A Case for Change: New Sunday Schedule


The Background

Over the past three years, St. Alban's has seen significant growth, from about 150 people on Sunday to regularly welcoming over 200 people each week (and growing). This means our 10:00 AM service typically has 170-190 people in a space that comfortably seats 150. The following graph shows the annual Average Sunday Attendance (ASA) of our 10:00 AM service for each year from 2012 on (as of February 19, 2017).

We want to be faithful to our mission to "proclaim to all, in word and deed, the grace of God in Jesus Christ." To do so, we need to make some room. As a result, at the direction of the rector, with the unamimous support of the vestry, we are going to three Sunday morning services beginning March 19, 2017.

The New Schedule

7:30 AM - Holy Eucharist, Rite I

A quiet, reverent, spoken service (no music) using our traditional litrugy (called Rite I). Scripture readings, sermon, and Holy Communion.

9:00 AM - Holy Eucharist, Rite II*

A powerful, beautiful service featuring a modern-language liturgy (called Rite II), traditional sacred music in the Anglican tradition led by full choir and organ. Features Children's Chapel for ages 4-9. Nursery availbale for ages 0-4.

10:15 AM - Sunday School for all ages

Adult Sunday School meets in the Parish Hall. Godly Tots, Godly Play, Godly Kids, Godly Teens, and Youth Ministry meet in the Outreach Center. Nursery available for ages 0-4.

11:15 AM - Holy Eucharist, Rite II*

Largely identical to the 9:00 AM service. A powerful, beautiful service featuring a modern-language liturgy (called Rite II), traditional sacred music in the Anglican tradition led by full choir and organ. Features Children's Chapel for ages 4-9. Nursery availbale for ages 0-4.

* The 9:00 and 11:15 AM services use Rite I during Lent and occasionally at other times during the year.

The Survey Results

As the rector and vestry considered this change, the congregation was asked to respond to a survey regarding the shift from two to three services on Sundays.

The survey was distributed via email on February 1, 2017, and then in our weekly email to 430 subscribers on February 3. Hard copies of the survey were available at Sunday services on February 5 and in the church office.  We received 99 responses (as of February 8, 2017; 97 online and 2 hard copies). This represents 51% of our Average Sunday Attendance.

Age Breakdown of Survey Responders

Ages 18-29     9%
Ages 30-49     32%
Ages 50-59     17%
Ages 60+        42%

Factors in Service Choice

The survey indicated that time and convenience were the most important factors in choosing a service, with music the second most important. Liturgy and community (who you see at church) ranked lowest.

Sunday School

Interestingly, 56 respondents (55%) never attend Sunday School. About 26% of respondents attend once or twice a month. Only 11% of respondents attend Sunday School every Sunday. When asked if they would be more likely to attend Sunday School at the proposed time of 10:15 AM, 42% of respondents said yes.

Service Time Preference

When asked their likely preference in the new schedule, respondents answered as follows:

With almost half of our active congregation answering the survey, with many indicating excitement and support (and with only 3% selecting exclusively “change is not needed”), the Worship Advisory Task Force (Jole Cromwell; Jonathan Gay; Kenn Harding; Rebekah Hughes; Donna Leas; Claudia Raimondo; Cathy Ratcliff; The Rev. Alberto Melis; Doug Smith; The Rev. Aaron Zimmerman, chair; Jerry Campbell, Senior Warden ex officio) unanimously recommended to the rector and vestry that we adopt this new schedule effective Sunday, March 19, 2017, the third Sunday in Lent. It was further recommended that we do so on a trial basis for 12 months with regular evaluation and, if needed, modification. The vestry unanimously accepted this recommendation at their meeting on February 16, 2017.

Congregational Comments

  • Thank you! Love the idea of the new times.
  • Excited about the later Sunday School and service times!
  • We are pleased with the current schedule; however, it is often tough to get the family out the door in time for Sunday School, so that extra hour would be nice.
  • Having availability for the later service would really have a positive effect. Because of health issues, the 10:00 AM service is a real challenge for me.
  • Absolutely love St. Alban's. Glad it's growing but it’s so perfect the way it is!
  • This is an excellent proposal and should serve all very well.
  • I think this is an exciting step for St. Alban’s to take.
  • Just a thank you to the person who created this survey and for the work of the team to think about all the options.
  • Really great to see people attending church!!
  • I think this is wonderful.
  • I think it’s a great idea to try this schedule for a few months.
  • I was delighted to see this new time schedule proposal.
  • I love St. Alban’s and understand the need to add services in order to accommodate more people. It’s the BEST problem to have!! Congrats!

Members also voiced some thoughtful concerns and questions. The following section addresses them

Questions and Answers about the Sunday Schedule Change

The survey raised some good questions that needed a response for the benefit of the entire congregation. The following are those questions and answers.

Why are we considering making this change?

Our mission statement is to “proclaim to all, in word or deed, the grace of God in Jesus Christ.” The word “all” means we hope to reach as many people as possible with the message of the Gospel—through liturgy, service, mission, music, relationships, preaching, and Christian formation. Our mission is Christ’s mission: making disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:20)—and then to keep on making disciples!

Currently, our growth is straining the limits of our space. Going to three services is a lot easier than building a new church building.

How much are we growing? In 2016, our Average Sunday Attendance was 196, over three times the size of the average Episcopal Church in the United States. That represents an almost 11% increase from the previous year, and a 27% increase since 2013. These trends are continuing in 2017, with the last four Sundays (Jan 15, 22, 29, and Feb 5) seeing over 200 people.

The main story, however, is our 10:00 AM service. In 2016, we averaged 158 per Sunday. Assuming people need about 34 inches of space (and if you measure our pews) that means we’re at 85% of capacity (including the balcony). So far in 2017, we’ve been over 160 at our 10:00 service every Sunday except January 1. If you exclude the balcony, at 160 people we’re at 95% capacity. Observing that for the first seven Sundays of 2017, ASA for the 10:00 AM service has been 177 (105% of capacity), this means we are essentially full.

As a result, guests find it hard to park and find a seat (as do many of our members), our children’s church volunteers are outnumbered, and Communion becomes logistically challenging. All this stifles growth. Remember, newcomers prefer to sit in the back of the church; right now there is no room back there.

Additionally, without changing the service schedule, we effectively cap our church’s growth at 200. It’s no accident that over the past fifty years since 1967, our Average Sunday Attendance is 150. That’s about what our space can comfortably hold.

Another important part of the motivation for this change is our understanding of what’s going on in Waco. Let’s look at some of the population trends in Waco and surrounding areas. (Data from “ExecutiveInsite Report” prepared 2/7/17 for The Episcopal Diocese of Texas. Sources: US Census Bureau, Synergos Technologies Inc., Experian, DecisionInsite/MissionInsite.)

There are about 90,000 people in a three-mile radius of St. Alban’s. At current growth rates, over 3,000 people will move into the neighborhood by 2026. The demographic with the most projected growth is the 35-54 year-old “Families and Empty Nesters,” increasing by 4% from 2016 to 2026. There are about 17,965 in this group now, projected to increase to 22,742 by 2026.

What if we expand our analysis to a 15-mile radius? (This includes China Spring, Woodway, Hewitt, and Lorena; this does not include McGregor, Crawford, or West. Many of our new members are coming from these areas.) The total population in that 15-mile radius is 224,000, with a projected increase of about 9,000 people within the next four years. (Incidentally, if you’ve wondered why children’s ministry is important, consider that about 40,000 people in this 15-mile radius are school age children, from elementary through high school.) With this kind of growth, we want to be sure we have space to welcome new members.

Some may think that only contemporary worship is attractive to people when they move to this area. Survey data from MissionInsite’s Quadrennium Project show that in our 3-mile radius, 36% of people felt “Traditional Worship Services” were “Very Important,” compared to 22% who felt that about “Contemporary Worship Services.” When we expand to a 15-mile radius, these numbers hold (though preference for contemporary worship actually decreases slightly). The data indicate that the worship offered at St. Alban’s may be exactly what many people are looking for.

Why don’t we add a Saturday or Sunday night service?

This would not address the main issue we’re facing: the 10:00 AM service is full.
Most of our 10:00 AM service attenders would not make a permanent switch to an evening service. Sunday morning is by far the preferred time to go to church.

Additionally, it would require our volunteers (ushers, greeters, altar guild) to give up their Saturday or Sunday evenings, prime time with family and friends.

What will the new services be like?

The 7:30 service will remain unchanged. The 9:00 and 11:15 services will be like our current 10:00 AM service. The services will be essentially identical, and will feature traditional liturgy and music. Rite II will be the norm, with occasional Rite I services. The preacher will be the same for both services.

We are not seeking to create a “Family Service” and a “Grown Up Service.” Children will be welcome in all our services, as they are now. Children’s Chapel and nursery will be provided at both the 9:00 and 11:15 AM services.

How will this affect coffee hour?

Coffee hour after the 10:00 AM service is a new (or re-started after long hiatus) feature at St. Alban’s, implemented almost a year ago. Usually, about 10-20 people gather in the courtyard for fellowship and refreshments after the service. In the new schedule, this opportunity will continue to exist.

The schedule will have two fifteen-minute “intermissions”—one after the 9:00 service before Sunday School, and then after Sunday School before the 11:15 service. These will function as “mini” coffee hours and fellowship times. Those who do not go to Sunday School will certainly extend this into a longer coffee hour. Additionally, we will offer refreshments after the 11:15 service. See below.
7:30-8:30        Service 1
9:00-10:00      Service 2
10:00-10:15    “Mini” Coffee Hour
10:15-11:00    Sunday School
11:00-11:15    “Mini” Coffee Hour
11:15-12:15    Service 3
12:15-12:30    Coffee and Refreshments

How will this affect the music ministry?

For many years St. Alban’s has employed 4-6 staff singers. This is a common practice in many churches as it allows consistency in worship. These singers will sing at both the 9:00 and 11:15 services. Additionally, Director of Music Eugene Lavery has consulted with our volunteer choir members to determine which service they will attend, based on their preferences. Results indicate we will have a sufficient choir (about 14 singers) to provide choir-led singing at both services. In the future, we plan to redevelop our children’s choir, which will regularly sing in our worship.

Won’t the church feel empty? I like it full!

For perspective, the 7:30 service has 20-30 people, and it’s a warm, tight-knit, welcoming congregation, and a vital part of our church family.

As for the 9:00 and 11:15 services, based on survey responses, we estimate that each service will have 60-80 people. (Keep in mind that nationally the average Episcopal parish has 60 people on Sunday.) Our new services will be about 50-60% the size of our current 10:00 AM service. While it won’t feel as full as it does now, it certainly won’t feel empty. Additionally, this change allows for new growth (which almost always tends to happen in the back rows).

The 10:00 AM service is not yet “Standing Room Only”! Why change?

Long before we get to “SRO,” at current growth rates the church will soon become uncomfortably full. This begins to put a downward pressure on growth. It’s like when you arrive at a party that is packed—you start to look for the exit. Plus, it becomes unwieldy for ushers and children’s ministry. Communion begins to take a very long time. Getting out of church creates bottlenecks.

SRO may feel great for a Sunday or two, but once it becomes the norm, people start staying away. Consider whether you would like standing for the whole service. Would you want our guests to do so?

SRO is not an answer to our problem, but rather an indication that we’re not responding appropriately to growth.

Why can’t people sit in the balcony?

Well, they can, and more are. But the balcony was designed as overflow seating. Again, if you don’t prefer to sit there, why would you want our guests to do so?

How will this affect children’s ministries? Will we need more volunteers?

Since we are not adding a Sunday School time, merely shifting it from 9:00 AM to 10:15 AM, that part of our ministry will not require more volunteers.

For Children’s Chapel, since we will have it at both services, we will need more volunteers to serve. To accommodate the large numbers of children’s in Children’s Chapel, Children’s Ministry Coordinator Jole Cromwell has recently brought on Kim Arnold as part-time Children’s Ministry Assistant.

We estimate that we will need 1-2 additional volunteers for Children’s Chapel at each service.

Will we need more worship ministers, ushers, and other service volunteers?

Yes! The Worship Advisory Task Force has identified how many additional ushers, LEMs, Altar Guild, greeters, and acolytes are needed. We are already in the process of recruiting more volunteers, and are finding that people are glad to be asked and willing to serve. Training for new altar guild members, LEMs, and Ushers are scheduled for February and March.

Doesn’t this put too much pressure on the rector in preparing for and leading three worship services?

Aaron looks forward to the possibility of reaching more people with the gospel, helping them grow in their relationship with Christ, and integrating them into our church fellowship. About two years ago, when our growth trends (and those of Waco) became apparent, he began to have preliminary conversations with staff and vestry about the possibility of three services on Sunday. The church he served in Pittsburgh had three services on Sunday (and one on Saturday night). In Houston, he served in a church with five Sunday services (they now have six). He has experience with multiple services and is excited about this change at St. Alban’s.

He also has a great deal of help. Full-time Director of Music Eugene Lavery is a liturgical specialist and can ensure the quality of our music as we make this transition. Deacon Alberto Melis, and now the Rev. Judy Filer, will assure that Aaron has help leading Sunday services. We anticipate the arrival of a new curate in June or July. Our new sexton, Ricky Gamble, will be here on Sunday mornings to assist with much of the hospitality and logistical concerns.

Finally, in the Episcopal tradition, since our services are in the Book of Common Prayer, we are not reinventing the wheel each week. The similarly of the 9:00 and 11:15 AM services ensures that worship planning will not be overly taxing.

Does this change fragment the church family?

It depends on how you look at it. We are already made up of many different smaller groups, and that’s not a bad thing. For example, we are already two congregations—7:30 and 10:00 AM. And at the 10:00 AM service, most people only interact with the people immediately around them (think about your circle of “passing the peace”). After a congregation is larger than about 140 people, it’s impossible to know everyone. We have long ago passed that point.

A church is made up of smaller groups, and that’s not a bad thing. We are one large worshipping community, made up of parts. That diversity in the body of Christ is a blessing.

We believe that with this new schedule, by moving Sunday School to 10:15 AM and placing it between two main services, more people will attend from all our services, creating more fellowship and interaction. Finally, the creation of our Small Group ministry was intended to ensure that people would be able to form meaningful relationships in our growing church.

An analogy for the church family, and for what we believe theologically in terms of church growth, is that we are like a cell that continues to divide and multiply. As we grow larger, offering “a diversity of options” allows us to be more effective in the lives of the people we reach.  

Will we go back to two services in the summer?

No. We want to give this new schedule a full 12 months and see how it fluctuates seasonally. Last summer (2016), we did not see a significant dip in attendance except for a few weeks in July. During the initial 12 months, we will regularly evaluate the schedule and make any necessary changes. After the 12-month period, we may modify the schedule if needed.

What about the all-church luncheon and fellowship events after the 10:00 AM service?

Remember that those events are already at a difficult time slot for our 7:30 AM congregation.  In the new schedule, all-parish meetings will move to the 10:15 time slot. This will likely allow more people to attend. Additionally, we anticipate continuing our St. Alban’s Day tradition of one service for the whole church followed by a luncheon.

When would we begin three services on Sunday?

We are planning to launch the new schedule on March 19, 2017, the third Sunday in Lent. We chose this date because it’s after Spring Break and three weeks before Palm Sunday and Easter, giving us time to settle in to the new times before those “big” Sundays. 

Who should I talk to if I have additional questions?

The Rector and Senior Warden would be more than happy to meet with parishioners about their concerns. Please feel free to call the church office to schedule an appointment. Additionally, members of the Worship Advisory Task Force would be happy to talk with you.