A MESSAGE FROM THE REV. J.C. AUSTIN: A new direction
Friends, I want to say thank you to all of those who returned the Worship Survey that the Worship Committee has been conducting the last few weeks; we received 97 responses, which included some very helpful thoughts, questions, and concerns in addition to the questions about preferred times and formats. The Worship Committee met last Sunday and reviewed those responses at length; every single response was read and discussed by the Committee.
Just under half of the responses indicated a preference for a single service at 10 a.m., incorporating elements of both traditional and contemporary worship within it. However, within that group, relatively few people wanted such a service for its own sake. Many indicated a personal preference for traditional worship, but felt that a combined approach was necessary to attract younger generations.
Others felt that such a service was necessary because of the post-COVID decline in overall attendance that nearly every church in the U.S. is experiencing, and that it would be better to combine services for a larger overall attendance and so that everyone in the church was worshipping at the same time. On the other hand, most of the other responses (slightly more than half) indicated a strong preference for a traditional service at 11 a.m.; only a few people who had attended the 9 a.m. contemporary service responded to the survey.
Given all that feedback, after a thorough discussion, the Worship Committee recommended the following to the Session, which approved it unanimously at its meeting last Monday:
We will return to a two-service format, with a 9 a.m. contemporary service and an 11 a.m. (not 11:15 a.m.) traditional service.
The 9 a.m. contemporary service, however, will be experimenting with a new format. Instead of a “rock music club” feel, it will be doing contemporary worship with a “coffeehouse” feel. The band will be playing mostly acoustic instruments, and worshippers will be seated around tables rather than theater-style. Dress will continue to be informal, but coffee will now be available throughout the service. The liturgy will be intentionally intergenerational in terms of language and experience.
Most significantly, there will be an “Embodied Response” after the sermon each week that will allow people to get up and choose one or more activities at different tables to respond to the message in the sermon: a discussion table, a silent reflection/journaling table, and a prayer/creative activity table. A children’s activity table will be available throughout the service for children to use as desired.
As a result of this, we are not going to livestream the 9 a.m. service, but we will provide the audio of the Scripture and sermon along with a playlist of the music in the service for those wanting a digital option. We are also going to explore what an intentional “digital worship” option could be for us, meaning a worship experience that has been specifically designed for a digital worshipper, as opposed to simply making an in-person worship service available online, which is what a livestream does. The livestream for the 11 a.m. service will continue to be offered each week.
The Worship Committee and the Session believe this is the best Sunday worship format for us right now, in light of all the responses we received and the best wisdom from worship thought leaders addressing worship strategy in the post-COVID world. It provides a traditional worship experience for the large group of people who prefer that, and it provides a dedicated informal and intergenerational worship experience that we believe has significant potential for growth in engagement and attendance in a way that the previous contemporary worship format did not.
Furthermore, we expect to return to the “Summer Worship” format with a combined service at 10 a.m. next summer for those who did particularly enjoy that, and we will have several combined services throughout the year as well.
We are currently deliberating whether to begin this new Sunday schedule on October 9 or October 16; we expect to decide that within the next few days and will announce it as soon as the decision has been made. In the meantime, I look forward to being in worship with you this Sunday!
Grace and Peace,