How to Distribute Crowds Across Multiple Services

Every year, in the few weeks prior to Easter, the church I attend starts asking all the regular attendees in the Sunday morning late service to consider attending one of the other services on Easter. They need to make room for the additional visitors they expect at the most popular service time on the most highly-attended weekend of the year.

I don’t know how much compliance they get, but I do know that those concerned with the issue ultimately have to adopt a wait-and-see attitude, preparing for overflow as best they can.

When You Can’t Afford to Wait and See

A few years ago, a church partner of Fellowship One didn’t have the luxury of waiting and seeing. While their building was being renovated, their 2,400 members were meeting in a temporary facility that held 1,400 people. Because it wasn’t their facility, there wasn’t a lot they could do if they reached overflow except turn people away.

With a significant number of visitors expected on Easter weekend, they had to come up with a proactive solution to not only anticipate but to influence attendance choices and make room for guests.

Using a registration process, they successfully distributed 4,009 people almost perfectly across three services! Their new 1,500-seat worship center was completed in time for Christmas. They sched­uled five services and successfully accommodated 6,500 people. Members offered virtually no pushback, happily complying with the untraditional strategy.

Communication Timeline and Content

At the holidays, we sometimes have to rearrange our kids to accommodate extended family. Maybe the cousins will all sleep on pallets in the den so Grandma and Grandpa can have a bed. Conversation about those logistics begins a few weeks before to prepare those who will be displaced, right?

Likewise, managing crowds at high-volume events necessitates several conversations with members about the issue of overflow.

  • Allow plenty of lead-time, 3-4 weeks.
  • Apologize for any inconvenience and ask for members’ help in meeting the church’s missional goals in the community. This is a families-pull-together request.
  • Explain the expected dilemma and ask members to prioritize those goals over their own personal preferences with regard to parking, preferred services, preferred seat choices, etc.
  • Express that the goal is to make sure everyone has a seat—including them!
  • Use the words “sign up” rather than “registration” to eliminate confusion about whether there is a cost and whether they must use online registration (The answer to both is, of course, “no”!)
  • Announce the campaign from the pulpit, in the bulletin for several weeks and on the website.

Registration Logistics

  • Based on seating, parking and nursery capacities, set a limit for number of members who can comfortably attend each service and still allow for the estimated percentage of guests, based on historical experience.
  • With capacities set, ask members to sign up for the service they expect to attend. Promote online registration as the most convenient way they can take care of the task at any time day or night and quickly learn when service times are full or approaching capacity, but assure people that they can sign up at the Welcome Center or by phone, too.
  • Assure attendees that there will be no attempt to verify sign ups.
  • Keep the congregation apprised of capacity statuses to give them an opportunity to avoid risking seating shortages.
  • Make the registration ultra simple: Name, how many attending, childcare needs, and which service.

The Right Approach

Registration for high-volume events isn’t an exact science. For one, you won’t know for sure how many visitors you’ll have. And it’s likely that a number of members won’t participate, others may change their minds without notifying you, and some will disregard capacities. That’s ok!

Your goal is not to police participation but to gain general visibility into potential scenarios for the purpose of being prepared, and to encourage distribution for the benefit of members, not just guests.

With the right communication strategy, you can avoid violating fire codes, having standing room only, or being understaffed in the nursery. You’ll increase the odds that you use your space to the best possible advantage, and ensure that there is a seat for everyone who wants to attend.