Now the Politics of Multichannel Church

Okay, political realities.

Let’s say you get the concept of Multichannel Church. You see the need to diversify beyond Sunday morning and to reach far more people than are available to you in Sunday worship. You understand that sticking to the old game plan will sound a death knell for your congregation. (Yes, it’s that stark.)

What now?

A single pastor or visionary leader cannot do it alone. You need at least some support from the leaders in your congregation – especially from the session. You don’t need to present a total program to them. You don’t need to sell them on a massive new investment. You need their consent, preferably their enthusiasm, for trying a few things to diversify.

It’s the Internet model: “Test and measure.” Try something, learn as you go, stop doing what doesn’t work, enhance what does work.

What about your larger constituency? If yours is a mainline congregation and the average age of parishioners is 60-plus, can you convince older constituents to look beyond Sunday morning? Maybe not.

Everything in their experience centers on Sunday morning. To them, clergy serve primarily to provide sacraments and preaching on Sunday. The congregation’s identity is its Sunday morning presence. Evangelism means getting people to Sunday worship. That’s where newcomers get sold on joining. The proof of their belonging will be continued attendance on Sunday. Average Sunday attendance is the metric that matters.

Moreover, when they consider the activities and friendships that matter to them, they probably start with Sunday worship, setting up on Sunday, coffee hour on Sunday, maybe going out for lunch after Sunday worship.

Finally, they have sacrificed dearly to pay for Sunday worship space, to keep it open and maintained.

You probably cannot change their minds about the centrality of Sunday worship. Nor do you need to do so. In contemplating Multichannel Church, you aren’t abandoning Sunday worship or even dialing it down. Rather, you are adding to it in a way that, eventually, will bring more people to Sunday.

Will people still resist? Yes, some will. Anything that draws attention away from Sunday worship, and thus away from them, will seem unwelcome. This is where your session members prove their mettle. They join you in stating the opportunity for more. They also join you in giving older constituents permission not to participate in the “more.” A subset of the old paradigm, you see, was that a loyal member participated in everything. But they’re tired now. Affirm their doing only what they can. Let others do the “more.”

What if older constituents still object? What if they reject any overtures to young adults, any rethinking of how non-Sunday constituents are served, and any activities that don’t center around them? Now you have a political moment of truth. This is where pastor and elders declare the future open and changing, and you say, gently but firmly, that the future won’t be held back.

You hope it won’t come to this. That’s why you don’t announce a major new program and try to sell it all at once. You proceed gradually, letting new ideas happen one or two at a time, take root, and prove their viability.