Risky Business: Changing the Sunday Morning Schedule

When you are passionate about reaching people, you’ll take risks.  This risk started with a letter — I remember it quite well. It arrived shortly after we held a special Reformation Worship Service. Instead of having four separate services that weekend about 15 months ago, we held just one service. The worship planning team simply wanted to bring everyone together with special music and a guest preacher. We wanted to celebrate our faith together and what better occasion than the anniversary of the Reformation?

It was a bit of a risk. Attendance was declining and the last thing I wanted to see was a further attendance drop. So, the team put a lot of energy and prayer into preparing a worship service that intentionally used elements from each style of worship we practice at Immanuel.

And attendance was good. Comments were positive, not only on the day of the service, but also in the days following. And that is when the letter arrived. Addressed to several leaders of Immanuel, the author suggested that we change our worship schedule. Instead of combining worship services for the occasional special event, why not make the change permanent? Having fewer services with more people together in the service has many advantages.

That single letter spurred on a lot of discussion. Many people agreed and wanted to make a change. Others did not want to make any change. What followed was near endless discussion. Should we drop a service? If so which one? And if we combined two services, what would the worship style be in that new service? Of course, some of us looked deeper into “why.” What caused the drop-in worship attendance that brought on this discussion?

We discovered that the attendance drop was not unique to Immanuel. Many U.S. churches were experiencing a similar drop. While it is difficult to pinpoint a direct cause, I suggest three possible explanations:

  1. Worshipers attend less often. People are worshiping, but they do not attend weekly.
  2. We are getting older. Many churches have a disproportionate number of members age 65 and older. Older members may not be attending as often due to health issues.
  3. There is a growing lack of interest in religion. Surveys show that fewer people report going to church “several times a year” and more people report going “once a year” and many report, “never.” In fact, the attendance category that has grown the most since 1990 is “never.”

So, after a year of countless discussions in meetings from the conference room to the parking lot and beyond, and no small amount of prayer seeking the Lord’s wisdom, we eventually reached a decision last fall to combine the 9:15 and 10:45 into one service at 10:30, allowing for a Discipleship Hour between the two services.

An interesting part of the decision was the fact that Pastor Warren and I (among others) felt strongly that this change needed one additional thing – an alternative service off-campus. We truly believed we could maximize the benefits of the new schedule by including a new group of people who we were currently missing. We knew this could be an incredible opportunity to reach out and move forward in Palatine.

The Gathering Place – Noon on Sundays at Christie’s Dairy Delights in Palatine

Little did either Pastor realize that within days of the elders’ decision we would have a site for what would eventually be called, “The Gathering Place.” Christie’s Dairy Delights (45 N Bothwell St.), welcomed our plan to invite people to simply dialogue with us about God and other matters of importance in life. The Gathering Place is not designed to replace one of the worship services at Immanuel. Rather it is designed for people without a church home, who may not have a relationship with Jesus and would be uncomfortable worshiping in a formal setting.

It’s been quite a journey that began with a letter asking us to combine a couple of our worship services. Looking back, I am grateful for all the discussion about our worship at Immanuel. Now we are moving forward, the change is in place and we are adapting. Most of us have changed our Sunday morning routine to accommodate the new worship times. We realize that God expects us to come together in worship and that is more important than habit, routine, or even convenience.

Oh come, let us worship and bow down;
let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker! —Psalm 95:6

I’ll see you in worship, Saturday at 5:00 p.m. or Sunday at 8:00 or 10:30 a.m. And please join me at 9:15 in Fellowship Hall for a discussion on the book of Matthew! And of course, remember to invite your friends without a church home to “The Gathering Place” held at noon on Sunday at Christie’s.

Want to hear more?  Last November, Immanuel’s pastors used the recording studio to explain the then-upcoming changes:

See you in church, school, Bible Study and at Christie’s!
Pastor Tom


Author: Pastor Tom

Pastor Tom Acton

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