Sundays Matter – Making a Big Noise With a Small Crowd

The average church size in the UK and USA is 70. There are numbers of reasons why churches reach this point and stop growing but the most obvious reason is that when the first flush of growth settles down the church either gets stuck or has become a happy place for the people to be.

Some churches deliberately go for this number for different reasons. Perhaps they have become disillusioned with an “attractional” type of meeting and have begun to long for the simple approach of a very much scaled down meeting with little if no PA and a single guitarist, or backing tracks. This isn’t right or wrong. At our churches in Manchester, we aim for the best of both worlds. We want the community feel that 50 – 70 people can generate, with worship and preaching that you normally associate with a much larger gathering (and our multisite model helps us to do both well).

We have found over the years that a lot of our growth has come from people searching for church online. This isn’t just Christians – our alpha courses see numbers of people who have no relationship with anyone at CCM turning up because the googled “Alpha Manchester”

These people turn up on a Sunday or at Alpha and value both anonymity and relationship. A huge majority of them are Millennials or  at least under 40, and they live in a world that is increasingly professional in its presentation and multimedia orientated. So running a Sunday meeting that’s packed full of in-jokes, and only caters for the regular church members doesn’t help the mission for these people.

Strange as it may sound we are teaching our leaders to project their voice and govern the meeting as if it was a church of 200+. This stops them using familiar names in the notices and preaching as if everyone knows everyone’s history. A new person has very little knowledge about the people can immediately feel excluded when in-house language is used. On the other hand, in a smaller crowd of 50-70 has the ability to build relationships quickly and integrate people straight away. I believe that “Sundays Matter”.  

At CCM there is always a low bar and a high bar! The high bar for each site is a warm welcome, with piles of food, amazing coffee, a full band that leads you into the throne room of God and a preacher who challenges and inspires.

For many of our sites the reality is that we are still aiming for the high bar! Some Sundays it’s possible and Bill Hybels has nothing on us, on other weeks I think about nipping off early. However, like everything we do at CCM, we are not scared to declare what we are going for, and that our Father in heaven is a great provider! Bearing that in mind,  settling for second best seems silly. We do live in the real world that not every site has the full complement of gifted people and resources and therefore we do make the best we can of what we have.

There’s a philosophy behind everything we do every Sunday. I want to give a few brief summaries of the high bar we are aiming for.

Preaching Matters In Your Sunday Meeting

We are very intentional to make Sundays as good as we can on every front. Preaching is very central to who we are, and we can use this size of a congregation to train new preachers. The dual aims of allowing people to have a go whilst the very gifted preachers keep the standard high is a balancing act we are always making. I have noticed that having both these objectives is very attractive to new people, especially for the millennial generation who place a high value on participation and making a difference.

We aim to train lots of preachers. In the last 18 months, we have trained over 50 men and women to preach and many of them have stepped up to speak on Sundays. We train them to have grace for those listening to them because chances are they will need that grace returned to them! Our people all understand that many of our preachers are learning on the job and that the bar is low. They also understand that there is lots of feedback and encouragement. If a preacher has an absolute howler they won’t get benched but they will get feedback and another spot on the rota. Over the years, we have realised that someone who is a poor communicator but is teachable has all the raw material you need to create a competent preacher. However, a talented communicator who won’t hear feedback will eventually struggle.

Worship Matters In Your Sunday Meeting

Worship and developing creatives is also very important for us to be able to make our Sunday meetings work in the way we want. There can be a real tendency in smaller churches to play worship down because they only have a few musicians. We work hard to get a full band as often as we can. In the early days of a church or site plant this can be tricky, but a good band usually recruits more musicians! The musicians and set up teams at CCM know we value them highly and they work very hard for us.

When we do have a single musician on a Sunday we work with them to make sure we keep the tempo high and that we look to praise God without timidity!

I am a big believer in the importance of emotionally connecting with a worship time and that this is vitally important for mission. The Pentecostals were probably the last movement to reach a significant portion of the working class in the United Kingdom. For them, worship and supernatural were all part of helping people have encounter with the living God. It frustrates me that often the people who need this mixture of great music that is full of truth and moves the emotions often only have churches near them that are under resourced or are run by people who don’t value this so highly.

Christians and non-believers alike need to powerfully encounter God as often as possible!

I am labouring this point because it is so easy in these situations to settle for the status quo or make a new philosophy of the present.

Welcome Matters In Your Sunday Meeting

In a smaller church gathering being on your own is even more isolating than attending a very large congregation where you can be lost in a crowd. Having a good and sensitive welcome team badged and easily identified is helpful and not over the top. One of my leaders was once visiting friends for the weekend and visited their church. He explained that the welcome person wouldn’t leave him alone until he filled in a “New Person Form”. The welcome person became increasingly agitated as my friend explained he would never return and was visiting for the weekend but the “Welcomer” wouldn’t give up. In the end my friend made up a fake name, email and mobile just to get rid of him.

Looking out where a person has slipped into the meeting and is sat on their own needs someone to be aware and where appropriate introduce themselves or sit near them. Coffee shops, where I am writing this, have mastered the art of the right background music to cover the silence and yet not intrusive to hinder conversations. We must learn from these experts of the social space and make sure that good background music is played as people arrive and straight after the band have finished.

In the early days of one of our sites I was always moaning about the lack of good coffee. The site leader was a tea drinker and ignored me! In the end I got fed up and just went out a bought a coffee machine and some good coffee. I set it up and started serving decent coffee. By happy coincidence the site began its quickest and largest growth surge. I still maintain that the coffee machine was responsible!

Our hope is that when a new person walks through our door for the first time they are greeted by a huge pile of cake and great drinks. I think this communicates generosity, and places a high value on relationships. People connect and relax when they eat and drink together.

Communion Matters In Your Sunday Meeting

We aim to do communion every week at CCM. Our service starts with two songs, followed by notices (when kids go to their own activities), the offering, then a preach, followed by communion and then a longer time of worship. Our gatherings don’t usually last longer than 80 minutes.

Communion is at the centre on purpose.

Putting communion between the preach and the worship means that we help our people re-engage and focus on Jesus. We realised that having worship after the preach meant that people processed what the preacher had said during the worship time. They would do this by praying out or bringing other contributions. This is fine, but we want people to submit themselves to and focus on Jesus first.

The Offering Matters In Your Sunday Meeting

The offering is a great moment of vision and discipleship. I believe that people should have great hope for what God can do with their finances. Whether they feel rich or poor they should be ready to worship God by generously giving.

We use our offering to briefly say a word or two from the Bible, or give brief feedback on the church’s finances, or pray with faith for a new project at CCM.

It’s only a minute or two but it’s such a great opportunity to lead people with faith into generosity and great adventures!

Anchoring Matters In Your Sunday Meeting

The anchoring job is the most important on Sunday. We always hope that the anchor is largely invisible because the worship leader and preacher are on form! However, providing some direction and keeping momentum in the meeting is very important.

There is much I could say about this but in a smaller meeting  it’s vital that the anchor is concentrating on the visitors and making sure they feel included and understand what’s going on. In jokes and in house language is a big no-no for us. However, it’s important to communicate warmth! It is quite the balancing act.

Notices are so hard to do well! I get quickly frustrated when the anchor doesn’t know the basic facts and is corrected by someone in the congregation! For me, notices must be short, sweet and packed full of vision.

Sundays matter.

They are worshipful, community building and mission focussed. We start low, we aim high and we enjoy the journey.