Starting a new worship service?

While creating a new worship service option can yield positive growth in several areas of church life, there are circumstances in which churches should not create new worship opportunities.

Mark Powers

That delicate balance is why Mark Powers, director, worship and music office, South Carolina Baptist Convention, embraced a process to help churches start a new worship service. The process is based on the book, “How to Start a New Service” (Baker Books, 1997) by Charles Arn, president, Church Growth Inc, Monrovia, Calif.

“Dr. Arn’s book is based on three years of research and lays out a very viable and effective process for starting a new worship service,” Powers said.

“It’s important to note that we aren’t talking about starting a particular style of worship, but a prayerful process to discover what God is calling the church to do within its cultural context,” Powers said. “So, we’re about services based on cultural context and not just about starting contemporary services. This is not a process for those who would say, ‘Well, we need to start a contemporary service.’ God doesn’t want every church to be a contemporary church.”

“I see a lot of pastors and churches deciding to start contemporary services without taking time to get congregational support,” Powers said. “That lack of buy-in usually leads to the new service being seen as a threat or as competition (to existing services).”

Working with Powers, a church’s steering committee leads in prayerful discernment and community research analysis. The committee also leads in teaching the church to see the new service as a missional effort – extending the church beyond its walls.

“The new service is the next closest thing to starting a new church,” Powers said. “The mindset is this: ‘We are sponsoring a new service to reach new people.’ “

Arn’s book advocates that a church considering “community” or “fellowship” as its highest priority should not consider a new service. In this scenario, the church must conclude that becoming like two churches meeting in one building is not necessarily bad if it reaches more people.

Likewise, Arn claims, a church interested in preserving its tradition is not a good candidate for starting a new service. Supporters of the new service will be seen by keepers of tradition as “agents of disruption for bringing the styles of the world into the church.” Yet, God has used that pattern throughout the history of the evangelical church to grow his kingdom, Arn said.

For the church that sees the new service as missional, the benefits of a new service can be significant. According to Arn’s research, 80 percent of congregations creating a new service will see a 10 percent increase in total worship participation. These congregations are also likely to experience increased ministry volunteerism, increased budget giving, and increased faith conversions.

Following the process, from appointment of a steering committee to launching the service, can take up to a year. Following a process that brings the congregation along on a missional journey also reduces the possibility of failure. “If you try and fail at starting a new service, the church has forfeited a lot of its investment capital and relational credit,” Powers said. “No one wants to try it again.”

Powers said many churches discount their ability to start a new service based more on myth than fact. Smaller-membership churches can create new services; churches experiencing decline can also begin new services.

“We don’t need to focus on the obstacles,” Power said. “We need to focus on the reasons we should be starting new services. A new service allows the church to minister to more people, to new kinds of people, provides new excitement to the normal cycles of church life, and there’s a biblical mandate to reach people who don’t know Christ.”

First Baptist Church of North Myrtle Beach recently created a new service after following Arn’s book and Powers’ accompanying process for SCBC churches. John Gambrell is the church’s pastor.

Powers said, “North Myrtle Beach had the idea of starting a church to reach families, especially because they already had a day care, kindergarten and Upward basketball. The leadership wondered, ‘Where are these families going to church?’ As it turned out, they learned many of the families weren’t attending anywhere.”

The church began asking families if they would attend a family-friendly, contemporary service and many responded that they would attend.

“Mark came to see us, and we were wide open to doing what the Lord wanted us to do,” Gambrell said. “He first met with our deacons and wives, and that group was very excited with the presentation. We put together a steering committee which met, prayed, and worked with Mark for more than year. It’s been a wonderful process for us.

“This was a big step of faith for our church because we are pretty traditional. It came with some risk, but Mark walked us through the process and did a great job.”

The service began with a soft launch in a combined service on Easter and “went very well,” Gambrell said. After a few more test runs, the new service began on Sunday, May 2.

For more information on the process of staring a new worship service, contact Powers at 803-227-6166 or 800-723-7242. - SCBC