Authors note: I commend churches that preach the biblical gospel of Jesus Christ. I do not believe all churches that offer multiple services are far from being Gospel-minded and striving to honor God. If you are reading this and you are a born-again believer who serves a multi-service church. I encourage you to examine these thoughts closely and prayerfully.
Multiple Services means Multiple Churches
I’ve known of a lot of churches in the city I live in who are starting or have started transitioning to the multiple service model. This is where the church offers multiple times when their congregation comes together and worships. The preaching of the Word stays the same through the worship might change up a little. Some churches have a contemporary worship setting for a later service while earlier services play the traditional music. Typically worship times are 8:30 a.m., 11:00 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Some churches have a similar makeup of service times. This allows for families to choose what service they will attend based on what their weekend plans look like. I know of one church that offers Saturday night services for those families who want to worship earlier or might want to have a more open weekend. Now I don’t put everyone in the same boat as choosing the multi-service method for convenience. But more than likely the church chooses this option to cater to their congregation. Another reason churches will move to offering multiple services is in hopes of growing their church attendance. If I have a building that can hold two hundred people and I offer two services. I can potentially hold up to four hundred people. This is the way some churches try to grow. This modern strategy comes from other churches who have used this strategy and thrive on it. Other churches see this and would rather try to find a grow quick gimmick than remain faithful and continue working hard in the fields. This places more stress on the pastor to spread himself out to preach two services and be shepherding two or more churches. However, this is not the main problem of the multi-service model. The danger of churches that go to multiple services is the demise of church unity. Churches that follow this model would say they seek church unity, but in reality, this model hurts the Body than it does help.
Just Getting the Conversation Started
I am writing this just to start the conversation about the danger of the multiple service model. Kyle Cheatham a careful and insightful writer for the 9Marks ministry who helps Christians think about the church writes an article that exhorts churches to reconsider splitting up into multiple services here. I don’t see how multiple services can practically be beneficial to the congregation, the pastor, and the leadership of the church. I understand that churches who build large facilities want to fill their pews, cushioned chairs, or stadium seats. But the Bible doesn’t command the church to fill their sanctuaries, auditoriums, or stadiums for the sake of numbers. At the end of this post, I offer a solution to church planters going into establishing churches and pastors who desire a healthier model as they and their other pastors care for the people God has entrusted them with. God calls the church to be full of regenerate people who display their love for God by following His commands. This does not mean that they are trying to use obedience to earn their salvation. Instead, it means that the church is a place for regenerated hearts mainly. Back on the purpose of this post, I desire this post lead those who are apart of multiple services to think carefully about why their church has decided to go towards this popular but unhelpful model.
Multiple Reasons Why Multiple Church Services are Not Helpful
- First of all churches that have more than one service breaks apart the body of Christ into two or more bodies
The body of Christ is meant to be one local corporate body of believers that gather together to worship the Lord God. When a Body of believers meets at 8 a.m. and then another body of believers meet at 11:00 a.m. isn’t that two separate body of believers meeting at two separate times? Are they truly worshipping together as an assembly? To assemble means to bring together at one time. Then someone might say, “well I sometimes go to the 11 a.m. service, and sometimes I go and worship with the 8 a.m. service other Sundays so I share my time worshipping with all believers in both services.” I’d ask you to tell me the depth of your relationships with people from both services. The more you spread yourself out between those two services the shallower your relationships will be. In the church, we want depth to our relationships with brothers and sisters in Christ. In this model, the family of Christ is split or divorced because the two service model would cause you to serve one or the other. It would be difficult or even harmful to the believers’ health who might see a member of their church shopping at the supermarket and not be able to identify their own church members because they don’t see each other due being kept from each other by the two or more services model. This can also be seen in the larger churches model.
- It makes it difficult for biblical shepherding
When a pastor has to preach two or more messages to two or more different body of believers how is he suppose to truly care and be watchful over the believers if he is not able to be among them. 1.) there is too many people for elder pastors to watch over the flock according to Acts 20:28-35. However, the instruction model we see in this passage is for the church to have multiple elders or multiple pastors. 2.) the traditional single pastor led churches in the SBC who try to go to multiple services set up the pastor who experience “burnout.” The pastor who has deacons who are properly Scripturally defined are usually put in place to help the singular pastor care for the many people. Usually, in these church settings, deacons are to look out for a certain number of families and then report back to the pastor so that he is able to “watch over and care” for the flock. But that is not truly being among them and with them. Preaching a sermon to three different bodies of believers and getting feedback from your “deacons” is not biblical shepherding. Or some churches will have a committee or executive team that acts as elders. They meet basic qualifications that are vague and have little to do with the instructions given to Timothy and Titus. Having two or more services is not realistic for the pastor to carefully demonstrate proper oversight. And we wonder why our churches fill up with unregenerate people every Sunday who are enabled by the church to vote and make decisions. The multiple service model makes it easy for wolves to creep in unnoticed and for goats to think they are sheep. Thus making the task of the pastor and leadership more difficult to maintain the Body’s integrity. Gossipers, maligners, liars, and busybodies are let loose in the church when biblical oversight is neglected. The multiple service model makes holding church members accountable more difficult, but hey churches that turn to this model probably aren’t practicing proper church discipline anyway.
- Evangelism Becomes Consumer-driven
When churches turn to having multiple services the duty of Christians starts to become more about inviting people to the church than sharing the Gospel in our community. Evangelism is not inviting people to church but sharing the Gospel. Building a culture of evangelism in our church should be natural and outwardly flowing in our church members lives. I am not against inviting people to church, but that does not replace evangelism. The teaching elder on Sunday mornings job is mainly to edify the believers through the expository preaching of the Word. That is to be done preaching through books of the Bible, not month-long series on how to’s. Now the Gospel is to be proclaimed from the pulpit and Christ who is the Word is to be pointed to in every chapter that the pastor preaches. But the church is not for unbelievers in the sense that they can only find the Gospel there. If you are in Christ and you have been born again you have the Gospel. The Gospel is the power of God that we are to take outside of the walls we gather in and into our communities. I am not saying that the direct result of multiple services is that they intentionally will tell people that inviting people to church is more important. However, the typical multiple services model calls the importance of making service times more available to fit the need of the one we are inviting. Through the multiple service model, it seems like we are turning the church into a convenience store that believes that if they have their doors open at more convenient times. Then the consumer will want to come. Therefore we will put it on our website, on our church’s card, and on our church sign that our church is open at certain times. So come when it is convenient for you. Are we calling people to come to Christ at their own convenience? Are we trying to shape our churches and our gospel in a way that seems attractive to people so they will come in and buy it? Some churches feel like marketplaces or shopping centers that market the salvation to people as though it was something they could purchase for themselves instead of the power of God that only through God granting faith to the child of darkness that enables them to walk into life.
A Plea to Meet Together as One Body, not Multiple Bodies
Usually, when churches meet separately it is to cater to a generation of people. The older folks will come into the early morning service. The families with young kids need to sleep in before will come to the later service at 11:30 a.m. And the college kids will usually want to sleep until noon and they will have homework so we will set a time that is easy for them. So they will come to a service in the evening. What this does is it splits up generations. The church which could meet together all at once has segregated into two or three different age groups. The singular service model brings these generations together. Instead of having the generational gap between young men and older men the singular service model brings these two groups to worship together. The church is to be a multi-generational church. How will our youth learn to respect their elders if there are not any elderly around to respect? How will our older men disciple younger men and older women younger women if we split them up? Now, this is more obviously seen in generationally driven programs and age-designated ministries, but multi-services offers to broaden this gap between generations. If you are in a church that is thinking about going the multi-service route I beg you don’t do it. It is not healthy. It might bring people to your church, but if those people are not believers what good is it? To the believers in Christ convenience shouldn’t be an issue when we gather together as a body. If it is then it is not Christ you seek to worship. The Body of Christ is one body with many members. The only way this body can function correctly is if these members are amongst each other on a regular basis. We must know who is in our church and not be divided by the barrier of multiple services.
Solution: Prepare for Growth before Your Church Faces Unexpected Rapid Growth
Up to this moment, I cannot trace in the Bible where the Early Church planted churches like I will lay out my Church Growth Preparation Plan. However, I believe as I read of Paul’s missionary journey that churches were planted similar to what I will suggest. My preparation for rapid church growth takes into account the church leadership and the congregation. Now I know the Bible doesn’t constitute a specific numeral limit for a church that made it necessary for another church to be planted. But I do see multiple churches that were their own corporate gathering with their own elders. My model doesn’t allow for multi-site or multi-service, but it will seek to replenish what is unhealthy.
- Let’s say I am going to plant a church in Bella Vista, Arkansas. Bella Vista, Arkansas has about 22,0000 people in their city limits.
- Are there any churches that practice healthy church habits? Is the Gospel being preached? Is the pastor handling the Word of God properly? Is there biblically qualified leadership appointed? Are the members being challenged to disciple their family, other church members etc.? Is there a culture of evangelism being cultivated? etc.
- Is there a church in the area that is like-minded that is dying or on the verge of dying and is willing to be revitalized? Usually, there will be a remanent of believers in this church that is willing to reach out and corporate with a pastor or group that seeks to guide churches back to health.
After prayer, my hope is that myself and a few others from a sending church will go into this city to plant or to revitalize.
New plant strategy: Let’s say I didn’t find a church that was willing to be renewed or revitalized. This means there needs to be a healthy church in this area. Now, this doesn’t mean a Christian church doesn’t exist. This just means that a Christian church who is practicing healthy habits doesn’t exist or is unwilling to see their need to be restored.
- Start with a family or two that desires to plant a healthy church in Bella Vista. Meet for worship, preaching of the Word, communion of saints, and equipping to evangelize. Evangelism is crucial in building the church. Don’t depend on your few families to be the church so much you miss evangelism. (month 1-6)
- Meet in a house until enough families to sustain renting a building is met. (I am not opposed to remaining to worship in a home) (month 6-1 year)
- Of course bylaws, church covenant, statement of faith, confessions adopted, policies written are taken care of. (month 6-1 year)
- Start training leaders and be careful to appoint elders which will be elected and voted by a congregation. (1 year-2 year)
- Appointment of deacons (1 year- 2 year)
- When the church reaches between 50-75 people or 8-10 families start intentional training with few members or have elders watch carefully for those God sets apart as gifted teachers of the Word and leaders. (2 year to year 3)
- When the church starts to reach 100-125 members start (whenever) start discussing amongst your elders to pray about planting in the same area. Your goal as the church in Bella Vista is to create a culture of evangelism in your church reaching into the community. The objective of this church is to plant churches in this city.
- If I were to draw this up I would start my plant on one side of the city. Probably in the same neighborhood or community where most of my members live. But my evangelism and prayers would be far reaching the entire city. That God would bring His people to Himself in that city.
- If my plant started on the east side of the city my elders and I would draw up where our members were located in the Bella Vista area. Then we would call a family meeting where we would prayerfully discuss planting and appointing (after asking) families to plant on the west side of town. I know this would be hard and I do not believe this would be splitting the congregation. Because of the whole time as I am teaching I am encouraging these believers to reach this city by planting churches. I am not wanting to build a bigger building to house all the people. I am not wanting to add multiple services because that would divide the congregation. Instead, I urge you to consider creating a culture of evangelism in your church which would lead your believers to have the mindset of planting more churches that might be smaller but would have a greater impact as these multiple church plants would zone in more on neighborhoods.
- All the churches that would be planted would seek to localize their mission. Now, this wouldn’t neglect being involved in community events. The purpose of sending out families into the community is so that the Gospel mission would be more focused and not spread out. Neighborhoods, apartment complexes, and college campuses can be thrown under the radar when we focus on building up one church on one location instead of planting smaller churches in intentional places in the city.
- Each church that would be planted would be its own church. They would have their own budget, their own elders, deacons, and teaching elder. There would be three months of support from sending congregation. But the hope is for churches to be their own churches that operate independently.
- I don’t want to say that I believe this model would work for the sake of saying “it works.” I haven’t tried. I don’t have experience in church planting. This is based on reading Paul’s missionary journeys and his instruction to the churches in the New Testament. However, I do see this as being practical and biblical. This is the solution to churches that want to have multiple services or even multiple campuses or sites. The New Testament calls the church as being one local assembly that gathers together to worship. Each church is a church independent of another.
- I believe this model advocates a healthier way to plant or to revitalize churches. This model would leave a healthy impression on churches and would cause churches to last into the future. I believe this is a replicable model. I believe that mega-churches that have been caught off guard and had to implement multiple services because they weren’t ready or had to build larger buildings because they weren’t ready would be able to look at this model and have a church growth preparation plan. We need healthier churches that allow congregations to worship together and churches to operate how they were instructed to.