When Daniel Atkins was preparing to become pastor of Taylor Road Baptist Church, Montgomery, he read a lot of church bulletins — five years worth, in fact.
He wanted to know all he could about his new church, and as he read and then visited, he noticed something right away — the empty pews at the Sunday evening service.
Drop in attendance
“There were around 320 to 330 on Sunday mornings and around 100 on Sunday evenings,” he said. “So I asked, ‘Where are two thirds of your people going?’”
Atkins started to wrestle with that and the question of how to leverage the evening service time slot effectively.
“I began to think through how we could repurpose Sunday nights,” he said. “It’s not that they go out of style; you repurpose them. That started us on a journey.”
That was in January 2016. They tried an experiment that summer — instead of holding Sunday evening services, they divided the church into multigenerational groups that met in homes rather than at church.
The idea met with some resistance at first, Atkins said. It took some time to absorb the idea that “church” didn’t have to mean being together at the actual church building. Some raised issues like, “If people drive by the church, they aren’t going to think we do anything,” and “Sunday night is when we do our more traditional music.”
But after they addressed concerns and cleared up misconceptions, by the end of the summer, “we love this” was the general consensus, Atkins said. “God was preparing us for change and growth.”
They didn’t make a permanent switch right away. The following fall and spring, they went back to the church’s regular Sunday night service schedule.
But when the next fall came around, they pulled the trigger and adopted home groups for good.
“We’ve not looked back since,” he said.
It’s brought greater unity across the church body, Atkins said. To cultivate understanding across generations, “the best thing to do is put them in a house together, put them around a table together and let them talk about things and get to know each other and understand each other,” he said.
Each time a group meets, they share a mealtime, whether a potluck or a brown bag. They pray for each other and discuss questions written by Atkins based on his morning’s sermon. Each group has a home group “shepherd.” And every year, the church mixes up the groups so that they get to know new people.
“There’s more interaction in our lobby these days,” Atkins said. “The fellowship is sweet.”
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