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Expect the unexpected: ten things I learned when our church started a second service.


Five years ago, Briarwood, Montreal, decided to start another worship service. And we went at it Presbyterian-style: We planned. I's dotted. T's crossed.

We had flowcharts, personnel plans, updated worship assistant schedules, details on how to count the offering, including whether or not to separate it from the other service's offering (we didn't), a roster for opening the church, notes to contact the coffee coordinator, and a whole page on a new order of service.

On the journey there have been many things we did not plan for and many lessons learned. Here are 10 things we learned when our church started another service.


I did not expect that there would be so many who would volunteer to use their gifts, including musicians, band leaders, seniors to teach Sunday school and hospitality coordinators to organize the now monthly post-service lunch. I didn't expect how many new leaders in the church would come from the new worship service: elders, board members, children's faith program teachers, prayer group members, committee workers, ministry partners, youth, children who invite their friends into church. I also didn't expect how many people would come and stay and want to grow together.


People in the community looking for a connection or a re-connection to church felt happy to come. Walking into an established group and feeling that you belong is hard for most people. At our new second service, people freely came and took ownership of it quickly.


Any transition in a church can be tricky. But by God's grace and credit to the founding service, most who were there when the other service started see themselves, I hope, as positive, faith-filled pioneers. Risking change, though not everyone will embrace it, is part of the church.


Presbyterians pride themselves on the cerebral. Our worship tends to rely on thinking and for good reasons. Once a month, at the new service, someone talks about God in their life. I learned that as a pastor I could talk until I was blue in the face about how much Jesus loves you, but when someone else stands up and shares personally from their life how they have experienced suffering and healing, mercy and grace, the listening and learning reaches a whole new level.


Maybe you remember being in long meetings about whether or not to have a hymn after the sermon, or share the peace of Christ, or change the way the candles are handed out on Christmas Eve. One thing about starting a new service is that everything is new so you can easily be creative and try new things. For example, at the new service we offer Communion by intinction. Excellent idea. I also invite people to bring their coffee into the service. Great. We use bilingual French/English opening prayers and psalms. Perfect. When everyone is new, there is no set way you are disrupting. The flip side is that it can take longer to build in traditions that ground us. Either way, starting another service can create freedom for worship expression and creativity.


As pastor, has my energy and time been taken away from those in the founding service? Have the changes in how my week is shaped--reduced home visiting, increased coaching of leaders, and lots of Sunday preparation--been accepted by everyone at the church? Adding another service means more than another 60 minutes a week. It is wonderful, and it is everything that goes with creating something new. Not being sure that everyone understands that causes me some unease, as though I've let some people down. Gladly, we have a God that we can all trust from the bottom of our hearts!


The church where I worship doesn't have sprawling, cavernous basements, a huge sanctuary and off the charts heating bills. And this is a good thing. But one thing I have learned is that another service (and more staff) means more space. Space, and how we use it, has been a stressor. How do you incorporate an extra 60 people and two services into the same space? There was one stretch where we discussed space at almost every meeting. We now know that it is hard to have Communion at both services the same day because the kitchen is crammed with Communion cups and coffee filters. We now know we need a space committee (enrolment is out of this world).


People saw the need for more staff if we were going to serve more people. Thank God, we raised enough money for a full-time children and youth director. As more children and families have become a part of the church we have someone there just for them. To connect, encourage and invite. Without that extra staff person it would be frustrating for new families and church leaders to make these connections and find ways to serve and grow.


Even today, five years later, I hear comments along the lines of "I'm glad we started that service--where would we be without it?" Well, it doesn't matter. We started it as a mission, as a blessing, as a way to welcome people into community and God's kingdom. It was not ever for Us. Strangely though, in a God-way, the whole thing has actually flipped to become a blessing to the whole church.


You learn something about God when you try something new. The Psalm writers sing new songs. Isaiah hopes for a new thing. Jesus describes a ministry around new wineskins. John sees a new heaven and a new earth. I have learned that in risking something new or creative, God's grace comes to the fore. Probably because in those moments of risk, we need it so badly.

I've learned that I want to enjoy the grace of the generative, creative, loving God every time I see it. In the established and in the new. I am thankful to God and to the church I am in for reminding me of that.

Rev. Dr. Greg Davidson has a PhD from the University of Cambridge and is pastor at Briarwood, Montreal, Que.
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Title Annotation:MINISTRY
Author:Davidson, Greg
Publication:Presbyterian Record
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Feb 1, 2015
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