12 things I learned when our church started another worship service

4.  I learned that…It’s easy lose track why you start another service

Before we started another service at our church, we had speakers and congregational planning nights to discuss the whole topic of where God was calling us and what God’s future might be for our church.

12 Things I learned when our church started another worship service

12 Things I learned when our church started another worship service

One speaker challenged us by saying – ‘ok, why do you want to start another service’.  It was easy, he reminded, for the mindset to flip from ‘we want to start another service to be a blessing to the community and invite others in’, to ‘we want to start another service to fill our pews’.

The flip, which is so easy to make, is from doing something to fulfill our needs instead of doing it with other people’s needs in mind.

Even today, 5 years after starting the service, which has had a top attendance of 82 children and adults, with tonnes of new households now part of the church, I still hear comments along the lines of, ‘I’m glad we started that service – where would we be without it’!

Well, it doesn’t matter.  We started it as a mission, as a blessing, as a way to welcome people into community and God’s kingdom.  It wasn’t ever for us.

Strangely though, in a God-way, the whole thing has actually flipped around.  And not by our doing or thinking.  We started it to be a blessing to families in the region, but now that’s it’s going, it’s a blessing back to us and has become the church itself.

12 things I learned when our church started another worship service

3.  I learned that…Another service is a way into your church for people who aren’t attending

12 Things I learned when our church started another worship service

12 Things I learned when our church started another worship service

There’s something about the new that really works.  In our lives we see new things all the time, and we’ve come to expect them.  Tim Horton’s has a new sandwich every month.  We like this.  New stores open, and we go.  A new fitness class starts at the gym, and we join it.  New things are naturally shared and discussed.  It’s news.

I learned that by starting another service, people who were in the community and looking for a connect or a re-connect to church felt very happy to come.

Picture walking into an established group or society in your town.  Full of people.  All seated.  Some people can do that easily and comfortably.   Most people can’t.  It’s harder to walk into something established.  To feel ownership in it.  That’s it a place for you.

I learned that with the new service, people just freely came and took ownership of it very quickly.   And still do.

12 things I learned when our church started another worship service

2.  I learned that…Starting another worship service generates the unexpected.

The unexpected, while against some Presbyterian sensibilities, can be a gift.

12 Things I learned when our church started another worship service

12 Things I learned when our church started another worship service

I didn’t expect, for example, that there would be tonnes of musicians in and around the congregation who had so many gifts.  Guitarist.  Pianists.  And yes, drummers!  (One started at age 13, and is simply amazing.)

I didn’t expect there were people who wanted to and had gifts to organize, lead, learn and choose worship songs and hymns.

I didn’t expect two senior women from the other service to agree to lead a kids’ program during the one we started.

I didn’t expect someone who had started attending to come into the church one Tuesday morning and say, Greg,  ‘I’d like to organize a lunch once a month after the new service this year, and I’ll provide it.’  Wow.  Not expected.

I didn’t expect how much I would enjoy having two totally different kinds of music at the same church.  One of the (now 4) worship band leaders asked me to play bass guitar in their band.  Now I get to do it once a month.  And I look forward to it.  When I shipped my black Geneva gown from Ottawa to this church, I didn’t expect that!

I didn’t expect how many new leaders in the church would come from the new worship service.  Elders, board members, children’s faith program leaders, prayer group members, committee workers, ministry partners, youth, children who invite their friends into the church.

I also didn’t expect how many people would come, and stay, and want to grow together.

12 things I learned when our church started another worship service

1.   I learned that…It’s more work than you think.  

You might be kicking around the idea of starting another service at your church.  All the gurus say ‘it’s the quickest way to grow attendance’.  You might think, sure, update the church sign, get the ushers there a little earlier, bump up the musician’s hours.  No sweat.

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12 Things I learned when our church started another worship service

Well the conversation we had at our church went on a bit longer.  We actually had flow charts, personnel plans, updated worship assistant schedules, details on how to count the offering, even discussion on whether or not to separate it from the other service’s offering (we didn’t), timetables for who will open the church and when, notes to contact the coffee coordinator, how Communion might look, a whole page of notes on a new order of service.

We planned.  Presbyterian style. I’s dotted.  T’s crossed.

But nowhere did I plan for the extra energy required for the brand new service.

Oh another worship service.  Just another 60 minutes out of the week.

Far from it.  Faaar.

In the wonderful and amazing God-moments I’ve witnessed now that it’s up and running, it’s been a lot more work than we planned.  For church administrator, elders, board, ushers, musicians, for me the pastor, everyone.

And worth every, single ounce of it!

Surprisingly, it didn’t take long before the energy poured out has come back, by Grace, and ten times more.

Putting GA 140’s wisdom in place

Another General Assembly (GA) is behind us, and at it more decisions taken.  One that captured time and attention this year was the vision statement.  A critical priority of the Presbyterian Church in Canada (PCC) will be to renew local congregations, GA 140 discerned.

But what does that mean?  What does that look like in the year between Assemblies, on the ground?  What could it mean to take this wisdom of GA 140 (and previous GA’s) seriously, with concrete signs that point in that direction?

1.  The next General Secretary

One way to take GA 140’s wisdom seriously is in the appointment of the next General Secretary of the Life and Mission Agency.  The outgoing secretary has served well and faithfully.  Now there is a transition.  This leadership change in the overall programs of the PCC through church offices happens, what, once every 10 or 20 years?   Now would be a good time for the search committee to be seeking someone for the next stage of the journey who aligns particularly with a clear wish and desire of the wider church – a focus on renewing local congregations and missions.  Someone who will especially want to see this happen, and enhance what that means for the national staff and committee momentum as they minister.  The job description has already been circulated and the search process begun as of this writing, but why not pause the process, take a deep breath, and consider an updated vision for the position that captures GA 140’s wisdom more clearly.

2.   Leadership between Assemblies

Another way to take GA 140 seriously would be for the Assembly Council Executive to look at the membership of the Assembly Council.  We could ask whether geographical representation on that important leadership body within the church best brings the wisdom of GA 140 to a critical priority of the PCC.  I am uncertain it does.  Why not take what the Executive sees as growing churches in each region of Canada and then invite the pastors and elders from those congregations to lead us and share their experience as they form a different or modified Assembly Council?  A more Canadian compromise could be for the Assembly Council to form a round table from those pastors and leaders, and have their experiences of renewing churches influence the biannual meetings, decisions and policies.

These are ideas.  Let’s make decisions at GA and see them through in concrete ways, or not make any at all.

3.  Presbyteries

Another way to put GA 140’s wisdom in place would be how Presbyteries work with the Life and Mission Agency to close congregations.  Recently in Lincoln, England, instead of outright closing a church that wished it, the bishop asked another church that was experiencing renewal and growth to send some people to restart something in that building.  They brought their wisdom and basically re-planted a church in the place where one Christian community had come to the end of a cycle.  Instead of selling buildings, maybe we keep the buildings and ask the most thriving congregation in our Presbyteries at that moment to start a church in the same place.

4.  Training Pastors

Another great way to take GA 140’s wisdom seriously would be in how we train ministers.  Why is it, for example, that 7 years of University Education prepares someone to lead and renew a local congregation?  Maybe we should say from here on in:  “Tell you what, you go ahead and start a local house church of 30 people, and then we’ll ordain you.”  Is seven years of school, inherited from the European Reformation /German University model what we need?  Right now, with the priority GA 140 has determined for the next several years, does sending a student away to seminary in its current form really prepare them to grow local congregations?  St. Augustine sat at the feet of Ambrose, bishop of Milan, for a good part of his training.  Hands on.  Instead, we usually remove students from the setting in which they were called, put them in academic lectures, never send them back home and trust that is effective.  Start a house church somewhere, we’ll train you along the way, then we’ll call you Reverend.

We might also be sure to ask ourselves how seminary Principals and Professors we appoint relate to this new priority, now that we have it.

We could leave GA 140’s wisdom on priorities as a motion adopted in June 2014 and consider our work done.  On the other hand, there are ways to put that wisdom in place and among us, if we wish, in God’s grace.

5.  Local Congregations

These are all ideas outside the day to day ministry of local congregations.  While their merit is plain to me, I think GA 140’s wisdom is also for local leaders in local churches.  They need to be free and inspired to renew and innovate, in the Spirit of the living God who creates and re-creates.

The Rev. Dr. Greg Davidson is a pastor at Briarwood Presbyterian Church, Beaconsfield, Quebec, with a Ph.D. in Hebrew Bible from the University of Cambridge.  He was on intermission during the Fall of 2014.

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