This is part of a series of interviews with pastors of churches whose attendance has grown 20% or more in 5 years. We hope this series will be a resource of ideas to help increase worship attendance at your church.
(Portions of this article were included in an earlier posting. We wanted to share the entire article from Rev. Susan Pate Greenwood)
(1) Starting a new kind of worship service. Almost 5 years ago, Centenary began a Contemporary service. Although there have been some challenges with scheduling an additional service on Sunday mornings, we have managed to meet those challenges by dedicating musicians to each of the overlapping services, and moving the preacher from service to service. This has allowed us to offer informal worship in the Chapel at 8:30 am, Contemporary Worship in the Sanctuary at 8:50 am, and Traditional Worship in the Sanctuary at 11:00 am. It requires a considerable amount of spiritual maturity on the part of a congregation to adequately support three differing services, and there have been some growing pains, but the congregation does “get it”: growing pains are better than dying pains. We owe the initiation of this service to the previous pastors, who kept on keeping on, despite considerable resistance, and who made the service a reality. My contribution has been to establish the pattern of one preacher preaching all three services. It has been necessary in the last couple of years for us to hire musical personnel who are up to the challenge of providing such different musical genres, and we have been blessed to be able to do so.
(2) Hiring personnel to support different musical genres. Our new Director of Music Ministries comes to us by the grace of God, and as a result of an intensive national search. A well-run national search is a time and energy intensive endeavor, but it has really been a blessing to bring on board a Director of Music Ministries who shows equal excellence in leading traditional and contemporary music. Such a person is a rarity. Hiring an associate music director who can provide music at the chapel service has also been necessary.
(3) Willingness to share leadership. Our Youth Minister is the worship leader for the early part of the Contemporary Service, before the preacher arrives. Our youth minister is 30 years younger than the senior pastor (that would be me!), and almost 15 years younger than the associate pastor. His relationship with the youth and their parents has built attendance at this service, and his own youthfulness has attracted a younger age group. On occasion, our Deacon has also led worship for the “first half” of this service, when we needed the additional flexibility. The preacher preaches at all three Sunday services, which means that no matter which service congregants attend, they get the same message. This supports unity in the congregation, as does having only one Sunday School.
(4) Willingness to make sacrifices to support one Sunday School hour. On Sunday mornings, often the sole meeting ground of those attending varying services is the Sunday School hour. We make sacrifices of time and energy to keep a tight schedule running smoothly with adequate transition time, so that folks at all three services can be part of the same Sunday School hour. These SS classes function as small groups or as fellowships which support the relationships in the congregation. It is those relationships that support the ministry of the church. The time may come when we need an additional Sunday School system; sometimes, that is preferable to undertaking a building campaign primarily for the purpose of housing new SS classes – but for now, the unifying SS hour is important to keeping relationships strong. This means that we have also made a commitment to worship AND Christian Education for all: i.e., our schedule makes it impossible for parents to drop the kids off at Sunday School while they attend worship. There are nurseries for children through age 4 during all services and nurseries for infants and toddlers during Sunday School; also, following the Time with Children during the 11 am service, there is Children’s Church for those in kindergarten through second grade. This Children’s Church offers a worship education component which prepares second graders to become a part of “Big Church.”
(5) Willingness to share the pulpit. The senior pastor preaches 3 Sundays a month; our associate pastor preaches one Sunday a month, and our youth minister preaches on 5th Sundays. Our Deacon has also preached in Sunday services when needed, as on Palm Sunday or Easter, when we have off-site services, etc. All of the above preach in rotation in our mid-week service of Holy Communion. This gives the congregation an opportunity to see all full time staff as leaders, and allows the congregation to see the contribution that each ministry makes to Sunday worship, as well as to weekday ministries.
(6) Beginning a mid-week service. Our congregation is blessed with a growing number of families with young children and teenagers who have nearby second homes, or whose parents have nearby second homes. Also, a large number of our congregants work in the tourist industry which is an economic mainstay of our community. This means that a significant proportion of our congregants are out of town or working on lots of weekends. We offer a Wednesday communion service from noon to 12:30 pm every week of the year. Child care is available through the Mother’s Morning Out and the Lunch Bunch of our Preschool. Several of the retired UMC ministers who call Centenary home have also preached at this service during Lent or Advent, and they are excellent preachers whom we love to hear! This mid-week service (lectionary based as are our Sunday services) is truly a worship alternative for those who cannot or will not be present on any given Sunday.
(7) Keeping communication strong and regular; maintaining a presence in the media. The senior pastor sends out an end of week email on Fridays, giving a preview of the worship focus for the upcoming Sunday, and offering worship preparation tips. This message also gives the opportunity to hammer home upcoming ministry opportunities and important events in the life of the congregation. We will soon be taking this message to a couple of social networks. It is also available on the church website for folks who hate email (or whose email addresses we don’t have) but who live on the Internet. The website posting of the Friday email makes it possible for visitors to feel that they know a little something about our congregation before they walk through the doors. Our 11:00 am service is broadcast live on a local radio station, and is also broadcast on TV four times per week in two local markets. Almost every special event, and any event with community appeal, is advertised through a variety of media. We want locals and tourists to know we’re here and to know who we are as a congregation.
Rev. Susan Pate Greenwood – mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org
Centenary UMC – http://www.centenarychurch.com