What Happened When We Changed the Order of Our Worship Services
We had a predictable rhythm to our worship services. It was a good pattern that served our church. Then the pandemic hit, and we had to rethink everything.
Overnight, the way we did worship no longer worked.
After a brief closure, we reopened in-person services to an entirely new format. Here is what we did. Here is what we’ve learned.
We have five services in two languages across two sites. To minimize the impact of change and to account for social distancing measures, all our services kept their old time slots. Though it’s tough to predict, in most cases, when a church removes an option for worship, up to thirty percent of people in that option will stop attending the church. For example, a church that moves from three services to two services will lose about thirty percent of the people in the service that no longer exists. Many churches are surprised when they build bigger spaces to consolidate services that they decline when the new space opens. The reason is a removal of an option. We wanted as many to come back as possible, so we kept our existing service schedule.
The service times were one of the few parts of the worship experience that remained the same.
Length of worship shortened. More children are in the service. Cleaning must happen between each service. Our one-hour-and-five-minute services reduced to forty-five minutes, fifty-five minutes tops. The transitions are tighter. The flow is smoother. People are more focused. We also noticed less people arriving late.
True multigenerational worship started. With more children in the service, we had to do something completely different. We reduced the time of the sermon to twenty-five minutes and split it in two halves. I preach for ten minutes. Then our family minister, Jenny Smith, teaches a “Kids Minute” message geared towards children. Last week we did a freeze dance competition. Yup, Baptists dancing in worship! Then I finish the sermon with an additional ten or fifteen minutes. I think our adults like the Kids Minute just as much as the kids.
Songs became a response to the proclamation of God’s Word. We flip-flopped our music and preaching. I start with preaching, then our congregational singing comes afterwards. Theologically, I like how our singing is a response to the preaching of God’s Word. Practically, kids get antsy later in the service. It’s less stress for parents if everyone is standing and singing while their kids are stirring.
Sermons became more refined (and better). I shortened my sermons by ten minutes. They are harder to write but much easier on the ears of the listener. I believe people are retaining more.
The numbers became irrelevant, and the Spirit became more important. We’ve had far fewer conversations about how many people attend and far more conversations about how people experience God.
Creativity flourished. The best art is produced at a moment of tension. Our digital presence before the pandemic hardly existed. We were doing a podcast that was a poor recording of the live preaching. In a week, our worship team created a digital worship experience that I believe is one of the best in the nation. We made the decision not to do a live stream of Sunday mornings and rather invest in pre-produced experiences that are at most thirty minutes. Even the best live stream services are wonky, and we were not going to be in the top tier. On Wednesdays, we do a stripped-down live prayer and worship service called “Together Live.” It gives people the live connection without disappointing them with a poorly done live stream.
Attendance is down. We’re averaging about half our usual attendance. But the Spirit is up. Worship is better. Our church is healthier. The pandemic gave us the opportunity to do things we didn’t even know were an option.