The Church Calendar Challenge

No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins” (Luke 5:38 NIV).

For years I have been wrestling with the challenge of creating a new church calendar. I’m not talking about church calendar in the sense of the liturgical calendar (Advent, Christmas, Easter, etc.). I’m talking about church calendar as in the scheduling of assemblies and events for a local church.

It seems to me that the church calendar looks pretty much the same today as it did 35 years ago when my church experience began. Others have told me it looked the same many years before that, too. Could it be possible that a church calendar template created at least 50 years ago could still be the most effective schedule?

It seems to me that the church calendar looks pretty much the same in churches of the United States whether you look north, south, east or west. Could it be possible that a single church calendar template is the most effective schedule for locations that are vastly different from one another?

Or could it be that it is time for some creative, out-of-the-box thinking for reimagining what new church calendar templates might look like?

Some will point out that many churches have changed their Sunday night programming away from a Sunday morning-like rerun to small group gatherings. However, in many cases, this move has been made not as a proactive, forward-thinking change in strategy as much as it has been a last-ditch effort to salvage the situation when Sunday night attendance bottomed out.

Some would suggest the only way to address the issue is to plant a new church. Planting allows for creating new templates from the ground up. While that might be one approach, I think leadership of existing churches should consider taking on the church calendar challenge.

So I am asking for your ideas and input on what new church calendar templates (I am not sure there should ever be just one) might look like. What would an effective church calendar template look like if you cleared out the old one and started from scratch?

Here are two simple guidelines that set the parameters for the discussion.

  • There will be a Sunday assembly for Word and Table.
  • The church calendar should be intentionally designed to further purposes of worship, fellowship, spiritual formation, and outreach.

Send me a message if you would like to contribute to this conversation.

10 thoughts on “The Church Calendar Challenge

  1. Bob,
    I’m with you on this! I guess my idea of a church calander would be the Sunday morning assemply but then the rest of the week is open and flexible. Within each week I would recommend at at least one small group meeting either with other families/peers, OR members of the same sex (e.g. men’s small group, teen young men, women, etc…). It is within the small groups then that service projects, fellowships, etc… would be scheduled. Times and days would be subject to each groups availability.

  2. I agree…one of our elders and I were just discussing this at our small group meeting on Sunday evening. Our small group collective attendance is often near double what it is if we have it at the building. Something needs to be done differently, or just ended. I still challenge to find examples of meeting twice in the same day in our guide.

  3. Bob,

    Great thoughts! I’ve questioned our “scheduling” as well. One thing that I do believe that has to be central in our meetings together is participating in the Lord’s supper. However, I’m nervous as a church in general that we’re missing the point. I’m not sure a 5 min communion thought mixed with a pinch of a cracker and a small sip of grape juice is fulfilling that objective. What if the entire assembly was centered around an actual meal? Whether that be a massive assembly or within the small groups in homes?

    We are a church family. Our earthly families schedule the majority of the rest of our week around our meals. Think about if our church service was planned around a meal as well. Instead of us thinking “where are we going to eat after church?”…. we think “We’re going to church and we’ll walk away filled in more ways than one.”

    Just some thoughts. Love the discussion.


  4. This is an interesting idea. I am going to bring this up to the group of guys I have breakfast with on Friday. I think this will make for an interesting discussion.

    Mom and Dad say hi.


  5. Off of John’s idea-really just the snippet about small groups doing service projects-it would be neat to have a more hands-on type of worship during the week. If I knew I’d be working (and this could go either for a small group or large group for me personally) and doing something different from simply sitting and listening in a class, I think I’d be more apt to come to church. Especially if it was some kind of small group fellowship or service project.

    It might also be interesting (and none of these ideas might be viable at all, this is just me musing) to have different types of groups, like classes, during the week at different times. For example, a few might be:

    Monday: Book Club-Rob Bell’s Velvet Elvis
    Tuesday: The Bible for Beginners (could be age specific)
    Wednesday: Small Group Service (all ages, service varies weekly)

    That kind of thing. Truthfully, I would be interested in going every day of the week if class variety like that was offered. I think having choices and different formats from Sunday church is a really good idea, Bob, and changing it up is something that would absolutely get me interested in church throughout the week.

  6. Bob, Thanks for asking the question! I’ve thought about the issue often. I don’t have “answers” but I do have some ideas. Hope you don’t mind me sharing some from 600 miles away:
    1. The right answer to this question is specific to each congregation. What works in Boone NC (my home) may not work in St Louis and vice versa. Each congregation should consider what would be most effect in their community/congregation.
    2. Change has to involve the entire congregation; however, no one member should have “veto power” over the process. It has to be approached with mutual respect and commitment. Our attitude has to be “My commitment to the church is FAR more important than any worship style issue.” Even though almost everyone at the outset might verbally agree with that concept, virtually any change will make someone upset. By arriving at the change through a process that involves the entire congregation, at least no one should be legitimately surprised when it happens. In this regard,
    3. A congregation must first determine its objective for each service–outreach, evangelism, fellowship, teaching, etc. Praise should be a part of any service, but withing that huge concept there may be different specific goals. If a congregation does not agree on the object, then there is no criteria by which the “success” of the activity can be measured. Furthermore, if everyone has different subtle objectives, one has a ripe opportunity for trouble.
    4. Change ALWAYS means more work/time/planning/thinking/organization. The reason we settle into routines in worship is that it’s easier, more comfortable. requires less work, and needs less communication. Once the change is decided upon, the new pattern has to be terrific from Day 1–well thought-out and well executed. Otherwise, the naysayers (all change results in some naysayers) will have reason/opportunity to say “I told you so.”
    5. We HAVE to make our worship relate to people (members and folks in the community) in modern terms–language, culture, style, technology, ideas, concerns, issues, etc. One example, that doesn’t not mean we have to have a rock band, but it does mean that our songs need to have a modern sound (all quarter notes written in 1732 just does not relate today). We have to know people and know what topics, styles, approaches will be meaningful in 2011.
    6. God has given us far more freedom in how we express worship than we are willing to exercise.
    I have more thoughts but this is probably too much already.
    Bob… I’m really enjoying listening to your sermon series from afar.
    Praying for God’s Blessings on the Lafayette Church.
    Ray Russell

  7. Sorry, one PS item…
    7. Today’s new schedule should not become next year’s tradition. The most important thing to establish is a mechanism for assessment (is the service achieving the objectives) and a process for responding to opportunities/challenges/yet more ideas. Lowering the viscosity is the more fundamental goal.

  8. You’ve gotten some great feedback! I agree, intentionally scheduling in times for fellowship and service should be a priority. The idea of centering worship around an actual meal is neat! Also, starting Wednesday evening assemblies at 7pm is very difficult for families with young children who have a bedtime, for families with older children with evening activities and homework, and for older folks who’d can’t drive after dark. The idea of various groups doing various things at various times throughout the week as a follow up to whole group Sunday worship would be a nice way to meet the needs of people in all seasons of life.

  9. I’m going to have to think about this for a while. I’m sure that I don’t want to attend where the ‘service’ is oriented more towards entertainment than towards worship. Likewise, I wouldn’t want to see us enact changes just for the change sake. And yet, whaere you are going certainly needs to mapped out.

    What would be the objective? Increased attendance; expanded fellowship; improved outreach; …. . Any or all are worthy. But it seems to me that as your question moves towards some sort of resolution, I would wish that the end-game would give me a ‘service’ that immerses me totally in worship and only that.

    Hoever, I’m not representative of the typical church goer. At my age (70) I would probably prefer little or no socializing, maybe a litergy (or at least a thoughtful preamble to the Lord’s Supper that doesn’t draw on the most recent events in the SEC football calendar), sermons that speak to my life and remind me of how precious my salavation is and let me feel good about my relationship with our Father. (I believe that run-on sentence should be submitted to the Library of Congress as a classic example of what not to do!)

    For those of us in my minority, I would vote for and support anything that sends me out-the-doors reminding me of the assurances of salvation.

    I’ve got to stop. Unpacking this could lead to ……..

  10. Pingback: Weekly Wrap « Exploring Apprenticeship

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