Is it important for the sake of community that a church have only one service?
Mark Dever is the one who has argued most clearly for having just one service. He is such a good friend, and we've talked about this before, so nothing I say here directly to him or about him will be the least surprising or offensive to him.
My read is that Mark will probably eventually change his mind about this, because he will have to! His church's attendance on a good Sunday is what? 800, 900, or 1000 people? I don't know how many they can pack into Capitol Hill Baptist, but if they want to keep winning people to Christ who want to come and hear the word of God as it is preached, they will have to do one of these things:
- Multiply services, which he says is a bad idea.
- Plant churches so that there is a new church that comes into being that takes people away.
- Do campusing, which is what we've chosen to do at Bethlehem.
- Or build a much larger building, which they don't have any room there to do.
Now my guess is, unless they can go against everything I've discovered from my experience, they won't be able to solve the growth problem with church planting. Therefore, they will be compelled to do multiple services, campusing, or building. Building looks very hard where they are, which is why some churches are driven out of the city and to the suburbs. I hope, of course, that Mark doesn't do that. So I just think practically it's not going to work for Mark to maintain his conviction.
Now the question wasn't whether it would work or not. It was, "Is it important to a strong church community that there be only one service?"
I think once a church is reaching 300 people there isn't a strong community in the sense of knowing people. Therefore, for that church to begin to meet in several times or places doesn't alter the personal relationships. It may alter the feel of how good it is when we're all together; but I doubt that is the essence of what biblical community is, that good feeling when you're all together in one place at one time.
I think the essence of biblical church community and unity hangs on a unity of eldership, a unity of teaching, and a unity of philosophy of ministry. And then, within the church, it hangs on very significant clusters of relationships that are biblically life-giving and involve all of the "one another" commands of the Bible. And you do these in some kind of smaller gathering, call it "small groups," "cell groups," "fellowship groups," "shepherding groups," "mid-sized Sunday school classes" or whatever. Those are the places where you get to know people and where you get to fulfill the biblical commands of community.
So, No, I don't think being in one service is the only way to be an appropriately biblical strong church community.
In fact, I would add one more thing. Mark is a way better evangelist than I am, which is why he is going to come talk at the Pastors Conference this coming February about evangelism. But I think there will start to be a tacit pressure not to bring new people into the church if you are communicating the supreme value of having everybody in one service. The pressure will be on: "Don't make it harder to do this."
Mark wouldn't want to hear me say that, but I think that's where it will lead.