Our church has kind of a unique arrangement for our multiple services. We have an 8:15am contemporary style service, followed by Sunday School at 9:30am (with a coffee time in between), and then we have two 10:45 am services, one contemporary and one traditional. That means that Pastor Randy preaches three times each Sunday, and that at 10:45 we "share" him. He preaches early in the 10:45 contemporary service, and then walks to the other side of the building to give his sermon in the traditional service.
Three years ago, when we first started doing this I, with my gift of encouragement, predicted disaster. I was wrong, thank goodness. Though there are challenges for the staff in this schedule, it has worked out pretty well, and our attendance has grown steadily. All three services are well attended.
One thing we all wanted to prevent, since we are an almost 145 year-old congregation, and have many multi-generational families, was the development of three "congregations" that had no sense of connection with each other. One way we did that was to keep our very strong Sunday School system untouched. Most people can remain connected through those classes even if they attend different services.
Another thing we did was institute our Fifth Sunday Family Gatherings. Four times a year, when there is a fifth Sunday in a month, we scrap our usual schedule and meet for a joint service. Sheer numbers means we have to meet in the room that is used for the contemporary service, as we won't all squeeze into the sanctuary. Unfortunately, this means we can't use the pipe organ, but when we plan this service we work very hard to make sure the music is a blend of old and new, and that we use worship elements that feel accessible to every age group. We use musicians from both "sides". We use those services to highlight "family" celebrations: welcoming new members, giving the children entering fourth grade their first Bibles, hearing from the youth about their mission trip, and recognizing those who are graduating from high school or college. These are things the whole congregation likes to unite in celebrating.
This past week was the Sunday we met together, and we recognized the graduates. No, graduating from school is not a particularly "spiritual" thing, but we want to offer encouragement and prayer for those who are moving on to a new stage in their lives. That thought led me to choose a fairly contemporary choral piece for the choir, "Be Strong, and Take Courage", by Basil Chaisson. Before singing it, four of the choir members read these verses:
"Yes I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing" (John 15:5, NLT)
"I pray that your love will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in knowlege and understanding. For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ's return. May you always be filled with the fruit of your salvation-the righteous character produced in your life by Jesus Christ-for this will bring much praise and glory to God." (Phil. 1:9-11, NLT)
"So we keep on praying for you, asking God to enable you to live a life worthy of his call. May he give you the power to accomplish all the good things your faith prompts you to do. Then the name of our Lord Jesus will be honored because of the way you live, and you will be honored along with him. This is all made possible because of the grace of our God and Lord Jesus Christ." (2 Thess. 1:11-12, NLT)
"For I know the plans I have for you," says the Lord. "They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope." (Jer. 29:11, NLT)
It was meaningful to the choir to give this benediction to the graduates on this special Sunday, the Fifth Sunday Family Gathering.
And then, being Baptists, we just had to follow that with a potluck!