I worship in a different church almost every Sunday. Churches have a wide variety of service times. Some make perfect sense, others do not. Of course many churches with one Sunday service still opt for the traditional 11 AM time slot. Is that the best time for a service? It depends.
People with a background of attending church still think of late Sunday morning as the time to attend church. So, if you are looking to attract people who have a history of attending church, 11 AM Sunday morning is still the best bet. Even people who have never been church attenders think of Sunday morning as the natural time for church.
Many churches have gone to “odd” times to start their service – like 10:15 or 10:45 AM. When I ask them why they meet at this time it always has to do with convenience for the people who already attend. I get answers like “Our Sunday School starts at 9 AM so we start worship at 11:15 to allow time between the two.” Or, “Our preacher is long winded and we want to get people out at noon, so we start at 11:45 AM.”
The reason I call these times “odd” is that they aren’t so easy to remember. We are conditioned to think of things starting on the hour or half hour. Have you ever seen a Wal-Mart or Target that opened at 10:15 AM? Why make it more difficult for people to remember your starting time? Of course, the response I get to that question is “All of our people know when the service starts.” They typically don’t think of potential guests when making this decision.
Rule #1 Start your service at an easily remembered time for potential guests.
A lot of churches with a late morning traditional service that isn’t growing decide to start an early morning “contemporary” service to reach unchurched young people. This approach rarely has big success. At best, these services typically only attract people who already attend who prefer a different style, a few baby boomers that don’t have young kids, and the occasional real live unchurched person.
A better approach is to offer an early traditional service and a later contemporary service. When I suggest this to pastors, I usually get the response “My folks aren’t going to give up their worship time.” The reality is, most of the older adults like coming earlier once they try it. Sure they will protest at first – nobody likes change. But if you cast a strong enough vision for growing the church they usually come around.
The primary reasons for doing the contemporary service later are:
- It is the service with the best chance of growing – give it prime time.
- Young families have more time to get the kids ready.
- Young people who are not in the habit of attending church are more likely to come a little later in the morning, rather than wake up early on a weekend day.
Of course, none of that matters if you don’t provide a high quality contemporary worship experience. But that is another subject all together. Maybe I’ll cover that one soon.
Rule #2 If you provide two different types of service, give prime time to the one most likely to reach new people.
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE
It has become popular for new churches to start at non-traditional times, like Friday or Saturday night. Some of these have been quite successful; others never get it off the ground. The ones that make it tend to begin with a good size core group from the launch. They also tend to have young leaders who provide a relevant worship experience for their own age group.
One advantage for a church with a non-traditional time is the opportunity to share space with a “Sunday morning” church. Two churches can use the same facilities, reducing the cost for both. Of course, clear expectations must be put in writing ahead of time to keep both congregations happy with each other. Another advantage is the opportunity to reach people who may have to work on Sunday mornings, or those who just are not morning people.
Rule #3 An alternative time can work with a strong launch team and a high quality service.
LET’S GET TOGETHER
Churches with multiple services often get everyone together in one service for special events, particularly around holidays. Here’s an observation – if you are going to combine the early and late service together for one Sunday, do it at the time of the second service. All too often churches will combine the services at a time when neither service usually meets. The problem with this is that guests will show up at your regularly advertised times.
So here is what happens. The church with 8:30 AM and 10:30 AM services decides to combine everyone one Sunday at 9:30 AM. This seems to make sense. But first time guests will show up at the regularly advertised time of 10:30 AM and find the service is over. If the combined service would have been held at 10:30 AM any guests showing up for that service will be right on time. (Any guests who show up for the early service that week can be invited back for the combined service. If you want to make a great impression, offer to buy them breakfast that morning.)
Rule #4 When you combine two services into one, schedule it at the time of your prime time service.
Whatever service times you decide to use, be consistent. Think through the process before changing your times. Once you change them, stick with the new times. Make sure the times are posted correctly everywhere (front page of your website, Facebook page, yellow pages, signs, printed materials, etc.). I always double check service times before attending a church I haven’t been to before. I appreciate the church that makes this information easy to find for a first-timer.
If you want your church to grow, always think about service times from the perspective of potential guests, not just the convenience of existing attenders.
Rule #5 Don’t make potential guests play a guessing game about service times, be consistent.