Identifying an “optimum” worship service time is a frequent discussion point among church leaders as they plan. Or as one pastor recently wrote me, triggering this blog, “We currently have 9:00 and 10:45 start times on Sunday mornings, but we desperately need to move people to the earlier service for parking issues.”
Here are my thoughts:
1. I don't know of any research that shows an optimal start time. As I visit dozens of churches every year, I often ask which is their fullest service. The answers vary. One church reaching twentysomethings draws its biggest crowd for its noon service. By contrast, the fullest service in an Arizona church is 8:00 a.m. before the sun gets too hot. In more places than not, however, somewhere between 10am and 11am is the peak start time for the fullest service.
2. The answer matters most if you have only one worship service. If you have more than one, your bigger concerns are parking and people flow issues.
3. People choose their worship service by more than the start time. Does the youth Sunday school meet only at one particular hour? That will influence which worship service they and their parents attend. Is the extended coffee fellowship only between the first and second services? Which service do my relatives go to who attend our church, because I like to sit with them? Individuals and families are influenced by many things that happen at your meeting site besides the worship service.
4. People are also influenced by outside events such as sports, whether for their own children or for their TV viewing. For example if NFL kickoff time in your time zone is noon, then your prime starting hour will probably be 10am.
Finally a tip: If you're trying to shift people to an earlier service, think about how to shift groups of people by how the rest of the morning will affect them — parents of teens, senior adults, etc. Try also to think of rewards for coming to a preferred service, whatever “rewards” means for your context — coffee, longer worship, etc.
What are your ideas for factors that cause people to choose one service time over another?