GREENWICH – At Second Congregational Church of Greenwich, a new evening worship is changing the way some people think of church, and some of those people have never set foot in the church.
Rev. Shawn Garan, Associate Pastor of Second Church, was involved in a discussion last spring about the critical point when churches need to make a decision about the future. But he didn't see it as optional
"It's not a choice; we have to evolve," said Garan.
Garan, who had regularly considered ways of doing church differently, started exploring the idea of a worship service geared toward Millennials and younger families, a service that would "break the mold of what they think church is." He began by changing the worship day and time. Evensong, the name Second Church uses for the new service, is held on Saturday evenings at 5:00 PM.
"I think a lot of people today look to have the whole day off on Sunday, a real Sabbath," said Garan.
In planning for the evening worships, Garan makes no assumptions about what attendees might know about Christianity and Christian values. He says churches often proceed as if people in the pews are familiar with everything – the hymns, scriptures, traditions, and history. So the Evensong service comes with a complete explanation of each component. Garan shares why a song is spiritual and relevant before singing it. Scripture are prefaced with the context of the passage. He tells people to bring a bible. "I just might make you read from it," he warns. Prayers and meditations are varied – some are silent, others are done as an exchange with another person. And the music? The live band changes each week; the music director brings in new artists who play strings, woodwinds, guitars, keyboards and percussion.
"Evensong is a complete do-over," says Garan.
Garan says people connect with different components of the service; some like the silence, other the live music. He tries to include as many sensory inputs as possible. He's even ministering to those who cannot be present in the chapel. Evensong services are filmed and streamed live on Facebook. While the chapel often has anywhere from 15 to 50 people, the audience watching the live stream has ranged from 200 to 1,000 viewers. When the service is over, Garan says there are often 40-50 viewers still online. He has begun to create a community of these online viewers and makes efforts to engage with them every day.
One of the most important parts of the Evensong service is what happens after. When the service ends, those who come are invited to stay and enjoy a dinner or a service project, giving people time to connect with one another. During one recent post-service project, those who stayed packed hand warmers, gloves, hats, and other items into backpacks for a local homeless shelter. At another project, they created smaller care bags that people could keep with them and give to people they encounter during the week.
Garan says making the service missional is probably the biggest impact of the Evensong worship, and it has lead to people coming to the service who would not have come to church otherwise. In addition, people who have only visited the service online have requested the care bags. This outreach has extended to the musicians as well. The response to the music has lead to others asking about the Evensong musicians, leading to connections that have expanded their ministries. And some of the people attending Evensong have asked about the more traditional programs at Second Church, like bible study and prayer group.
"Evensong is just the missional outreach," says Garan. "It's the way we're going to grow the church of tomorrow."
You can view recordings of some of the Evensong service by visiting the church Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/pg/2ccGreenwich/videos/