Note: to further explore this topic, see my soon-to-be-released book, Double Services; Double Sunday Schools Formerly published as Let It Grow!
In the January, 1991 issue of GROWING CHURCHES John Vaughan pointed out that most growing churches are multi-congregational churches. An estimated eighty five percent of fast growing churches are in multiple services on Sunday, some even have Saturday night services.(1)
Ours is one of those churches. We have recently started our sixth and seventh weekend service. The long range planning committee is looking at a plan, though not adopted by the church, that would have us in thirteen services by the year 2000. These services would be under the direction of several preaching pastors and musicians. We have come to believe that the multiple service approach is not so much a result of growth, but a cause of growth. Why is this so? How could multiple services encourage the growth of a church?
I set before you four reasons why the multi-congregation approach is practically advantageous in terms of the Great Commission.
There is an enormous savings of money.
This savings helps two ways. First, you have more resources to spend on staff, advertising program expense, and missions. Second, you don't have to badger your people for money. Baby boomers are especially suspicious of organizations who are constantly harping on money. Yet, the costs of providing space is enormous.
Lyle Schaller predicts the cost in the following way. "Experience tells us the answer [to the question, 'what will it cost'] will turn out to be two or three or four times the original estimate."(2)
The actual numbers can be calculated very simply. Consider this, Southern Baptists have spent $6000 for every many woman and preschooler that we have attending our churches. A church averaging 100 in Sunday School has spent $600,000 on capital assets.
George Barna puts this into perspective for us: "The average church in America allocates about 5 percent of its budget for evangelism, but approximately 30 percent for buildings and maintenance. Another study reported the American Church as a whole spending $3 billion [with a "B"] per year on the construction of new buildings." [emphasis mine](3)
Yet we live on a fixed income. Every man, woman and child that walks through the door and sits down in a Sunday School class brings about $22.00 with them and drops it in the offering plate. At least that is the average. I put together this chart of weekly giving:
There is a tendency to think that we can have big enough buildings to seat everyone in one service and have enough to staff for growth and other programming expense. This is naive.
My mother taught me this principle. When driving home from church on Sunday night we would often drive by McDonald's. I would ask to stop and get a hamburger, instead of cooking something at home. She suggested that we save the money so that we could give it to world missions. I responded, "Oh Mom, we can get a hamburger and still have money to give to world missions". "No, son, the money you spend on McDonald's hamburgers you cannot also give to world missions". Mom tells me she learned this principle from Winston Crawley when he was area director for Southeast Asia for Foreign Mission Board. (My parents were missionaries to the Philippines for 25 years.) The missionaries would suggest that they build an orphanage or other project. Winston Crawley would always respond, "That is a good idea for a ministry. But remember, the money you spend on an orphanage you cannot also spend on placing a church planter in a new area." We cannot spend the same dollar on buildings, staff, program expenses, and world missions.
Jesus taught that the bottle neck of the evangelistic process is laborers.
Matthew 9:37 Then he said to his disciples, "The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few."
Luke 10:2 He told them, "The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into His harvest field."
"What is the need of the hour?" Dawson Trotman asked after years of laboring in the harvest. "Is it more money or better equipment or more resources? No! It is for people who believe that God is God and will do everything He promised".(5) The bottleneck has always been laborers. They are more willing to hear than we are to tell. They are more willing to receive than we are to send.
In light of this, I was surprised to learn that laborers are, in fact, available. I heard Dr. Russell Dilday, President of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas, say in a message several years ago that there are more ministers coming into the system than leaving. In fact, he pointed out that there are about 500 more ministers graduating from Southern Baptist seminaries than there are jobs opening up through ministers retiring, dying, dropping out of the ministry, and new churches being planted. Five hundred more laborers coming into the fields every year! Why are churches not hiring these people? Why are trained, committed, available laborers not being placed on church staffs to do evangelism, singles ministry, administration and other needed ministries?
In a word, money.
What church would not love to have additional staff if they could afford it? Perhaps God could use this method to release resources to enable these laborers to minister full time. There is an old rule in Sunday School life that says if you want to have 1,000 in Sunday School it is simple, just get 100 teachers. And each of them will get 10 pupils. Correspondingly, if you want to increase the size of the harvest, increase the number of full-time laborers in the field. Our church has been able to continue growing partly due to maintaining a staff to Sunday School attendance ratio of below 1 to 100. There is plenty in the field; the bottleneck is the number of laborers.
Our experience has made us big believers in the multiple service approach. We no longer look at it as a means of getting out of a temporary jam, but plan to use in on an intentional, permanent basis.
1. John Vaughan, GROWING CHURCHES, January, February, March.
2. Schaller, Lyle E. Choices for Churches, p.117.
3. George Barna, The Frog in the Kettle, p. 135.
4. These numbers are taken from "The Quarterly Review", Baptist Convention of New Mexico State report and the brochure, "Meet Southern Baptists".
5. Dawson Trotman, The Need of the Hour, Navpress.
6. Carl George. Breaking the 800 Barrier Seminar.
7. Leigh Anderson, Dying for Change, p. 88.
8. Schaller, p. 10.
9. Walter Mueller, Direct Mail Ministry, p. 9.
10. I base this on a lecture by Rick Warren. I also understand from talking to marketing people that this is the norm throughout the industry. This explains why your mailbox is full every day. It works.