Once A Month Church Experiment Ends

There are two kinds of explorers, those who return saying “you should have seen what I saw” and those who return with a map. John Fremont was the latter, which is largely why a city in California is named after him and we still remember him.

When he explored California, Fremont took a cartographer along. The map they produced turned an exploration experienced by few into a travel destination for many.

Most people don’t like taking the risks associated with exploring but if you hand them a map they’ll consider traveling.

While I don’t explore mountains or rivers, I do explore ideas. For the past 1.5 years a group of friends and I have been researching an idea called Once A Month Church.

Here’s our map

Church is church

Context is everything. Regardless of what you may want the word church to mean, the fact remains that when you say church people think church service. Meaning, you can do whatever cool things you want to do as in being the church but you better not forget to do church somewhere along the line or people (church people that is) wont come along for the rest of the ride. This turned out to be the deal killer for me. I realized somewhere along the line that I’m fresh out of church service coupons. They got used up somewhere in the 80s and 90s.

I mean no judgey-ness. It is what it is. Church is largely a “service” for people who were raised in church. If you have positive childhood memories associated with Sunday school then “going to church” will on balance be something you want more of and want your children to have. Of course given the growing number of “nones” and “dones” the trend lines don’t offer much hope but at least for the next 50 years some version church services will remain in demand.

All that to say that I think Once A Month Church could provide an existing large church with declining attendance an alternative church service choice for the increasing number of people who are already attending once a month anyway. Don’t fight them. Surprise them with your leadership and service. Be authentic. Tell them you understand that they’re busy etc. Provide them a killer church service once a month. They will bring their non church going friends along just to show them how cool their church is and you’ll get the opportunity to meet people who otherwise would never consider darkening the door of your building.

Once a Month Church as a Church Planting Strategy Does Not Work

Merely providing a killer church service once a month for a brand new group as a starter strategy is a non-starter. If that’s all you’re providing for people then it’s simply too infrequent for people to stay connected. They’ll find a “real” church that provides the support services they’re accustomed to and then break away from that group once a month to hang out with you and your friends.

People Want Small Groups

I’m not saying they want to attend groups, I’m saying they want a choice of groups to attend when it fits their schedule. Actually all of us are like that, unless we’re either leading or  lonely, we automatically revert to being the consumers our culture has trained us to be and which the church clearly models itself after.

If you have a cadre of small group leaders who want “just enough church” then OAMC could be a very effective model. If you are the “pastor” of OAMC you get to give these leaders permission to lead. Your job then becomes consistently meeting with those leaders one on one and leading a once a month church service. They develop people and you develop them. You provide the monthly ritual and they have something they can bring their friends to that isn’t small and intimate. These highly motivated innovators will hustle to grow their groups and to stay connected with people. This is where the real action is. OAMC is a powerful adjunct to this model of church. The OAMC church service is the symbolic centerpiece but not the actual centerpiece.


Leading a once a month church service and meeting one on one with small group innovators does not require a paid professional. I think a network of groups that gathered once a month could grow to about 150 in attendance without any paid people (excepting for child care and an online admin). The most important person to not be paid is whoever is thought of or called Pastor. Once that person gets money a symbolic social transaction has occurred that permanently changes the experience. Its not that money is bad or that the person couldn’t use the money its simply that given that the majority of people who attend church were raised in church they naturally associate payment for an exchange of services. This transaction numbs them and they begin to think like consumers. You can avoid all this simply by not being paid.

 Thats it…


9 thoughts on “Once A Month Church Experiment Ends

  1. Thanks Jim. I was wondering how that was going to work out. I still have some coupons for services and as long as the value proposition is defined and met, I will still attend. To be honest, however, playing music and seeing some of my church friends is still more important to me than who speaks or the theology for the day. It is what it is – and I’m happy with that.

  2. Thanks for bravely exploring that new territory! And for being a willing spiritual cartographer!

  3. Thanks for the analysis. It’s helpful. When I read your “People Want Small Groups” paragraph I immediately thought of Roger Forester’s Ichthus Fellowship in London. He trained the leaders and the leaders lead the people. Only difference is his leaders lead Sunday church services and OMC was a Sunday night dose of Roger speaking to the assembled folks. I like your idea better.

    In the Money paragraph your 150 number is good although I think it’s really a range of 100-200 depending on ability of the coach/leader to lead. Interesting that for years the fastest growing church in America by % was the Mormons who have no paid staff at the “stake” (local church) level.

  4. Ed. sorry for the delay in response to your thoughtful observations. Given your experience I very much appreciate your thoughts.

    I agree that it would be very interesting for evangelicals to invite Mormons to speak about their success in growing churches with no paid staff. Just have then focus on the mechanics, what they learned from actual field experience and where the glitches were in their thinking. Beyond what we would learn from them think about the good it would do between two competing religious groups especially as it relates to how the people in their institutions viewed each other

    But then… when would that ever happen 🙂

  5. I enjoyed reading this article though the conclusive ending involved a personal struggle of mine. From beginning to end this article seems to be sound/solid but are there those who are gifted and called to lead such OAMC services who can spend such time and effort without being paid for such? I completely comprehend the issue of the involvement of money leading to consumerist thoughts and behavior but perhaps that’s an area we should spiritually attack… Instead of forming and shaping to the issue, solve the issue. In the Old Testament there were issues with the Levitical Priesthood sometimes abusing their rewards and positions (Dathan and Abiram for example) but we don’t see the tithing and offerings revolving/forming to/around such issues.

    With all of that being said, I do feel led to also mention that I have a personal bias on this issue seeing how I am currently an individual who believes I am gifted, equipped, and called by YHWH to be a minister but having been able to also pay the bills has been a struggle seeing how thus far I have not been paid for the ministerial work I am led to do.

    Anyhow, I think you’re really onto something here with this OAMC service idea. I hope that this circulates to the worshipping circles of the believers according to the will of the Father.

  6. Jim,

    Having happened upon this blog, and knowing almost nothing about you, I am curious as to whether you consider yourself a Christian.

    You employ a liberal use of quotation marks when referring to common Christian terminology.

    I happened to get “saved” in 1970 through a music “ministry” I believe you to have been a part of. A group named Justice. I was told at the time the group was associated with St. Luke’s Episcopal. I was 15 years old.

    My experience was real and life changing. The term “saved” adequately describes it.

    Who are you Jim? I really want to know.

  7. HI Laurie

    Im saved and a follower of Jesus – I am a Christian in name only – just to make it easier for my Christian friends whom I love – but I am very close to Jesus and he is my life- I am probably more liberal than most Christians would like me to be – Yes I was in the band Justice Im happy Jesus used our music to help you find him. Im even happier that you have stayed close to him. Keep it up


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