Last Sunday we had our first go at a twin-site morning service. Our church room is in an annexe to our, fairly small, parish church, and for years the seating capacity in church of 80 or so has been a glass ceiling. The church has bumped along against it, but it physically limits the number of people who can be part of the worship. We get new people pretty much every week, but their experience is of finding a church which doesn't have room for them.
For a couple of Sundays a month we use two venues: a traditional service in the church, and something more informal and child-friendly in the community centre 1/2 mile up the hill at the heart of the Abbey Manor estate. There's still a pretty good sense of church unity, but if we extended this to 3 or 4 Sundays a month, as well as stretching our resources past their limits, we might end up by accident with 2 separate churches.
It was a funeral which started the whole thing off. Last year Bob, our Treasurer and a great bloke, died very suddenly and we had around 250 people packed into St. James for his funeral. Roughly half ended up in the church room, watching a video relay of the service.
We realised that this was something we could do on Sundays too, so last Sunday we relayed the reading, a drama skit, and the sermon into the room, and had a worship leader and musicians in both venues. We kept the same running order, had childrens groups in a building next door which we hired (and turned out to be very suitable), and joined together for coffee afterwards.
Normally we get 80-85 for that service. 120 turned up, boosted by a sudden and unexpected visit from the local Christian boarding school, (20-odd 6th formers). So instead of filling 1 venue to nearly maximum, we filled both! Everything seemed to work, and we've installed a permanent cable from the church into the room which just needs plugging into a projector and speaker to relay things from the church.
It seems to be a good solution for lots of reasons:
- it keeps the church in one place, which is an important statement
- it minimises duplication: only 1 sermon and order of service need preparing, and only 1 set of childrens activities.
- it increases our seating capacity by 50
- nothing is lost: the 10.30 service is just as it always was, but if you want the same thing with comfy seating and a slightly more informal, intimate atmosphere (and the chance to get to the coffee first), there's an alternative.
In the long run we'll need to buy another projector, and have a team who know how to set it up so that the practical stuff doesn't keep falling on the same shoulders. But it was a good start.