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Vicar Hillgibrand

Will a 15-minute church service increase attendance?

Is 15 minutes enough for a church service?

It’s the question arousing interest within the U.K.’s Protestant community following the decision by a Welsh minister to offer 15-minute services on Monday evenings.

The Rev. John Gillibrand, vicar of St. David’s Church in Swansea, has launched the initiative as a way of helping busy people fit prayer into their daily lives. By offering this type of micro-service, he believes that it helps the community since individuals and families are increasingly pressed for time.

Having the opportunity to experience just a few minutes time for peace, quiet, reflection and prayer on the way home, they will be better placed to deal with whatever challenges they face in their daily lives, Gillibrand said.

“We’re trying to offer something new, something different for people,” he said. “I believe in theological reflection, and in the period after COVID and what happened then, I’ve been thinking about the potential problems people face. This is an area that has a lot of commuters and is an old industrial community. People are under pressure, and one-hour services can be a long time to take out of their lives.  We have been looking at timing, and the additional problem people face going home and then having to come out again. We’re trying to make it easier for them.”

Prayer and reflection are central to my spirituality.

Monday was chosen, he said, simply because the diocese tries to have something happening every day of the week and that was his allotted day.

“Prayer and reflection are central to my spirituality. The service is simple: a Bible reading, reflection on the reading and then prayer. Roughly five minutes each,” he said.

It aims to put spiritual Christianity first and central to people’s lives. There is no talking about church community affairs or needing to follow a liturgy. As Gillibrand added, “It is just an approach to spirituality, a time to reflect. It is open to everyone — anyone is welcome.”

Sunday church attendance is 80 percent of what it was in 2019 before the pandemic, The Telegraph reported this past February, despite the Church of England claiming it had “bounced back.” The pandemic — coupled with growing secularism in the West and technology taking up more of people’s time — are all factors as to why church attendance is in decline.

At the same time, there has been very little criticism of the shortness of the service from those recognizing that it seeks to fulfill a specific need — although some people have commented that it doesn’t offer enough time to reflect and develop their faith.

The basic idea of providing a short service is not new. Cathedrals frequently hold short meditations and prayers during the day. St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh, for example, has a specific midweek 15-minute service at noon with prayers, reflection and a Bible reading open to anyone who happens to be in the building.

Dating back to monastic times, compline — a service of quietness and reflection before rest at the end of the day — has always been around 15 to 20 minutes

Dating back to monastic times, compline — a service of quietness and reflection before rest at the end of the day — has always been around 15 to 20 minutes, offering a time of reflection. Among U.K. churches known to offer this is St. Mary’s Hadlow in Kent, where it was reintroduced during the pandemic.

Gillibrand said churches “need to be thinking about the context in which we are working. If we don’t, that’s when we start getting problems, because there’s this disconnect that comes between church and wider society.”

Since announcing the initiative, the response has been very favorable.

“People are very positive about it,” Gillibrand said. “There has been a very positive reaction in the parish. I’ve had groups of people approach me and ask if there are any other time slots because they are on shifts, and the service is the wrong time for them. I am open to talk to them and see how the service goes, but I may well add in another session a little later for people coming out of work at 5:30. I have even had someone ring up and ask if I am going to do compline because he cannot make the time announced.”

Other clergy from chuches across the country have also expressed interest.

“I’ve had other clergy ask me about this, saying it is a great idea and offers an opportunity for strong reflection,” Gillbrand said. “One vicar friend contacted me as soon as the news broke. She was very impressed by the idea and wanted the resources I am using as she is keen to do something similar in her parish. The diocese encourages us to take missional initiatives.”

He says the length doesn’t matter as long as God is the focus, “I like any length of service as long as the presence of God is the thing.”

“Obviously, I don’t think this is the only way of accessing the church and we’ll still be carrying on with our longer services,” he says.

–Angela Youngman is a freelance journalist who has written for a wide range of national and international publications. Reprinted from Religion Unplugged with permission.


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