[Editor's Note: The idea for this Saturday service came from ideas gathered at an all-church retreat aimed at finding ways to grow the church. You can read about the visioning process in a blog written by the pastor himself.]
It's not often that a UCC church receives requests from members to be more like the Catholic church, but the ministers of West Parish of Barnstable, UCC, received that feedback when they got together for an all-member offsite retreat to discuss vision and their declining numbers.
The Rev. Ms. Christine Burns, associate pastor at the church, explained that members of a breakout session during the meeting were tasked to find out why they were losing young families at an alarming rate and what they could do to bring them back.
"We heard from parents who said they were working all week and then running around with their children on Saturday because of sports or language lessons or other activities and they were just plain exhausted," said Burns. "They wanted to have one day on the weekend -- Sunday -- to stay in their PJs, relax with the whole family, and not go anywhere. They then asked why we couldn't do what the Catholics do and have a Saturday worship service."
|West Barnstable offers informal Saturday worship service|
Burns was a little hesitant about proceeding with the second service. Members had been worshiping at the Barnstable church at the same time in mostly the same way for the past 400 years. But when the idea was presented to the congregation, it was welcomed. And if this was what the congregation wanted, then maybe it was time to be more creative and do something really different.
Barnstable is blessed to have more than one minister. Burns said that a second servicecan be accomplished with only one minster, but the church would need dedicated lay people who have total buy-in and participation in the new service and its preparation.
"We decided to offer a shorter Saturday service that kept families together, which is what parents hoped for," said Burns. "They were quite emphatic that they do not want Sunday School on Saturday; they want to be with their children for the entire service."
"This inclusive service is designed to have a relaxed atmosphere but at the same time keep people moving with the spirit -- although we slow things down during the sacred prayer and candle-lighting times, as well as during communion -- something we celebrate each week," she said. "But basically, it's 'come as you are, be who you are.'"
Bulletins have plenty of pictures so children can follow along and know when they are to pray, sing, or dance. (See one here - PDF) The children also move in and out of the worship space -- attending to coloring and craft activities with teen volunteers during scripture readings and sermons -- avoiding long-term sitting. Music is contemporary, with plenty of theologically progressive songs with great messages, including U2 and Cold Play tunes. "Everyone leaves singing and dancing," Burns said.
One attendee mentioned that her son, who was battling cancer, had been feeling better and was able to join in the dancing and singing time during the sing-a-long portion of worship. "This is truly a celebration!" she said.
Many older people come to the service as well because they enjoy the activity and liveliness of the Saturday service. About 40 people attend the new service each week, yet there has been no decline in Sunday attendance.
To get the word out about the new 4:30pm informal service, the church sent care packages with snacks and invitations to families who had stopped attending. That program did bring back some members but surprisingly, many new families began to turn out. Burns spends plenty of time out in the community, including a weekly coffee/chat time at Starbucks, so she started inviting the neighborhood to try out the new service. Those invitations by Burns, the music director, and others, as well as word of mouth, brought in many unchurched families.
"I've heard many of the newcomers say that they didn't know church could be like this," said Burns.
Following one of the services, the church paid for attendees to go bowling. The teenagers liked it so much they created an Instagram account to spread the good news of West Parish. Because of this new communal opportunity, teens felt comfortable enough to lead the way in social media to spread the good news of the Gospel.
"In this busy society, parents really need to be fed spiritually, and want the same for their children," said Burns. "We are called to tell and live the Good News, and this is a wonderful way to make it real in today's reality."
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