Dirk took the Bob Dylan reference, so I guess I'll take David Bowie. ;-)
By now you have probably heard that BCC will be making a service time transition starting the weekend of October 28-29. There will then be only two Sunday morning services, at 9:00 a.m. and 11:00 a.m. Notice this is not just a reduction of worship services from three to two, but also a change in times (the early and late services currently are 8:30 and 11:15). The 10:00-11:00 hour is being designated as a fellowship time for congregants and, ideally, Conexus groups.
Some thoughts on this transition:
1) One strength the traditional model of "doing church" had in terms of its on-site small groups (a.k.a. Sunday School) is that you've got everybody in the same place at the same time. The modern church's transition from the Sunday School structure to a small group-type structure was a good one and the spirit of it must be maintained. But logistically, it just doesn't seem to be working too well in our church and our community. The ideal, of course, is that you have lots of likeminded groups meeting regularly in homes throughout the community. We've got a few of those going on, typically with younger folks like the college group or "young professionals," but for some reason, generally speaking, BCC has never been able to make small groups comprised of couples or families work.
There is an ease and conveniece attached to a designated hour between service times on campus. Now, I know the goal right now is not that this 10-11 slot become the Conexus group meeting time. But I do think the idea ought to be mulled over at a future time as an option. It wouldn't be a reverting back to the traditional Sunday School-type structure. It could be, as now, an arrangement of topical/interest Conexus groups (in other words, groups wouldn't have to be by age or gender) that meet on campus from 10 to 11. Apart from this "feeling" like Sunday School, there's nothing wrong with it, and a whole lot right with it. In terms of convenience and availability, it makes a lot of sense from a Bible study and discipleship training perspective.
2) So anyways, this fellowship time is, right now, designated precisely for that -- fellowship. Service attendees and Conexus group members can get together in the atrium or at Coffee Connection or at the picnic tables outside.
The only problem I see at this point, regardless of the purpose of the "free period," is that there will be no Kids Place activities at this time. Actually, that is definitely not a problem for the Kids Place volunteers, all of whom have been overextended and overworked. (And for those keeping score, the church was practically begging for more Kids Place volunteers for months before the train wreck, so it's not a post-wreck predicament.)
This is less a problem, though, given the goal of the between-time at this time, so while it might mean more little ones running around the place, it will mean a much needed break for Kids Place workers.
3) There should be no denying that a drop in attendance has led (in part) to this change. My sources indicate we have dropped from about 2200 average to about 1600 average, and 600 people, folks, is more than most churches average on an entire weekend. In other words, we've lost almost an entire service's worth of attendees.
The good news, though, is that we haven't lost more, that our average has held and that we are actually, steadily gaining more back. Folks who used to attend BCC are now returning (no comment as to why ;-), and new folks who know nothing of our past are coming in as well. And once we have our new lead pastor, you can expect attendance to pick up also.
So while this transition is partly the result of a drop in attendance, we are definitely not in crisis mode. It is a practical, logical transition based on our current needs. Responses of either "Oh my gosh the church is kaput!" or "See, I told you they couldn't survive!" are equally absurd.
4) I am already hearing about scheduling frustration. For instance, one of the members of the group I lead (from 9:00 to 10:00) used to attend the 10:00 service and is committed to serving in Kids Place during the 11:15 service. So now that the middle service is discontinued, given that her commitment to Kids Place is a given (and thankfully so), she has to either not attend a weekend service or drop out of our small group.
I know the Saturday evening service solves this problem for some people, but most folks just can't get to the campus Saturday night and then for three hours Sunday morning every single week. It's just too much.
4) There are so many people now making so many connections, this new "fellowship hour" sounds like a great idea. A few weeks ago, I would have doubted anybody at the church even knew who I was, and now we've got folks we've never met bringing us meals and becoming friends. I know I'm not alone in this experience. There is lots of good coming out of the tough transition our church has made in the last two months, and one of the "goodest" (to borrow one of my daughter's words) is that people are feeling connected and known and that we're in this together. As Dirk Plantinga himself has pointed out, our two families have attended BCC for about the same length of time (almost 9 years), and it was only through this mess that we met each other. I can say the same thing about another couple we are making plans to get together with in a couple of weeks. And in eight years, I had met one staff member and zero elders. In the last month or two, I've met numerous staff members and nearly the entire elder board. It never really bothered me that I'd never met our church leadership team, but I am so glad that I now have.
So, not that it matters -- although more than one person has asked what I think about the time change, so I guess at least those few are interested in my point of view -- but my bottom line about the transition is this: It will obviously be problematic for some, but I think it is a good and wise decision.