Merrillville church hopes short, evening service will catch on

2014-06-09T00:00:00Z 2014-06-09T18:16:08Z Merrillville church hopes short, evening service will catch onBy Phil Wieland, (219) 548-4352

MERRILLVILLE | If people just don't have time to attend a lengthy Sunday morning church service, why not give them a shorter service in the evening?

It's not exactly God Lite, but Trinity Memorial Lutheran Church in Merrillville, is trying a new approach to reach more people, Lay Minister Paul Schweiger said. Schweiger said he suggested the shorter session to help bring in younger attendees during a discussion about a month ago.

"We're in a neighborhood with a lot of homes with young families and children, and one of the things we hear a lot when people don't come to church is they don't have a lot of time," Schweiger said. "We went with the 30-minute service because it's not a lot of time, and we are trying to open it to anybody who cares to attend church."

The first abbreviated version was held last week and drew only eight people, but Schweiger and Rev. Richard Boshoven said they hope the concept will grow. So far, the only public notice of the service is a sign on U.S. 30 and a brief announcement in The Times.

Schweiger said the church's members are aware of it, but it hasn't been publicized much.

"With the traffic on U.S. 30 and the neighborhood where we are, we think it will take some time (to grow), but we are willing to wait and see if we can't grow it," he said. "There are a lot of families to the north of us we could be involved with. It's relaxed outreach. It's an easy to understand service, and Rev. Boshoven is really progressive."

Some of the older members of the church, which Schweiger said has about 400 members and an average weekly attendance at the regular Sunday service of about 150, did not like the idea.

"If it works, we could expand it to other generational things geared to young families and still satisfy the older members of the church," he said. "We will not change the message but the way we deliver it."

Boshoven said a second service was needed because the regular service was about 80 percent capacity. At that level, it's not as comfortable for people to attend and they tend to drift away, he said. The church also was looking for a way to reach a generation that feels disenfranchised by that kind of institutional, corporate worship setting.

"What I do is kind of story-drive worship," Boshoven said. "I take the Bible story we are going to read and paraphrase it in modern English. The translations are great, but they try to match with what the Greek words are.  When we look at the story itself, it's saying something, and we are looking for the implication of that, which will be different for different people.

"The 30 minutes and Sunday nights appealed to me, but there was concern it might appear rushed. But it's not. We get a lot out of that. We're together in a sort of conversation in God's work. There's fellowship afterwards, but people aren't committed to stay for that. We moved it out of the sanctuary to the Family Life Center, which has comfortable chairs. There are stained glass windows, but it is in a less formal setting."

The starting time listed on the sign in front of the church is 6:04 p.m., and Boshoven said that was a marketing trick to help catch people's attention and stick in their minds better. The service includes a song and a prayer along with the story, but Boshoven said he's committed to keeping it to around the 30 minutes promised.

"There's always time for more conversation afterwards," he said.

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