How to Start a New Service

This book by Charles Arn looks at starting a new service from an American and a conservative perspective—but it does have some advice that applies to the main-line Canadian scene.

He starts right out by identifying churches that should not add a new service:

  1. "Do not add a new service if community is the highest priority of your church." It won’t work if a congregation’s members want to remain a small club who know one another.
  2. "Do not add a new service if preserving tradition is the highest priority of your church." New people are going to want to do things in a new way.
  3. "Do not add a new service if survival is the highest priority of your church." Congregations that only want to survive generally do not have the energy to launch the needed new service that could save them.
  4. "Do not add a new service if the senior pastor intends to leave in the coming year." Arn’s experience is that where key staff support a new service, the chances of success are 80 percent. "Without support, the chances drop to under 20 percent. When the pastor leaves in the midst of planning a new service, the likelihood of seccess drops to under 5 percent.

Present attendance not necessarily a factor

When do you add a service? Here are Arn’s insights:

* If your attendance averages less than 20 percent of sanctuary capacity, you are in desperate need of a new service. YOU WILL NOT GROW without one—more likely will decline and die.

* If your attendance averages 20 to 40 percent of sanctuary capacity, a new service is more likely to grow than your present service.

* If attendance averages 40 to 60 percent, a new service will probably add people without reducing the growth potential of your present service.

* If attendance at your present service is 60 to 80 percent, a new service will likely take people away, and may drop you into the 20-40 percent range where growth is more difficult If attendance is growing, plan for an identical service shortly. If attendance has been plateaued, you do need a new service if you want total attendance to grow.

* If attendance approaches 80 percent or more, add an identical service immediately.

A new service is one significantly different from your current service, one reaching out to a new audience. An identical service is a carbon copy of what you are doing.

When looking at capacity, remember people need more space today that when your church was built. An eight-foot pew would seat five people at one time. Today, more than three people and it becomes uncomfortable.

The advantages of a new service

There are a number of advantages that come with introducing a new service.

  1. A new service will focus attention on a group from the community you hope to reach. The key word here is "focus".
  2. A new service will push you to look at your message, the "good news" that you are sharing. What is really good news for the people you hope to reach? That will help every service.
  3. A new service is an opportunity for members to invite their friends.
  4. A new service can inject new energy into the congregation’s normal life cycle.

While slow reading in some parts and based on the American situation where a much higher percentage of the population do attend church, the research behind this book makes it well worth looking at.

  • Charles Arn, How to Start a New Service. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1997. $28.99 CDN. Review by Clair Woodbury.
  • From News 6.1

    Up to Top

    Congregational Life Home Page