Pastors' Forum


Multiple Services

Our church has grown, and our one Sunday morning service is getting crowded. I feel like we’re going to start losing people if we don’t start an additional service. We’re praying about what to do, but I’d love to hear from pastors who have added another weekend service. When is the right time to do it? How do I make sure that we’re ready for another service? How do I prepare the people? Are there any pitfalls I need to watch out for, and what do I need to do to make sure that this really benefits our church?


Pastor Dave Williams – Lansing, MI
Dr. Elmer Towns once said, “You must be born again, you must be baptized, and you must add another Sunday service.”

In the early years of pastoring Mount Hope Church, I studied all the books I could get my hands on by Lyle Schaller, Robert Logan, C. Peter Wagner (who was at that time almost exclusively a church growth expert), and Win Arn. These men and their research helped us grow from one church to 43 churches in the United States and 380 Mount Hope Churches overseas; from 226 in attendance to over 4000 at the base church in Lansing.

One thing all of then taught me was this: When your worship service reaches 80% capacity, it’s time to add another service. They are right.

We started out with 450 seats in our worship center. When attendance was about 80%, we added another service, then another, then another, until we were having five Sunday services. We noticed an interesting phenomenon: Whenever we would add another service, total attendance would increase.

Later, when we moved into our 3000-seat church and went back to one service, there was a lot of warmth and excitement, but we hit a plateau of around 2800. I had forgotten the multiple service principle. When I realized we had to do something, I remembered the multiple service principle and added an early morning service. Attendance immediately increased by 200 and we were off the plateau. Later I added a later service, which also, like a miracle, took attendance up again.

The right time? 80% capacity. Also, I would recommend going to a second or third service as you are preparing to enter the highest attendance season in your area. You are ready for a second service when:

1. You’re attendance is at 80% capacity

2. You have prepared more laborers

3. You have presented the vision and reasons to your congregation, explaining the benefits (ie: more people involved in using their gifts). Ask the Lord to show you how to prepare the hearts of the people in your church.

4. Beware of the pitfall of treating the new service as a “step child” or “second rate” service not worthy of your best. The worst pitfall is not going to a second service because of fear. If you are at 80% capacity and do not add another service, you will level off and eventually die.

5. Advertise and promote the service consistently, giving plenty of time for people to decide which service they will be attending.

Just a few weeks ago, I was talking with my friend, Pastor Brooks McElhaney, who just added a new service. He was ecstatic. His church grew by nearly 200 people instantly and scores of people who never visited his church started coming. He doesn’t know where they came from.

It seems like Jesus loves filling churches that have the faith to prepare as many “barns” and “vessels” as they possibly can.

Don’t get discouraged. Keep your hand to the plow. Keep upbeat. I had a struggle with one early service until I finally changed the name from “Early Bird Service” to simply “Early Worship.”  (Some phrases have certain connotations to people.)  God will help you with the details. And remember the words of Elmer Towns:

“You must be born again, you must be baptized, and you must add another Sunday service.”

Pastor Reggie Scarborough – Lakeland, FL
As to multiple services, I would advise you to move forward, but with caution.

About a year ago, I added a third identical ‘morning-type service’ on Sunday afternoon and then we did a prayer service in the evening, which resulted in four Sunday services. The reason I had put the identical ‘type’ service in the afternoon was to spread it out in order not to be so tight during those times the Spirit of the Lord was moving in a special way. And yet also I was concerned with being too tired to respond when that was the case. It worked numerically, but I was exhausted to the point I feel I started losing something spiritually. Like someone once said of a famous violinist, ‘I can go for a day without practice and I can tell it; I can go for two days and my family and close friends can tell it; I can go for three days and the whole world knows it’.

All to say, this too can also be a concern with two morning services, much less three. Make sure you can keep the fire in your life with multiple services. If the singers and musicians are tired, the ushers are dragging, and the preacher is worn out, it will eventually erode your services. Just a caution.

The extra pressure it puts on your other volunteers, like kid’s ministry, is truly a great concern too. Often many of the same people are doing much of the extra schedule and work. Should we wear these people out and they lose the joy of volunteering, we have shot ourselves in the foot for sure.

Also, there is the initial loss of the full house feeling. Get ready for that adjustment for sure (we preachers like a full house). You will absolutely have to adjust to a downsized feeling at first.

Yes, multiple services are sometimes good for growth numerically and sometimes we have no choice because of being full, but the truth is, make sure you ‘have to do it’, not just want to.

I’ve learned to flow with two morning services and an evening prayer service, but any more and I’m fried. I really needed to stay with four services for room and growth; however, just a month ago, I went back to two morning services and a night prayer service, rather than four and I’m so much happier with our services. They are so much fresher. And I personally feel much fresher as well. No, it is certainly not about us particularly, but it does include us. I am getting older for sure [ha], but you will be ‘older’ too one day and may wish you would have thought some things through that you now have to live with.

The upside is that it is a great problem to have! And, people do like choices. But let’s not allow their love of options to cause us to compromise to our detriment spiritually. What is best for us often is best for them. After all, they are the real winners, or losers, as the case may be.

Just a thought from someone who’s gone back to three instead of four. The extra crowd will just have to wait for a larger building.

God bless you in your decision.

Pastor Rick Renner – Moscow, Russia
When we saw that our church service was fairly full, we knew it was time to start making room for more people in a second service. Starting a second service takes a lot of preparation and many more volunteers, so we took several months to prepare our volunteer staff for stepping up into this new expansion. However, as I prayed, I realized this was an answer to prayer to provide a way for people to serve in the church. In one service, there simply isn’t enough places for everyone to find a place to serve, but when you move it to multiple services, it increases need for more people in the choir, band, orchestra, children’s ministry, ushers, counselors, and on and on. Every pastor wants to see his congregation mobilized, and I saw that by providing a second service we were able to provide more places for people to get involved. When we finally started the second service, in one week our number of volunteer servants increased from 400 weekly to almost 800 weekly—and the more people are involved, it increases their level of commitment and loyalty. Not only did we increase in size, but we increased in terms of commitment and decision.

The general rule is when you reach 80% capacity, it is time to start a second service, and I have found this to be true in our churches in Moscow and Kiev. Transitioning the church into multiple services was not difficult because we carefully expanded the reason we were doing it—and I reminded our churches our primary goal is to reach souls. If there is no room for more souls, then it is time to make room, and they all knew this was true and were happy to do whatever was necessary to make room for new believers in our church services. We moved slow, steadily, and were consistent in the steps we took, and as a result, moving to multiple services was very easy for us. We experienced no pitfalls because we thought through every step. I urge you to move with caution, with determination, and to make sure your people understand the reason why you are multiplying service schedules.

Pastor Jerry Weinzierl – Sterling Heights, MI
My advice is from a “novice”….ME! We are right in the middle of going to two services on Sunday am beginning Sept 14th. Here are some things I’ve done, en route…

1. Begin talking about it long before you need/want to transition to a second service. I’ve been telling our people for 2 years (going into a new bldg) that within 5 years of moving to the new facility we would be conducting 10 services per week.

2. Know your purpose: Is it to give more choices of attendance for the people? Is it because you are out of room? (statistically when you are 80% full, your facility is full)

3. Make sure you are building your team, getting them on board well before you need to intro the idea to the church.

4. Maybe come up with a catchy campaign that causes people to hook up. Keep it before their faces any way you can. Ours kicked off with all the ushers and greeters, cafe and bookstore workers wearing a black t-shirt with cool large whit print on the front that says 24U and on the back it says 9&11. They will wear them until the Sunday we begin two services.

5. Part of the pep-talk I use regarding growth (especially for people that tend not to be too fond of growth) is to let them know that we will “close the doors to new people…..just BEFORE we reach THEIR love ones!!!” It’s kind of a “breath deep” moment when people are confronted with their selfishness. Ouch!

Pastor Darrell Morgan – Apopka, FL
We went to two services and the people started comparing the two against each other. Then they started complaining that they missed their friends. One week the 1st service would be packed and the other one half full then the next week the two services would switch. I went back to one service and added all the chairs I could. I found a way to add over 50 chairs to the building. I will stay like this until I HAVE to change again. Then I will spend extra time talking to the people about what to expect, what it will feel like, then cast vision on why we are doing it. It made me feel like Moses with all the complaining. I lost people when I went to two services because to them it did not feel the same. Go figure.

Pastor David Emigh – Sand Springs, OK
We have gone to multiple services several times over the years. We have always gone to two Sunday morning services. I do not like this, but it has been necessary. In the beginning I have always made this move with a presentation to the congregation that we would purchase or build a bigger auditorium and we did. Then we would go back to one service.

The last few years we have stayed at two morning services and it has become an accepted thing. Our attendance will not let us do one service, though that is my preference. The general rule of making a change is when you reach about 80 percent of your capacity with the adults, but I have made the change before based on room for children. You will hinder growth if you do not make room for more people.

You need to evaluate your attendance, and when you are pushing that 80 percent mark begin to prepare your staff. You will need more volunteer staff and children workers. Begin to sell it to your leaders as a very positive thing. You need to pray about a presentation to the people and look for creative ways to share it as a very positive thing. You need to remember your musicians and people that may have to be there for both services.

I would do it in the fall right after school starts or right after the first of the year. I always do identical service and do not make the first service too early it will not grow. I never say early service but first service. When we made the move the last time, we started our second service at 11:00 and I committed to the people to have them out by 12:30 and then kept my word. From time to time, if the Holy Spirit moves in a special way and we go long, it is acceptable. This seems to work well for us.

Just remember some will not like it and you will need more help, but it can be a very positive thing.

Pastor Sam Smucker – Lancaster, PA
We have been doing two Sunday morning services for many years and it has been a good experience for us. When we were 80% full and the parking lot was full, we started a second service. When the second Sunday service was 80% full we started a Saturday evening service. Our experience with doing 3 services every weekend has resulted in growth in our congregation. Also it has opened the way for many more people to serve in various capacities. I would share with the people your heart to reach those without Jesus. Preach a series of messages about God’s heart for people and pray that the Holy Spirit would instill a passion for the lost into the congregation. Doing a 2nd Sunday service also takes the pressure off of the need to build a new facility right away. It is important to take time to share the vision and the purpose. A potential pitfall is to not take enough time to train additional people to serve in helps ministries. To have the same people serve in both services can become too much for volunteers. It is important to have enough time between the services for parking lot turn around and for people to not feel rushed in and out of your building. With 2 Sunday morning services you may want to consider not having a Sunday evening service.

Pastor Dennis Cummins – Puyallup, WA
We went to two services three years ago, but it wasn’t due to growth, we needed to add another service because of the need for different styles of worship. So my dynamics were a bit different. So here are what I see as the pros and cons regarding adding a second service:

It helps minimize power struggles in the church. Over time, certain influential people, what I call the “Queen Bee” syndrome, won’t be able to maintain their stronghold in the church. Multiple services minimize their exposure to the congregation and thus minimize their influence. I have also noticed that as the pastor I have gained more credibility and influence with the people.

When people leave the church for whatever reason, it is less noticeable since not everyone is able to know everyone. Now there is less devastating effects to the church.

It gives your people more options to attend your church. Can you imagine a movie theatre only having one showing per week for a movie?

Remember the 80/20 rule. By going to two services you may have to take out some chairs if you don’t have fixed seating since you are dividing one congregation over two services. By keeping 80% of the chairs filled it still gives it a full feeling without feeling over crowded or too empty. It says subconsciously to new comers that this is a growing church, but there is still room for me.

One service may have a tendency to be higher attended than another.

Even though it’s a great thing to go to two services, remind people that it’s going to be different. It’s even going to feel different. Even though different isn’t bad, it may be perceived that way. They aren’t going to see the same people any more and that family atmosphere is going to be broken up and they will blame whoever is responsible for messing up their egg’s nest. Be ready for people saying that you are dividing the church—even though you are not. Typically people are less concerned about making room for others than you are as the pastor. Stick to your guns…

It also affects advertisements and publications. Once you change to multiple services are you going to stay with it and never change, or will you adjust for summer attendance and go back to one service? If so, your service times may not be able to be posted, but they would have to call or go to the web to find out.

I don’t know if there is ever an ideal time to start another service. The biggest part that we struggle with is staffing the services. We had to make the decision to not have any children’s ministry during our first service, since we didn’t want to minimize the momentum we were experiencing in the kids ministries in our second service, and pull workers away from that. A church only has so many workers and if you over task them and expect them to do more, it may last for a little while, but you may be shooting yourself in the foot six months down the road and undermine the whole reason for going to two services. The other thing is we streamlined how many volunteers that we needed to usher, greet, and so on…this helped some of our staffing needs.

Note the reality of time constraints that come with multiple services. You will no longer have the luxury of extending every service just because the Spirit gets to moving. I know that may sound carnal and it’s okay every now and then, but if we just keep flowing in the Spirit, we have to make sure that our children’s workers aren’t stuck and get burned out. When the Spirit is moving and our service is extended, we have a predetermined dismissal time for the children and page the parents to pick their kids up. It’s not perfect, but I don’t want to risk losing our workers. I think every pastor should be in a class with toddlers for two hours with only an hour and a half of curriculum so they can appreciate what our workers go through to minister to our kids. It will definitely give us as pastors’ bifocal vision to keep an eye on the flowing of the Holy Spirit and an eye on the clock. Also, give notice to your guest speakers; if they want a love offering, they need to end at a certain time in order to have enough time to take it, I am sure they will be done on time!

Enjoy the ride!

Pastor Matt Beemer – Manchester, England
When? Most people say when your sanctuary seating is 80% full, but many times pressure on your children’s space or parking (especially in England) can be good reasons for adding a service. Also, I do not think that the 80% rule really is accurate when the church is smaller, say 500 or fewer seats.

My experience has been that we had 150 seats. 75 adults made it seam really full and when we had 350 seats, 200 adults made it seem full. So I think in smaller churches instead of 80% rule, that is closer to a 60% rule.

This brings me to another “bad habit.” I see a lot of growing churches putting out too few chairs. This means that when visitors come the ushers have to scramble to bring out more chairs—which doesn’t exactly say, ‘Welcome to church’. Sometimes this is because the pastor wants people to sit close to the front for his own comfort. It is one thing if you are talking about 50 people coming to a place that seats 500. But if you only have room for a couple hundred seats and you have 50-70 people coming, put out every chair you possibly can and encourage them to sit wherever they are most comfortable. I’ve had occasion to mention this concept to a number of churches over the years and everyone who makes the change in their thinking has come back to me reporting growth. This is because, by only putting out enough chairs for their normal attendees, they are engaging the 60% rule every week. People like to have an empty chair or two between them and the ‘stranger’ sitting next to them.

Making sure and preparing the people? The first time we added a service I was having trouble getting my leadership to take seriously the idea of going to another service. They all agreed it was needed, but they were not making preparations by developing their teams adequately. So at the start of the year when I shared our annual vision for that year I told them we would be adding another service in the autumn, and in preparation, we would make every 5th Sunday of the month a 2-service Sunday. It was a ‘trial’ Sunday without committing to doing it every week from the start. I also turned one of my normal mid-week services into a ‘family meeting of sorts’ to present it to the church and allow them to ask questions and make suggestions so that the ‘why’ was clear to all and that helped to provide ‘buy in’ from everyone. Doing so actually guided the times for each service. I was surprised that they wanted much earlier times than I thought they would. I also asked how many would go to the first service versus the second giving me a rough idea of how many would be at each, again I was surprised by how many wanted to come to the early service. We’ve even created simple but effective questionnaires that we give out to the church body on Sundays and take time during the service to complete (5 minutes) to ensure we get the accurate pulse of the culture of our church—these have been very helpful.

Pitfalls? The ‘feel’ is more important to momentum than many realize. Normally the reason for adding a service is that your sanctuary is getting too full. Being really full can carry a positive ‘buz’ with it. In contrast, if people feel like they are rattling around in a sanctuary with loads of empty seats, it can have a dampening effect on your growth momentum. Therefore, it is a good idea to remove some of the chairs in your sanctuary, and add a little bit more space between rows so that the ‘feel’ isn’t counterproductive. Once people get used to the new feel you can add a row or two to ensure there’s always enough room for the new people coming.

Benefits?  I like adding services as it gives people options, and in the ‘have it your way’ culture we live in, that is a benefit! Also, it means you can make more room in your church with normally no extra expense, unlike a costly building program, etc.

Pastor John Brady – McAllen, TX
When we went to multiple services, many of our people really struggled with it. Honestly, any time we do anything new, they struggle with it! We set the vision in place for several months. We talked over and over about the purpose of the change; that it was to give room to reach people. First we did this among our staff, key leaders and the entire helps ministry staff. Then we talked about the vision in front of the whole church. By the time we mentioned it to the church, our volunteers were so supportive of it that it helped our church body accept it. When you get positive momentum it spreads.

We found that January was the best time for change for us. It gave us 7 months to stabilize the services before summer hit. We had to be very careful of the service times. You want to make sure that it starts well so you can ride the wave. I believe each region has different cultural issues that affect what time you choose. I have heard the general rule is not to have your first service before 9:00. For us that was even too early. We had to start our first service at 10:00 am. You must consider how much time you need between services to allow for the traffic flow. We started with a 30 minute break, and are now down to just 15 minutes between services.

One of the main keys is to make sure that your helps ministry is ready to do above and beyond an excellent job. The wonderful thing is if you get God’s plan and be disciplined in your planning, you can have good turnout in both services. When this happen your people become so excited and the doubters become believers. This helps with future changes that need to be made.

Pastor Mark Boer – Boise, ID
We first added an earlier Sunday morning service and then just recently added a third on Saturday night. Each of our moves helped us to grow but they were not without pain—that is, there were times when the crowd was much thinner than desired and we had temporary strain in some helps ministries. But, I chose to emphasize the positive fact that we now had more room to grow and the added services helped produce just that.

Some of the benefits include: opportunities for growth, more helps ministry involvement, and the chance for children’s ministry workers to work one service and attend the other.

Some things to consider in this decision:
1. Do you have the support of your staff and leadership?

2. Are you approaching a seasonally down or up time?

3. Do you have the helps ministry in place to kick off with a “full-service” service?  If some are going to be doing double time, talk to them about this change first. (This guarantees that people will be there too.)

4. Will the new service be identical to the existing one or have a different target audience? (We make our three services identical in content.)

5. Avoid starting too early in the morning if that is the service you’re adding.

An approach we took when adding our Saturday night service was to announce a “new service at a new time for the summer.” This gave us the option of ending with no sense of failing. We were then able to announce again the exciting news that we were going to continue the new service.