All Together Now: From Multiple Services Toward a Single Assembly
When Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile in 1954, he opened up new possibilities and shattered standard ways of thinking. That happened to me last year, only it wasn’t Bannister, it was Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. And it wasn’t a four-minute mile that was broken, it was a multiple-service mentality.
ONE CHURCH IN TWO LOCATIONS WITH THREE SERVICES
We planted our church a decade ago. For five years we had one gathering consisting primarily of college students and singles, which met in a local sanctuary on Sunday evenings. To reach families, we felt the need to have a morning service, which we eventually started in a local movie theater. At the same time, we kept an evening service for students near the local university. I preached the same message morning and evening. As more attended the theater location, we started a second morning service. We said we were “one church in two locations with three services.”
A NEW MINDSET
Then, in the fall of 2011, our leadership attended a 9Marks Weekender at Capitol Hill Baptist Church and we were impacted in ways I hadn’t expected.
We were struck by the number of university students who were at a membership class on a Friday evening, hungry for more information as they moved toward joining the church. On Sunday morning, we were impacted by the many students who were thoroughly integrated into the Core Seminar classes and engaged in the worship service.
As a result, our elders returned home and immediately planned to end the college service and more fully integrate our students into the whole of our church life.
Previously, I had personally championed the college service, believing that it was essential for reaching students. However, we quickly developed new convictions. We now believe that:
- It is much healthier for students to experience the intergenerational life of the body of Christ than to have their own service in isolation. Experiencing the whole ministry of a church while in college, not just a customized slice, better prepares students for a lifetime of church involvement.
- It is best for the rest of our congregation to draw on the passion and enthusiasm of these student-saints, as well as for these students to gain from the wisdom and discipleship of older believers.
So, we brought our evening service to an end and started this year with our two morning services. While there are some who would prefer to return to a student-centered service, we love having our college students mixing in worship and small groups with the rest of the church as well as volunteering in our children and youth ministries.
Next, our goal is to be all together in a single service. I respect many pastors who’ve led their churches to multiple services and sites, and I am not saying that those are wrong approaches. However, our ideal is gathering together as a local church in a single assembly.
SOMETHING HEALTHY AND UNIFYING ABOUT BEING TOGETHER
“One church in two locations with three services” sounds so fractured to me now. We want our people to be exposed to one another and to each of our elders. That is increasingly difficult with multiple services and, obviously, with multiple sites. There is something healthy and unifying about being in the same room at the same time, worshiping the same God through the same songs and the same message led by the same leaders.
WHAT IF THE BUILDING GETS FULL? SEND MORE
“But what if the building is getting full and you still want to reach more people?” Certainly, we should not pursue one priority (community) at the expense of another (evangelism).
So, as we seek space that enables us to assemble together as well as reach more people, we must also be giving much prayer and thought to how God might have us send our people out. For a church to aggressively seek the lost with only one assembly requires that church to be vigilant in developing disciples and sending them out to start new churches and strengthen hurting churches. And as hard as it will be to part with people we dearly love, our elders see that very sending as a measure of the success of our disciple-making.