The old hymn says that God's eye is on the sparrow, but at the Family Bible Church in Eustis, Florida, Allen Speegle's eye is on the clock.From the pulpit of his nondenominational congregation, the 43-year-old minister has a clear view of the second hand sweeping the clock that hangs on the wall of the sanctuary. Speegle knows all about the competing pressures of modern life, and he is determined that his church will not be left behind: "So many people are in a time crunch, but they don't want to leave the Lord out."Earlier this year, Speegle and his staff noticed that Sunday work schedules and family plans were keeping some regular worshipers from the church's 10:30 a.m. service, which runs about 90 minutes. "A lot of people do not like a service that long," Speegle says, adding that he was also looking for a way to attract the unchurched. So he took out ads in local newspapers and changed the sign outside the church to read, "Express Worship, 45 Minutes, Guaranteed!"The new, 9 a.m. service usually includes three upbeat hymns, an offering, and a speed-reading of announcements. Sermons run 23 to 25 minutes. "It's a condensed version of the larger message, with a service that is not as long in preliminaries, announcements, and connections," Speegle says, and since the service started in early March, the formula has been a growing success. "I saw a lot of new faces, a lot of people who were out of touch because of work schedules. It's working out real well."Members of Family Bible Church, a congregation of about 450, seem to agree. "You don't feel like you're spending all day in church," says Joy Easton, a regular worshiper. Another regular, Ernie Quinton, concurs. "Some people don't want to spend an hour, an hour and a half in church."Speegle acknowledges that the short service is, to some degree, a concession to Americans' diminishing attention span, which experts say is the result of 40 years of television and other fast-paced media. And the minister admits it is "an adjustment, to say the least" to adhere to his self-imposed 25-minute limit on sermons for the express service. One development Speegle says he did not foresee is that some people are coming for the early service and then staying for the regular service.For whatever reason people attend, Speegle suggests that other congregations offer the choice of an early, express service. "We started the new service as an outreach. It's an opportunity for people in our church who were running in the fast lane but still love the Lord. If we, as the church, don't change to meet the needs of society, we're going to lose a lot of people."
Family Bible Church's site has more information about the church and its ministries. Mark Pinsky's Orlando Sentinel article about the speedy sermons was reprinted in several other newspapers and Web sites (even in other languages).Allen Speelge is also director of Impact International Fellowship of Ministers.
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