Timothy 3:15, 1 Peter 4:17), and it just doesn’t feel right when part of the family is missing.
There are six of us in my immediate family. Meals at my house are fun when three or four of us are there, but when all six of us are around the table it is wonderful. It’s another level of joy just to see everyone together. That’s how it felt on Sunday, being able to lay eyes on and be in the same room as all these people for whom I care deeply and pray. I believe it was important for our members to be able see, sing with, and enjoy fellowship with one another as well.
For too long in the multi-service conversation I treated church more like a business and less like a family. I never stopped caring about people or became completely calloused, but when it came to the second service I now see that I thought too much in terms of marketing and customer service (though I would have called it evangelism and pastoral care). To a great degree the second service ended up being expedient to promote the growth of the organization (and not necessarily the spiritual maturity of the people), to provide options for people to choose from, and to try and tap into new markets in Oxford. At one point we had three services. Years ago the leadership of Grace even discussed launching a second site in Oxford, which would have only exacerbated this tendency to view the church through a business lens.
None of these plans were sin, but I think they were unwise, and they did not serve to build up the church as a New Testament family. Last Sunday virtually all the membership of Grace Bible was in the same room for worship on the Lord’s Day. It just felt different. Everyone seemed happier. People laughed more easily. There was even some clapping, which is not typical for us. More children attended this service than any other Sunday morning service we’ve ever held, as we also did away with dual Sunday school hours for kids. It was, in a word, a wonderful time for the family.
No Easy Answers
Not every church is in the position to do what we did. We are blessed to have access to a very large room on Sunday mornings and many growing churches don’t. And nothing I’ve said in this essay even tries to answer all the reasons that can be given in favor of multi-service and multi-site churches, as you’ll find powerfully presented here.
Yet I now have no doubt that even in circumstances where everyone agrees some type of “multi” option is necessary, something powerful, though ineffable, is lost. So I’ll let tomorrow worry about itself (Matthew 6:34) when it comes questions of what we’ll do when our current room is filled beyond capacity week after week (if that even happens). In the meantime, I’ll enjoy seeing what months and years of the entire church body meeting together weekly will do to promote the peace, purity, and unity of our fellowship. I plan to rejoice as the family of God at Grace comes together time and time again as one body to enjoy Him and one another.