FAQ on the Two-Service Schedule for Nov. 2019-April 2020
The UUCGN Board of Trustees has approved the following schedule for the 2019-2020 season from November 2019 to April 2020:
Forum in the sanctuary from 9:00 to 9:45
Sanctuary change-over from 9:45 to 10:00
First worship service from 10:00 to 11:00, including Religious Exploration program for children and youth
Hospitality on the pavilion from 11:00 to 11:30
Second worship service from 11:30 to 12:30
- A simple hospitality time from 12:30 to 1:00
- Ad hoc meetings, including New Member Orientation, Board of Trustee Town Halls, budget and annual voting meetings, etc. starting at 12:45
- Social Justice movies (one per month) to be held in Thomas Hall from 12:45 to approximately 1:45.
What goals were set for creating this new schedule for the 2019-2020 season?
There were multiple goals set for the coming season, all to be accomplished within a reasonable timeframe on a Sunday morning. The table below identifies those goals, what was done for the 2018-2019 season, and how the revised schedule for 2019-2020 addresses those goals. No solution is perfect, but we hope that this will accomplish most of what we set out to do.
Goals for 2019-2020
Ease overcrowding in the sanctuary (the primary goal) by balancing attendance at the two services.
Offer two services that are each an hour long.
Provide a Sunday service experience that feeds our souls and supports our spiritual selves so that we can go back out into the world nurtured and recharged.
Provide a time for members, friends, and visitors from both services to join in community during hospitality time.
Support Forum as best we can without being detrimental to the other goals listed above.
Comments and feedback based on the current 2018-2019 season
The ideal is to have attendance at any given service be no more than 80% of seating capacity, as keeping at or below that target has been shown by studies put forth by the UUA and others (footnote 1) to be most welcoming to all who enter our doors. Attendance at the first service this current season was quite a bit higher than the previous season, but not sufficiently high to achieve balance between the two services. Indeed, our second service has been at or above (sometimes well above) that 80% target for the vast majority of the time from late October 2018 to mid-April 2019, with the occasional spillover to the pavilion.
For this current season, we cut the first service down to 45 minutes so we could start it at 9:00 rather than the previous year’s 8:30, hoping the change would provide a satisfactory (and temporary) solution, but it did not prove to be quite as satisfactory as we had hoped.
This proved challenging this current season, with one shortened service followed by a hectic and sometimes chaotic period as Forum setup took place.
There also seemed a lot of disruption after Forum and before the start of the second service.
It has been a challenge to draw the people having refreshments on the pavilion into the sanctuary to participate in the second service, and especially to then get settled, calm, and ready for the service.
Noise in the foyer was a recurring problem during the first service, even with attempts to direct people into Menaker lobby by Thomas Hall to wait there for Forum time, rather than cluster in the sanctuary foyer.
With a short hospitality time (less than 15 minutes) between the first service and Forum, and again between Forum and the second service, it was hard to relax and visit with others. The hospitality time after the second service was more relaxed and longer. The demands on our hardworking hospitality volunteers, however, were very high as they needed to not only deal with the multiple, fragmented coffee times but also to remain until the last lingerers were ready to leave in order to clean the kitchen.
Forum grew in attendance this season, as it was convenient for both first- and second-service attendees to participate and as the caliber of speakers and the reach of our external communications continue to rise. Being placed between the two services, however, led to many of the issues described above. It has been too difficult to have a turn-over of 100+ people exit the sanctuary (keeping in mind those who have mobility limitations), use the restroom, greet friends they may not have seen for a while, reflect on the first worship service just completed, or stay to ask questions of the Forum speaker, exit the sanctuary, use the restroom, grab a cup of coffee, say hello . . . and then return to the sanctuary to settle in for the second service. We are learning that with increased attendance overall, 15 minutes simply isn't sufficient time between uses in the sanctuary.
How we propose to achieve these goals in 2019-2020
Move Forum to precede the first service. By doing so, we hope to draw more people to the first service, thus balancing attendance at the two services and alleviating overcrowding at the second service. This outcome would positively affect the remainder of the goals as well.
Provide two services that are each an hour long in 2019-2020.
Eliminate noise and foot traffic in the sanctuary foyer, alleviating the stress some felt arising from the perceived chaos. Maintain a calmer atmosphere going into the sanctuary for each service.
A communal 30-minute hospitality time between the two services allows members and friends attending both services to enjoy each other’s company.
Moving Forum out of a position between the two services seemed the best way to overcome the issues described elsewhere in this table. Over many years during which there was only one Sunday worship service (10:30 to 11:30), Forum took place from 9:00 to 10:00; it was later switched to 9:15 to 10:15.
Forum used to be scheduled in Thomas Hall and thus did not lead to setup and breakdown issues in the sanctuary. Nor did Forum add to noise and foot traffic in the sanctuary’s foyer during a service, as the sanctuary was empty with no service taking place in it. In only rare cases did attendance at Forum for particularly popular speakers lead to overcrowding in Thomas Hall, and when that happened, Forum would be moved into the sanctuary for that particular day.
A look at the data
We examined how attendance tracked during the past two years in the months when we held two services. Some important patterns can be seen looking at the actual data. The largest gaps between the first and second service occur when there is a special program or event, such as the Annual Meeting at the end of March, scheduled after the second service. Conversely, when there is a special guest in the pulpit leading both services, attendance tends to be high but is much closer to even between the two services.
What does this chart show us?
Imbalance in service attendance. In an ideal world, the early and late services in the same year should show equal attendance: The purple and blue bars in the same week (last year), and purple and blue lines in the same week (this year), would be equal if the two services had had balanced attendance. They were not. Often the late service attendance has been more than two times, and as much as FOUR times, what it was in the early service, with the imbalance exacerbated by a program or meeting which is only offered after the second service, such as a Board of Trustees Town Hall or Social Justice film.
Forum popularity. Forum often draws more than the early service, which is quite significant, and the average overall was almost 120 people per week in high season this year.
Continued growth. The average attendance for all three offerings (the two services and Forum) is up year-over-year. UUCGN has experienced a net growth of nearly 10% per year since Rev Tony Fisher became our minister. Some 50% of our members are new in the past 5 years.
Super-spike Sundays. There are 210 seats in the sanctuary, and 80% of that is 168. There are many weeks in high season when attendance at the late service, and sometimes even both services, is over 168 people. If attendance is more than 210, people MUST move to the pavilion.
Currently, audio amplified from the sanctuary does not carry well in the pavilion, which was not designed as an overflow worship space or amphitheater.
The music is muffled; sometimes the choir or soloists cannot be heard at all, but we hope that the new AV equipment will address some of that problem. However, there are no hymnals available.
Seats in the pavilion are designed for short periods of conversation and durability in humid weather, not for sitting an hour listening attentively to a worship service.
It's very difficult to participate in Joys and Concerns.
Meanwhile, others on the pavilion may be chatting after Forum and not "attending" the service, and the hospitality team members are busing tables and cleaning up. Overflow to the pavilion is not at all conducive to a worship experience.
What is significant about 80% utilization of seating?
Studies have shown (see again footnote 1) that when more than 80% of the seats are occupied, the feeling in the room has passed from feeling energetic and lively to feeling over-crowded. The "sweet spot" is 40-75% utilization.
If the only available seating in the sanctuary is in the front row, or on the inside-most seat of a row, or if there aren't enough vacant seats together to seat a family, or maybe a couple spending the winter in Naples for the first time, or members and their visiting house guests, then often those visitors don't come back.
Think about your own experience walking into a movie theater with a friend where there is general seating, and finding 9 out of 10, or perhaps 19 out of 20, seats taken—the only ones being open are singles, or in the front row. It feels tight, doesn't it? Do you like having to squeeze past the others already seated in the row? Think too about mobility-impaired members and visitors, who can't find a seat that they can easily access or safely exit in an emergency when every seat at the end of a row is taken.
What committee came up with the newly proposed schedule?
The current committee is a blend of members of the Responding to Growth (RTG) Committee and newer participants representing the Creating Our Future (COF) Committee. People currently on the combined committee include representatives of Religious Exploration, Forum, Hospitality, and Music, as well Rev. Tony representing Worship.
Over the past several months, committee members have met to discuss what has been going well this season and what not so well, from their own experience and from speaking with others, and then developed the proposal described herein. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for a list of current members and dedicated ad hoc participants. The "rtg" stands for Responding to Growth, by the way.
I am fairly new to UUCGN, am wondering what you have looked at in the past to address overcrowding during season and what you have learned from those experiences.
Four years ago (2015-2016), we transmitted the service onto video monitors in Thomas Hall during season, and encouraged members to occasionally participate there. It was not a particularly enticing invitation. People did not like being in an auxiliary worship space.
Three years ago (2016-2017), we tried a Saturday afternoon service along with the one Sunday morning service, but the Saturday service did not draw enough people to make much of a dent in attendance at the Sunday service.
Two years ago (2017-2018), we introduced a schedule with two Sunday services. That year, we offered an 8:30 first service, followed by Forum and then the second service, but that first service did not draw enough people to achieve the goal of balanced attendance between the two services. We also observed that because not that many people attended the first service, it also did not feed many people into Forum. Forum continued in Thomas Hall, as its capacity (75) was sufficient.
Based on thorough research in June of 2018, for this current season the magic time of 9:00 was chosen for the start of the first service. It seemed to do the trick in terms of getting more attendance at that service, but still not enough to ease overcrowding completely at the second service. A consequence of growing attendance at the first service, however, was that with more people attending that service and opting to stay for Forum, we needed to move Forum to the sanctuary from Thomas Hall, leading to the subsequent issues described in the table above.
Tell me more about your research last year, since you say it was pretty thorough.
As mentioned above, we ran a survey in June of 2018, offered several possible scenarios for members and friends to rate and comment on. We received 193 responses, also held a town hall meeting (attended by about 60 people) to go over the results, followed that with a meeting of several of the Responding To Growth (RTG) Committee members along with several members of the congregation who had attended the Town Hall meeting the week before and who offered, because of their experience, to help delve into the data more deeply. One of them (Tom Eddy, PhD) performed a detailed and nuanced analysis of the data and also all the comments in the survey, categorizing them. He proposed a schedule that we were advised reflected our best chance to most effectively address the issues we were grappling with. His recommendation is included in footnote 2.
Why didn't you ask us our preferences this year?
We have tried to be transparent over the years as we revised the service and Forum schedules. Surveys were taken of membership in all of the last three years. The most recent one took place in June of 2018 and obtained 193 respondents (an impressive response rate!). We learned much from that survey and have translated that knowledge into our thinking for this year. We opted not to do a full survey this year because the last one covered much of the same ground, and we now have the benefit of seeing how things played out and what unintended or unanticipated consequences arose. In footnote 2, you can learn more about the proposal made to the Board of Trustees last summer, along with a recommendation that was put on the back burner at that time but is now being put forward,
The Board of Trustees is ultimately responsible to decide on our Sunday service schedule. Last summer the RTG Committee offered two options, and the Board of Trustees chose this season’s current schedule. See again footnote 2.
It seems like the end result is to marginalize Forum. I like Forum, and the new proposal makes it much less likely I will attend it. Your response?
Important history relating to Forum: For over twenty years the Sunday schedule at UUCGN included Forum starting at 9:00 in Thomas Hall, lasting approximately one hour. During that period (with one brief exception), there was only one Sunday service throughout the congregational year, taking place in the sanctuary at 10:30. Later but still during the years when there was only one Sunday service, Forum's start time was moved to 9:15. As noted above, a two-service schedule during season, with Forum between the services, has been in place since the 2017-2018 season, but as attendance at Forum increased notably this season, it was moved into the sanctuary, with the attendant challenges elaborated above, in the table.
In a nutshell, faced with the goals outlined in the table above, leveraging the popularity of Forum in this proposal may offer our best strategy for balancing attendance at the two services.
Also, note that we plan to record all Forum presentations and make the video (complete with slides where used) available on the UUCGN website, by midweek at the latest.
Where do things stand now?
Since the proposed schedule for next season was publicized, we have been receiving feedback via email and in person (much of it negative) and have been responding basically with a message of, “Thank you for your feedback, please stay tuned.” We recently concluded a discussion with Flo Beckler, Forum chair, and members of her Forum Advisory Committee, and have agreed to a Forum schedule in which Forum will start at 9:00 and last for 45 minutes. As a reminder, last year we opted to hold a worship service lasting 45 minutes to stay within a reasonable timeframe for Sundays, and this year we will instead be offering Forum of that duration.
In addition, our Religious Exploration (RE) director Mary Borland and Rev. Tony met in early April with the RE parents to get their feedback. Parental preferences were split roughly 50:50 about whether to hold RE at the first or second service in season; Mary has now conferred with the RE volunteer teachers to obtain their feedback, and most prefer to meet earlier and get out before afternoon.
The expanded RTG Committee met on April 23 to discuss what our next steps would be, including what proposal we intended to send to the Board for their decision. Of the 10 of us present at the RTG meeting, eight recommended promoting the schedule as described in this report, one person was leaning toward recommending sending the Board another option to also consider, and Rev Tony, as minister, abstained.
The RTG Committee will be contacting those who provided feedback via email and many who spoke to us in person, to provide our promised follow-up status report to them, which in fact will be a link to this material on the website. The entire congregation will also of course receive an invitation to visit this page to view its information. A Town Hall meeting was held on Sunday May 5 to share in more detail the process we have used to arrive at this proposal and to provide time for people to ask questions.
The last Forum of this season took place on the last Sunday in April, so on May 5th we were able to use that time spot with the Town Hall meeting. We also have set up an email address, email@example.com, for you to pose questions you would like addressed, in case you were not able to attend in person.
What does Rev Tony think about all this?
How can I get my views on the proposed schedule for the coming season aired by the committee?
We have already heard from upwards of 20 people via email, and we welcome your input as well.
Thank you to those who were able to attend the Town Hall meeting on May 5th.
Footnote 1: "Sanctuaries are actually smaller than you think they are. Think of the 80% rule. Once you’ve filled 80% of the seats, your sanctuary is full. Wondering why? There are a few reasons. First, very few parishioners like to sit up front and that’s especially true with new visitors. Second, people want enough personal space. Finally, no one wants to split their family just so they can find those last few seats. So, if you’re hitting that 80% capacity before the service ever even begins, you may have a real issue on your hands. In fact, it may be harming the growth of your congregation." Source: https://www.carrollseating.com/auditorium-seating-options/better-church-auditorium-seating-options/. For a more lengthy but very interesting analysis from Alban at Duke Divinity School, read the article they provide that poses the question, “The 80 Percent Rule: Fact or Fiction?”. This article investigates the issue of crowding from various angles. Go to https://alban.org/archive/the-80-percent-rule-fact-or-fiction/ to read the article.
Footnote 2: The proposal to the Board for this current season’s two-service schedule included two options: First was the scenario that was most well-received from participants in the June 2018 survey, which called for an hour-long first service starting at 9:00, followed by a 45-minute Forum, etc. Second was a scenario that did not make it into the survey but after considering all feedback from the survey, the RTG Committee put forward for consideration and recommended as the better option. This second scenario was the one the Board chose – our current two-service schedule. Note that as part of the analysis of the June 2018 survey, we enlisted the help of a very analytically thinking member, Tom Eddy, PhD, who studied the survey results, categorized all the comments, and ultimately stated the following: “The placement of the Forum seems obvious. Both the between and after service placements work against the major goal of this committee’s assignment to draw more people into the first service. It appears that the placement of the Forum must be before services, first thing in the morning.” Although our committee’s decision last summer was to hold off on this suggestion, after trying the schedule with Forum between the two services this season, we ultimately have decided its time has come.
Thank you for your interest in learning more about these challenges and the proposed changes
as we grow our beloved community.