Third Service Experiment(s)

from Rev. Gretchen

Just about two years ago, we started talking about what we called the “third service experiment.”  Our Sunday attendance had grown exponentially, and we knew that if we didn’t make more space, people would start leaving.  Which didn’t feel aligned with our newly-voted-on mission statement of unleashing courageous love.

An expanded building was at least 3 to 5 years out in the future, so the Board charged the staff with adding a third Sunday morning service.

We were admittedly somewhat terrified, but then Christmas Eve came – where we have always had at least 3 services – and we realized it might not be so bad.  And we agreed, it was the right thing to do.  Finally, in February 2017, we launched the experiment, and immediately our service attendance grew by over 30%.

Critical to any experiment is seeking feedback, trying new things, and learning together.  Through practice and ongoing dialogue and a strong sense of partnership with the congregation, we learned so much in that first experiment – which lasted through May that year.  We learned what supports and systems we’d need (a lot), what volunteers we’d need (so many), and just how early people were willing to get up and come to service (8 am was too early, especially after daylight savings…).  We applied these lessons, and moved into a more routine pattern of three services in September 2017.

And still, as with most things in church (and life), it’s good to keep that sense of experimentation about these three services alive.  Because we know that what worked at one point may not keep working, we want to keep open to what will best serve the mission now.

One of the things we’ve been learning is that in the past few months, as we returned to the 3 services schedule, the 3rd service has been a little slower to pick up attendance to its numbers all of last year. We realized that while some of you were game to try out the later service for a while in support of making space for everyone (thank you!), the 10:00 service is just soooo convenient and filled with so many happy people!

From a worship-leaders’ perspective, we’ve struggled with what can feel like a strange shift from a full-house of 200+ in the 10:00 service, to the more intimate gathering of 60 or so at the 11:30 – and yet somehow we’re supposed to offer the exact same script.

At the same time, we’ve started to notice that the 11:30 has a certain vibe to it.  An energy seeking more space for silence, more ritual, more healing space, more calm. And there is an openness, and a really strong engagement.  Originally I was categorizing it as a “younger” demographic, but actually it’s a really diverse crowd.  Or rather, not a crowd….a diverse small-ish gathering.

So in the past few weeks, we have been experimenting again.  This time, trying to meet this smaller mid-day gathering with a worship style that fits its organic energy.

Simple things to begin, really.  We have moved ourselves closer to the floor, including sitting within the congregation – to lean into the intimacy of the experience.  We’ve added a participatory ritual to the joys and sorrows for more personalized engagement.  Looking ahead, we’re thinking about ways to reduce some of the talking in some elements to make more space for silence.  And other ways to work with – rather than resist – the different feel of this service.

We’re going to experiment in similar ways for three months.  After three months is up, we’ll hold feedback circles, and send out surveys, and see what we’ve learned, and how we want to apply this learning in the future.  Our goal remains to keep finding ways to best serve our mission, and to meet the real ministry needs of our community both as it is and as we are called to become.

If you’re curious about these experiments, and want to be a part of creating a healing worship-ful space together on Sundays, join us for our 11:30 service.  And if you do, I hope you’ll think of yourselves as partners in this shared learning.  After all, worship on Sundays is not a performance, like the theatre.  It’s our work together, our shared ministry, to create this space, and to show up with and for each other in service of a better world.

There is so much need in our world for healing spaces, and for authentic community.  In this third service – and for that matter, in all of our services, and in all that we do at Foothills – we can together try out different ways of to serve this need.  And we can (only) do this together.

See you Sunday.  Keep experimenting.

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