I have, for a long time, advocating the de-centering of Sunday morning worship. It’s the most cost intensive monument of the church, and one we need to re-think in a post-Christian context. I’m not saying throw it all away, but we should be able to re-think its importance. I have also long suggested cancelling one service a month (or a quarter) as a test to see what might work in your context was a good first step.
Well COVID is here and suddenly ALL the church services are cancelled. Now what? What are you pouring time into? What do you value now that you don’t have a Sunday service? If you’re in a congregation, probably not much. Perhaps more importantly, how is COVID forcing you to re-imagine what church looks like, and what it will look like once this is done, and what changes does that bring? For one, we should be spending more time on discipleship rather than online services (or any service for that matter).
Here’s a post from 2019 on this subject. Use the search function to find other posts I’ve written on worship as well.
I blogged about cancelling the successful service of my church plant and the reasons why. On the surface it sounds counterintuitive to conventional church planting. Generally, success is measured in the size of the service. The faster the better, and if leaders are honest, the better you feel about yourself too.
Why did we go in the opposite direction, and how has it worked so far?
Discipleship = Success in Church Planting
It’s not hard to plan exceptional Sunday morning experiences with great preaching and better music. Get these two right and you have a recipe for success. Success among Christians that is. People transfer from different services in favour of your flavour. I know some who attend multiple services a week at different churches without ever putting down roots. Talk about a drain on the local church.
The question shouldn’t be size of service, rather,
Who’s being discipled and are those disciples making disciples?
Some leaders and church planters are starting realize that service size doesn’t matter, discipleship does. How big the service is after year two becomes irrelevant. Is there an organic movement in your midst is the better question.
Back to my plant and the results from our experiment.
Cypher Church meets as a wider community monthly (as most of you meet weekly on Sunday). Our service was attracting a lot of people at just 1.5 years, and we could’ve doubled down on our gathering making it better and bigger by upping the quality of guests, music, and content.
But we also noticed discipleship wasn’t happening at the level we were hoping. A level necessary for longevity particularly in post-Christian culture. That’s why we cancelled our event. Well technically we didn’t cancel, we just stopped inviting people publicly. Same time, same location, but exclusive. We designed a gathering around a handpicked group and asked them to fully commit with their presence.
What does it look like?
We essentially replaced worship with a gathering devoted to formation. Similar to a normal service we have a central idea or theme. Unlike a normal service, people don’t sit and simply watch people sing and preach. We ask people to be involved by creating a response to the central idea we present. No phones, no latecomers, just a full immersion in a moment together as church.
So where are we at 6 months later?
Formation seems to be working. The consumer Christians have checked out, which is a good thing for us (we have few resources to cater). Those who remain are going deeper, and are engaging beyond a single gathering. It also includes a balance of Christians and non-Christians.
However, it’s not necessarily a magic bullet. We are going to drop our exclusivity and open the formation time to the wider community. We’re going to keep the value of the gathering the same, but open it up for more participants. That way we hope to connect more into the life-on-life time.
Part of what I just said obviously sounds like tweaking an event or service just to attract more people. Partially it is, but it’s the focal point of the gathering that’s critical. We don’t focus on music or preacher as central. We focus on incarnate presence/response to incarnate Christ.
In many ways the shift is both subtle and profound. Subtle in that any church can conceivably re-orient their gathering times to be less consumer driven and more formative. Profound in that a revitalization of faith occurs when the church starts to speak to the deep desires of the human heart. But it will require a shift to the ‘sacred cow’ of Sunday morning service.