Okay, let’s talk multi service and chairology. First of all, one of the major perks of a small building is that it doesn’t require much growth in order to build momentum for your church. You can have a relatively small amount of growth, but because your facility is small you are now “packing the place out.” People will say things like you are “blowing up Bro.” You are crushing it, killing it, and several other serial killer type phrases. In reality you grew by 20 people, but your building is so small it makes it feel full. In order to grow you will need to create space. The best way to create space is by going to a multi service format.
Alert: This blog will be full of personal opinion. I, in no way, claim to be a multi service expert, but will share with you my real world experience and thoughts about the process. We currently offer 3 services on Sunday at 9, 10:30, and 12:00.
My first observation is that percentages feel differently in a small venue versus a large venue. Many people look at how full an auditorium is by percentage when deciding on whether or not to offer multiple services. The idea is that you need empty seats in order to grow. Speaking of percentages, that is 100% correct. You need empty seats and room to grow. However, my opinion is that a small venue needs to maintain a higher percentage than a large venue. For instance my brother, Steve Warman, pastors a church with a facility that will seat 2700 people. I, the underachieving brother, pastor a church with facilities that will seat 150. If his facility is at 50% and my facility is at 50% it doesn’t feel the same. Yes, they are both at 50%, but there is a big difference when 50% is 1,350 people and when 50% is 75 people. Here’s the catch, in a small venue you need it to feel full and energetic. The feeling of an “empty” building can be a momentum killer even though you are adding services and growing. However, you also need to add services in order to grow. When you add a service you obviously split the percentages and end up with an awkward amount of people in your facility. So what do you do? Do you keep “blowing it up Bro” and not have future growth, or do you add a service and endure an awkward season of feeling like you are in an empty building? Here’s the deal… add the service and play chairology. The first time I heard the phrase “chairology” was from my friends Dan Lord and Bryan Larson from the Life Church of Memphis. I can’t remember which one said it first, so I will take credit for the idea.
If you are like me, you inherited your small facility complete with glorious wood and upholstered benches we call pews. The happiest day of my life was when a Haitian church from Fort Myers rented a large truck and came and picked up our pews and baptismal tank. I openly and unashamedly weep joy filled tears upon the remembrance of that glorious day. I would highly recommend getting rid of pews for any reason, but especially if you are planning to do a multi service format in a small venue. I’m not saying it’s impossible to do a multi service format with pews, we went to two services with pews, I’m just saying it’s going to suck.
A few helpful principles:
1. Get church chairs and chair dollies and get ready to move chairs frequently
2. Make your small venue even smaller. Instead of connecting your church chairs, space them a part about 8 inches. This will allow you to have rows that are in the same location as the week before, but you will have less chairs per row.
3. Increase the size of your aisle ways. Space between chairs and a little extra room for the aisles will eliminate a lot of chairs, but won’t drastically change the look of your auditorium. We have had as little as 120 chairs in our room without making the room feel “empty.” The seats look full and the building “feels” full, but there are less people in it because we have them spread out through multiple services.
4. Know your crowd. One service is going to be larger than the other. It’s rare that you get a perfect split every weekend. Typically, one service will be more attended than the other. Our ushers wheel chairs in and wheel chairs out depending on the service. Typically our 9:00am service is our medium service, 10:30 is an overflow service, and 12:00pm is our low crowd. We have a typical set up for 9, we add rows for 10:30, and we take them out for the noon. We have done this for a while until recently our church grew enough to make all 3 services typically “feel” full.
By the way, the percentage difference between large venue and small venue matters on Saturday night service as well. Typically, larger churches don’t get as full of a percentage on Saturday nights as they do on Sunday mornings. We tried Saturday nights in a small venue and found that it didn’t work for us. We have a much better percentage split with three services on Sunday. Again, this is an opinion based on personal experience and offered as food for thought.