Saturday Night's Alright for Worship
by Josh Hunt
A growing number of churches are starting Saturday Night worship services. Here are a few lessons we have learned after five years of working with a Saturday Night congregation. We often get inquiries, so I will arrange this article by addressing some of the commonly asked questions:
Why start a Saturday night congregation?
The most commonly held myth about Saturday night is that it is started for "all those people" who work on Sunday. We have a couple of hundred people who call Saturday night their home congregation and I do not know any who do so because the work Sundays. We probably do have a few; I just don't know about them.
A second myth is that having a Saturday night service will help with space problems. We have not found this to be the case. We started our Saturday night service to help with crowding on Sunday morning, but a year later we were forced to start a third Sunday morning service anyway. Saturday night reached more people, but we still ran out of space on Sunday.
Having Saturday night simply helps us to reach an additional 200 people (enrollment) who prefer attending on Saturday nights. It gives us an additional evangelistic hook. As Rick Warren says, "the more hooks you have in the water, the more fish you catch." It also allows us to use our buildings more efficiently. When we build, we will have more pockets from which to draw resources.
Do people reached through the Saturday Night congregation eventually move to Sunday?
A few do. The real issue, however is in that concept of what is really church. Our Saturday nighters don't see Saturday night as a holding station for coming to Sunday. Saturday Night is real church to them. It is just as much church to them as is 11:00, 8:30 and 9:45 Sunday.
My son drove this point home to me one weekend when my wife was out of town. He has attended Saturday night since he was 2 years old. He knows nothing but Saturday night church. I was taking him to church on Sunday morning for the first time in his memory.
"What day is this?" (By which he meant, "Is this Saturday Night, Sunday night, or Wednesday night?"--the three times he goes to church.)
"It is Sunday morning."
"What are we doing going to church on Sunday morning?"
I tried to explain that lots of people go to church on Sunday morning.
"Why do people go to church on Sunday morning?"
I didn't connect. Church to him means Saturday Night. In his young life, that is all he has known.
Who attends Saturday Night?
Saturday night is populated primarily by young married adults and singles. We do have, however a smattering of all ages. The reason for this is pretty simple. It is a lot easier to get preschoolers ready for Saturday night church than it is Sunday morning, as any mother knows.
Do you have Sunday School on Saturday Night?
Yes, but we call it Bible Study rather than Sunday School. (It did not make good sense to us to call it Sunday School since it meets on Saturday.)
We did not have fully graded Sunday School at first. One of the things we have learned in starting new congregations is that every fully graded Sunday School is not fully graded. We were unable to get youth to attend. We did have a teacher lined up, but with no youth, it was difficult to get the critical mass necessary to form a group. Eventually, some of your children graduated up so that we now have a Mid High group. In six more years we will have a college group as well.
Also, our Sunday School is not as tightly grades on Saturday Night as it is on Sunday. On Sundays, we have classes for every school grade. On Saturday, we combine grades.
Having both a worship service and Bible Study on Saturday night is absolutely imperative. Otherwise, people would have to come back on Sunday mornings. This would reduce Saturday to a secondary service. It needs to be full-service congregation.
How many attend on Saturday Night?
We have about 150 attend worship and 125 attend Bible Study. This is about one fourth of our overall attendance. This percentage is pretty consistent with other churches I have talked to that have done Saturday night services.
Who preaches on Saturday Night?
Normally, the Senior Pastor preaches. This is crucial in the adolescence of the congregation. It cannot be seen as a second class service. If the Senior pastor preaches, it legitimizes the service.
However, preaching on Saturday puts a special strain on the staff that should be carefully considered before starting a Saturday night service. This is the only day that the pastor and staff have when their children are out of school. Although the service is not until 6:00 in the evening, preparation for the service will begin much earlier. This cuts out the possibility of day trips with the family and so forth. Even if you are just working in the yard you will have to call it quits by mid-afternoon. I would recommend that after the congregation is established, the pastor and worship leader should take a week off on regular intervals to avoid burn-out.
Now that the service is firmly established it would not be as important if we had someone else preach the service. The people who attend Saturday night are committed to that congregation and are very loyal to it. We could easily have someone else preach from time to time and not hurt participation appreciably.
What about music on Saturday Night?
We used an alternate musical style on Saturday night. Specifically, we employ a contemporary approach. The choir and organ are replaced with drums, bass guitar, synthesizer and a vocal band. Choruses and praise songs replace hymns. We have found this format appeals to the younger crowd. We feel that contemporary music is an important part of an overall strategy to reach the under-forty crowd. We do not feel boomers & busters will be reached with their parents music. (We use the same format at our 9:45 services, which is largely college students and young married adults.)
What is the schedule?
6:00 - 7:00 -- Worship
7:15 - 8:15 -- Bible Study.
In addition, several of our groups go out afterwards for an informal time of fellowship and food. Sometimes this is a pot luck in someone's home, while other times they go to a restaurant. This fellowship time has been an important time of body-life for the Saturday night group.
How did you get started?
We learned two things in starting this congregation: people follow leaders and people move in groups. We got key leaders from the young marrieds and singles group to move to Saturday night. Others followed. Getting these key groups to move in masse was one of the most important aspects of getting the congregation established.
In addition, we did a city wide telemarketing campaign. We made 19,000 calls, got 1300 on a mailing list, and had about 125 attend on our opening night. Although this helped, it is not as important as getting a core group of people from Sunday morning.
Has the congregation grown?
Although we picked up a number of new people, the congregation did not show an overall growth the first couple of years. The reason for this was that some people who came from Sunday morning discovered they preferred going back to Sunday morning and migrated back. As we picked up new people, this was offset by this migration. After a couple of years, however, we had a solid core of people who were committed to Saturday night and could serve as a solid core to help it grow.
Growing a congregation on Saturday night is not as easy as growing a congregation on Sunday morning. Even pagans know Sunday morning is the time for church. There is a lot of tradition flowing against it. It is like growing a garden here in the desert. It can be done, but it requires a lot of water and fertilizer.
I believe, however, this is changing as more and more churches are starting Saturday night services. I believe we will give to the next generation a better tradition.
The key to growing a Saturday night congregation is having one person who will "champion" the cause. In our church, this was me. I called every visitor every week and told them, "Lots of our young couples attend on Saturday night, you really ought to give that a try!" Lots of them came. It was strategic to do this the very first week they visited because if they got relationally connected on Sunday they would be much less likely to move.
When you get a new building and space is not an issue, will you keep the Saturday night congregation?
Yes. We are committed to keeping the Saturday night congregation over the long haul. We hope to start other congregations as well on Friday and other nights of the week. We believe the use of space makes good sense in terms of stewardship and by specializing services, we can better target our specific audience. For example, we have talked about a Friday Night Singles Service, a Tuesday night college service, a Country Music service, and a mariachi service. We are committed to exploring the possibility of becoming a multi-congregation church.