Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Summer Sunday Evening Services

With Circuit Ministers on the move to new stations this summer and with other preachers on holiday, it is going to be difficult to fill all the pulpits in our large Circuit during the period from mid-July to the end of August. When this was put to our Church Council, everyone except me voted that we should have no evening services at our church during that period.

This was decided without any reference to the handful of regular evening worshippers who can't (or won't) come to the morning services and who will never go elsewhere when we close our evening service in favour of a united Circuit service. I know the numbers affected will be few but that doesn't mean that they are not important! In fact, if you go by Jesus' teaching, the few are very important.

I suppose I should be rejoicing because it gives me a good excuse to go to worship at a hugely successful Anglican church in the town, which gathers in so many young people and has good Biblical teaching. I love to worship there and there is a lift just waiting for me to accept the offer. But God has set me in this church and asks me to care for his people here in Caversham ........

I doubt if it will have any effect, but I have sent an email to the Church Council members pleading that instead of going to sleep for the summer we might try something new and different, like starting later so that young couples with babies can come when the children have gone to sleep and perhaps meeting away from church premises (in a restaurant or in the open air by the river perhaps). We are supposed to be trying to introduce Fresh Expressions of worship, after all.

May I ask if anyone has come up against this problem and found a really good solution, please? I could do with some encouragement!


DaveW said...


It is a difficult one isn't it.

Personally I think that in an ideal world the Church Council ought to consult those who got to the evening service to discover

a) How many can't get to other service & why.

b) How many won't go to evening services & why.

c) If there are weeks when there is no preacher available what do they think should happen? Are they willing to lead a local arrangement?

It seems these evening service worshippers are not on the Church Council (or did not attend) and they do not attend morning worship or circuit services. Do you therefore think it is likely that they would attend a service at a different time, or a service that is different (one of the fresh expressions you mention).

My understanding is that a fresh expression is unlikely to appeal to these people as the last thing they want is change or something new (yes I am a bit cynical for which I apologise).

The circuit/church are going to have to make some hard decisions about priorities, maybe that is what they thought they were doing at the Church council, it would be nice though if those priorities were thought out based on mission rather than simply responding to a shortage of preachers in a knee jerk fashion.

For example a fresh expression in a restaurant might be a great new mission priority that would cause a rethinking of what happens in August and how to allocate scarce resources.

Another option would be to do something on a different day when there may be more resources available. For example in Thrapston Churches Together are planning to run a "Holiday at Home" week for the elderly (10am til 2pm each day).

But whatever we do I feel like you that it is important to show how we value people by including them in the thinking, planning. changes.

Olive Morgan said...

Thanks, Dave.

Are they willing to lead a local arrangement?

NO! We're already having more local arrangement services than we've ever had before.

Would they attend a different service or at a different time?

I think we would need to ask them and make sure we have a concensus before launching something new - and this won't work via a written enquiry; it must be by one-to-one invitations. I have said this in my email to our leaders. I am wondering whether the restaurant idea, being less formal, might bring in a few spouses who would never dream of coming into church and, having had one young Mum say to me, 'Oh, I could do something after 7pm when the children are asleep.', I have my sights set on the growing number of young parents who have started to come to our morning services but take part in nothing else until the next Sunday. Their friends might like to come to an informal evening too. But most of our Church Council have been on the Church Council for 30 years - and that includes me! - and they are tired, don't like change and are unwilling to risk trying something radically different.

Do something on a different day of the week.

We tried that with our previous Minister and it didn't work.

'Holiday at Home'

That might work at our other church in Caversham but in Caversham Heights most of the ederly folk can afford and already have several holidays away.

important to show that we value people

This was what upset me when I spoke up on behalf of our few regular evening worshippers - and we are supposed to be putting into practice a 5 point ministry which all points to mission! Perhaps this can be raised and discussed at our church annual general meeting next month.

Fat Prophet said...

I can never quite work out how some folk come to one or other of the services - It isn't too long ago that I used to go morning and evening on Sundays and during Sunday afternoon to a Bible class.
It seems to me that often our church attendance seems to sit alongside our other activities such as shopping and is allocated a certain slot in our diaries each week.
It is very rare that I am not in still in church twice on a Sunday and really do feel it is such a small thing to do when given the great sacrifice our Lord made.
One of our churches has recently decided not to meet every Sunday evening because they felt guilty when preachers came and ther were only three or four in the congregation.I understand it was done very much in consultation with the people most affected and there was a consensus reached before the change was made.
I do like some of your other ideas about what you might do and hope youy will keep us posted on what happens.

DaveW said...

"One of our churches has recently decided not to meet every Sunday evening because they felt guilty when preachers came and ther were only three or four in the congregation.I understand it was done very much in consultation with the people most affected and there was a consensus reached before the change was made."

I was a steward when we made that decision in Crawley. It had got to be quite embarrassing to be a steward on duty for a visiting preacher and have such a tiny congregation. It is a little different where I am now with small rural chapels.

On the other hand in Crawley we used the opportunity to switch to two morning services with a bridge time between. One was fairly traditional and one more contemporary with junior church. Both services grew.


If there are new opportunities and not enough resources for both then maybe the old has to die so that there can be resurrection and new life. But if that is the case then IMHO the way the "death" is handled is really important.

Olive Morgan said...

Yes, Fat Prophet, my background and experience is the same as yours. In fact I attended three services this Sunday - as door steward in the morning (helping a young man with 'learning difficulties' feel part of the church as he helped take up the offering), at our other Methodist church here for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, and back at my own church to read a lesson for the final Covenant Service this year. I managed all this even though it hurts me to wear a shoe at present. (I hope my daughter is not reading this or I'll get a telling off for not resting my foot!) But it is very much a matter of commitment as highlighted in the Covenant Service and I was sad to notice that we had a much smaller than usual congregation for our morning Covenant Service, possibly because there is a reluctance to offer such full commitment. Since writing my original post, I have at least got two of the stewards (neither of whom have been here for 30 years!) interested enough to be considering radical alternatives. Another suggestion that I've made is that, weather permitting, we could meet in the open air, either at playing fields near the church or, better still, so that passers by can hear what is going on, down by the river - with food if possible. I am sure there are plenty of ways in which we could explore the Gospel together without having a planned preacher. Yes, I'll let you know if and when we find a solution.

Dave, I've found that the stewards are far more phased if we get only three or four of our large membership (plus the seven needed to 'run' the service) than the visiting preacher! There are some people who prefer to worship in a small congregation than in a large one, for various reasons, and we should respect that and cater for it. I don't think two morning services would work with us, but you never know ... All I am asking for is that we should seriously consider our mission and see if we can grow instead of retreating.

DaveW said...


I am sure you are right about it being the stewards who are the ones who are phased by the turnout, certainly was for me.

By the way around here 10 is quite a large congregation (exaggerating a bit).

Having members of churches who saying "All I am asking for is that we should seriously consider our mission and see if we can grow instead of retreating" is one of the greatest joys a minister can have.

Methodist Preacher said...

We had a similar problem at our own Church. There was one occasion when I was planned to preach and agreed to steward myself - absolutely no one else turned up. It must have been the smallest congregation in Methodism's history (I prayed for about 15 minutes and went home very dejected).

However in the 1980s we experimented with a special service aimed at young people and used to get congregations of 50-60. This was very much during our church's charismatic phase and we had some really great meetings with specially invited preachers - it wasn't on the plan so we were able cast our net very wide.

Prior to having children I used to go to church twice. Once the children came along that proved difficult as evening service coincided with their bedtimes. Now they are growing up I enjoy going to the occasional evening service, trouble is that many have disappeared.

I'm sorry you find yourself at odds with the church council (I know the feeling) and I think you are right to suggest that you try an alternative.