by Patrick Bradley: Before your new church makes a splash with its Grand Opening, you need to run at least 3 church plant preview services.
I started learning about preview services before I even got into church planting ministry.
Many years ago, I was on staff at a bank as we opened a brand-new branch on the other side of town. We hung out a big banner that said something like, “Grand Opening on Feb 15!” But 2 weeks before the grand opening, we quietly unlocked the doors and our (very nearly) fully-trained staff served anyone brave enough to wander in.
There are lots of complex systems at a bank, and they have to work every time. The stakes are pretty high. So we practiced in a low-pressure environment with real customers and real money.
In the same way, a church plant preview service is a real worship gathering. Nelson Searcy writes, “[Preview] services give you the invaluable opportunity to test-drive your systems, your staff, and even your service style. At the same time, you are doing real ministry with the people who attend. These services should look as much like your weekly services will look as possible.”1
You generally don’t advertise the Preview Services to the general public. At least not with the same kind of dollars you’ll spend announcing the Grand Opening. But they are open the public, so encourage your Launch Team to invite everyone they know.
What a Church Plant Preview Service Accomplishes
There are lots of benefits to holding preview services:
ministry teams get to practicetests your systems to see what breaks or is missingyour people get to taste what it’s going to be like (and get excited)it’s a handy reason/event for your Launch Team to invite people tobuilds momentum and spreads word-of-mouth
Strategic Timing for Church Plant Preview Services
I’m not sure there’s a magic formula for how many and how frequently to hold your church plant preview services. But you need to plan several.
Searcy recommends 4 to 6 monthly preview services2. Stephen Gray’s research from 2007 showed that, “Almost 70 percent of struggling church plants held three or fewer preview services prior to public launch.”3
Here are some some common approaches leading up to the Grand Opening Sunday:
Monthly Every 3 weeksEvery-other week
Doing your church plant preview services every 2 weeks gives almost no time for comeback events. You have to simultaneously plan and make changes for the next preview. But sometimes a facility issue or other difficulty forces your hand.
There are some dates that pepper your pre-launch calendar that have to be navigated.
If you’re launching in the spring, watch out for:
your local schools’ spring break2nd Sunday in March (daylight savings, the one where people come late)Super Bowl Sunday (though some argue this is a great day to preview or even launch a church gathering)3-day weekends like President’s Day and Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
If you’re launching in the fall, watch out for:
your local school calendar if it’s year-round or modified traditional (there may be a week-long break in early October)Labor DayIndependence DayFather’s Daylocal high school graduations and onset of vacation season
Fall 2019 Church Plant Preview Service Dates
If you’ve already decided on a fall launch, let’s get super-practical and look at real calendar dates based on the 2 most common Launch Sundays:
September 8 Grand Opening
Monthly previews might look like: Aug 11, July 14, June 23, May 19
Tri-weekly previews might look like: Aug 18, July 28, July 7 (caution!), June 16 (caution!)
Bi-weekly previews (caution!) might look like: Aug 25, Aug 11, July 28, July 14
October 6 Grand Opening
Monthly previews might look like: Sep 8, Aug 11, July 14, June 23
Tri-weekly previews might look like: Sep 15, Aug 25, Aug 4, July 14
Bi-weekly previews (caution!) might look like: Sep 22, Sep 8, Aug 25, Aug 11
1 Searcy, Nelson. Launch: Starting a New Church from Scratch (p. 128). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.2 Searcy, Nelson. Launch: Starting a New Church from Scratch (p. 127). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.3 Gray, Stephen. Planting Fast-Growing Churches (p. 114). ChurchSmart Resources, 2007.