That’s a question we were asked by a large, prominent church in a large, major city.
Their feeling was that the longstanding Saturday evening service drew only 600 people in regular worship. Additionally, they felt it attracted an older adult constituency. Instead they wanted to add a new Sunday evening format that was identical to their Sunday morning services.
Let me speak in the voice of the “old man,” consultant Lyle Schaller, who processed this question many times and often in my presence.
First, cutting service options always means cutting several things:
b. Money (sometimes that service could represent the highest giving per capita)
Anytime you eliminate options, especially longstanding ones, you lose. Almost never a wise idea.
Remember that 600 is not 600. It is closer to 1,500 because of attendance-frequency patterns. In some cases (not knowing this particular church that well), breaking up a worship service also means cutting several groups of people that tend to clump in this service.
Usually the let’s-kill-this-service option the church presents is preferred by three primary groups:
- The preaching/worship team.
- The staff that is assigned to work in that service (assuming they have to double up instead of one for Saturday and one for Sunday).
- Kids ministry volunteers.
Total all those up and it is still much smaller than 600.
Saturday is most preferred option for:
- Former Catholics, and current Catholics looking for a change.
- People sneaking away from current church to check out another church.
- Those people that now work on a Sunday but originally attended on Sunday.
- Those that work an early-morning shift at a hospital.
- People who don’t like crowds and prefer a smaller feel.
- Younger adults who prefer to have Sundays wide open for team sports, grandparent visitation, brunch with friends, and other activities.
That was almost Lyle’s speech to the letter. But personally, I recall two large-church examples I know from the past few years:
- In one the new pastor didn’t want to do Saturday where they previously had two half-full services. Then there were two Saturday afternoon/evening and two Sunday. He killed Saturday because it interfered with his family time. They lost 2/3 of Saturday’s crowd immediately along with their giving. Biggest loss I heard was young families. Two reasons:
1. Those who had full Sundays with other things.
2. They hated the crush in kids ministry on Sunday and felt it was a better experience for the kids on Saturday night.
- Another church had long tradition of Saturday in the largest worship center but only filled half of it. It almost served as dress rehearsal for the fuller Sunday services. In addition, that service always had communion served. A few years back they said “we are taking a summer break” and didn’t restart for the longest time. They lost people. It served an older constituency that loved communion and didn’t like crowds. The elders rose up because of what they were hearing in the people. They restarted the service using a smaller venue. The service now has a slightly different feel but has recaptured some of the loss they experienced. In addition, it made the Sunday experience better by allowing improvements to be made after the worship experience on Saturday.
ALL THAT TO SAY: Do what you want but I would personally never advise it. It communicates the wrong message about the church and its future.
If you really feel a Sunday night experience will capture a new constituency – why not start that one in addition to the other services?