By Connie Davis Bushey
News Editor, Baptist and Reflector
BRENTWOOD — Tennessee Baptist churches are adding contemporary style worship services in various ways. Despite issues — will the new service divide the church, who will speak, when will it be held, and where will it be held — the outcome usually is good, reported pastors.
Three Tennessee Baptist churches which range in size reported on their experiences — Grace Baptist Church, Elizabethton; First Baptist Church, Manchester; and First Baptist Church, Kingsport.
Grace Baptist Church, Elizabethton, has offered a contemporary service for about nine months and drawn about 30 more people, up from about 200 people in its one service to about 50 in the contemporary service and about 180 in the traditional service, said Travis Tyler, pastor.
“For the first time in a decade, we saw a 1.5 percent increase over the previous year in Sunday morning attendance,” he stated.
Tyler studied Tennessee Baptist Annual Church Profile data on the church. “I found a very slow decline over a 10-year period,” he reported. Also he found “a generation gap” between the congregation and the community, Tyler noted.
Working with the congregation to research, inform, discuss, and decide this issue together is important, said Tyler. Initial meetings were held in Sunday School classes where members were comfortable to openly discuss the proposal made by a long-range planning committee, he added.
The church also waited about nine months after approval to launch the contemporary service on an optimum date — in August just before school starts — to avoid early slumps in attendance.
About 10 years ago Grace Baptist offered a second traditional service held before Sunday School to allow for growth until a larger sanctuary was built. Then the two services were combined and the second sanctuary began being used for youth ministry but really came in handy when planning the new service. Now the two sanctuaries allow the traditional service to begin at 10:30 a.m., and the contemporary service, called Common Ground, to begin at 11 a.m. Tyler preaches at both.
To maintain church unity, joint services are held quarterly, on holidays, and for baptisms and the Lord’s Supper, observed Tyler.
“Getting people in the door on Sunday morning is not everything, but it’s a starting point,” he added. “We see new faces almost every week … that we wouldn’t see otherwise” in both services, even in the traditional service.
Back before it was popular to add a contemporary service, about 18 years ago, First Baptist Church, Kingsport, did though it was 82 years old and considered traditional in many ways. The church, this year 100 years old, draws about 750 people to Sunday morning activities.
The contemporary service, offered before Sunday School at 8:40 a.m., is “an attempt to reach people who are unchurched,” stated Marvin Cameron, pastor.
“For us, the secret to it being meaningful has been the leader,” he explained. For the past 10 years, that has been Jessica Hatfield, associate minister of music. She is “incredibly gifted” and has a fine sense of discernment on how and when to introduce things “that are applicable to a younger generation” and still include folks who “like the convenience of an early service,” said the pastor.
What church leaders have discovered is that once children are in school and used to starting the day that early, many families prefer the early service so they have more time in the day for other activities, said Cameron, who preaches at both services.
Another response of this church to the two services is that basically about half of the total worship attendance of First Baptist attends each service though that fluctuates enough to determine that people are choosing the service which meets their needs.
Future plans to reach unchurched people may include a weeknight service for young adults and conversation groups, added Cameron.
Another large church
Similar to the Kingsport church, First Baptist, Manchester, draws about 725 currently to two Sunday morning services, a contemporary service and a traditional service. Other factors for this church are that the services and a prayer emphasis are growing the church to the point that a third contemporary service will be added this fall, said Brenton Cox, pastor.
Like the Kingsport church, the Manchester church has offered the contemporary service for a long time — 16 years — held early — 8:30 a.m. The reason the church is adding a second contemporary service rather than a traditional or blended service is the response, said Cox. More people, about 400, attend the contemporary service and when the traditional service was changed to a blended style service, attendance
— See Churches, page 14
increased there also. A few people did respond negatively, he admitted.
“Worship needs to be contexualized to the language of the people you’re trying to reach,” noted Cox, who used an analogy of missionaries adapting to musical styles of countries. “As our culture becomes a missions field, we need to do the same thing here.”
The new service will be held at 9:45 a.m., overlapping with Connection Groups (Sunday School). To accommodate worshipers at the new service, some Connection Groups will move to the 8:30 a.m. hour.
To prepare, for the last four years the church has held three services and two Connection Group meeting times on Easter. This schedule a few weeks ago drew about 1,200 people to worship on Easter.
The new schedule will increase the church’s worship capacity by 50 percent and its Connection Groups capacity by 100 percent, the pastor said.
“It’s a big challenge” logistically and in terms of manpower but is needed because the church’s purpose “is to reach people for Christ,” said Cox, who will preach at all three services most of the time.
What has fueled recent growth at the church, explained Cox, and other good events such as a budget turnaround and baptizing 23 new Christians, has been an intercessory prayer ministry begun in January. One hundred and forty-four members are praying almost each hour of each week. The participant prays for at least 15 minutes for needs of the church e-mailed to them.
The results really speak “to the power of concerted prayer … ,” he explained.
Concerning the changes, Cox observed, “The problem with Southern Baptists is we hold on in decline and just hope that things will change. Sometimes you have to recognize that times change and you’re going to have to change.”