The only congregations I know about who have split sessions do so strictly because the sanctuary cannot hold the entire congregation at the same; these services are held one after the other--selected by alphabet of last name. For B'nei Mitzvot, it is the choice of the celebrating family to choose which service they want, which in most cases is the earlier. Both services are complete in content, Torah, haftorah, sermon, etc.
We did have some interest in a Junior Congregation to be held parallel, but it was only because some felt the 'kids' were disruptive--it was shot down fast.
[Our congregation] had held parallel services for our religious school only during the High Holy Days (that was at a time where we could not accommodate everyone in the sanctuary which sat over 500). Now that our population has diminished, all attend the same services.
April 2007 Digest 068
We have a lay-led service in our chapel every Saturday morning. The rabbi, and frequently the cantor, join us for Torah study at 8:55. At 9:30, they leave to prepare for the Sanctuary service, which generally includes two b'nei mitzvah. The lay-led service begins at
9:35 or so and includes an extended meditation. This service ends by 10:45. Originally the lay-led service served mostly parents of children in religious school (we hold religious school for elementary students on Saturday mornings since we jointly own our building with an Episcopal church), hence the ending time which aligns with the end of first session school. However, the service has developed a solid following over the years, which is not so closely tied with religious school. This group has used the Mishkan T'filah preview book for the past eighteen months. It is a very warm, spiritual service in which we often pull out the "percussion band" during our singing. The extended meditation is particularly wonderful.
I don't see the lay-led service as in competition with the Sanctuary service at all. It serves a very different segment of our congregation and has a more relaxed feeling.
On Friday nights once a month, when we hold Tot Shabbat, Shira (a "Shabbat song-fest") and Family Services; we also offer a lay-led service in the chapel. This guarantees a quiet, 8PM service for those who want to say Kaddish in a more peaceful environment. Again, this service is not in competition with the Sanctuary worship options. It meets a different need.
In general, our policy, endorsed by the Pulpit Committee and the clergy, is to meet the needs of a diverse community. This means opportunities for all to worship together as well as by affinity groups of various kinds. Whatever provides for the worship needs of our community is what we want to do. This often means congregants step forward as lay leaders.
The impetus for our lay-led service was originally a timing issue--have a service that allowed a very particular group to worship when they were available. However over time, this service has taken on a unique and intimate character. Why would we deny those congregants who prefer to worship in this way the opportunity to do so? As a matter of fact, several of the people who attend our lay-led service participate in a lot of other simchas with the larger community
700 member units
April 2007 Digest 066
Until recently, we never had a split service.
This spring, we decided to experiment, with an early (6:30) and late (8:00) service. The clergy was willing (in fact, the clergy suggested it). The thought was that some families found the end time of the 8:00 service too late for kids; others found an early service (usually our summer time setting) too early to make from a busy day at work. The results have been wonderful; each service is about as well attended as one old service was.
We've always had a "Torah study" and a service; until recently the service would either be smaller if no bar/bat mitzvah, and massive if there was one. This led to regular attendees of the Torah study and smaller service to desire a continuous smaller service, regardless of whether there was a bar/bat mitzvah. Currently the schedule is 9:00am Torah; 10:00am smaller service; 1030am if there is a bar/bat mitzvah, then a larger service. The smaller service is always in the chapel, lasts an hour, and is clergy-led the majority of the time (we have two rabbis, a cantor and a retired but active rabbi emeritus). It is informal in terms of attire--people will wear jeans.
we also moved our "Tot Shabbat" (toddlers / preschool) and "Shabbat Yeladim" (k-2) to Saturday morning, at 9:00am. Once a month for each. So, on a morning with a bar/bat mitzvah, you might have:
9:00am--Torah Study in the Library
Tot Shabbat in the sanctuary
10:00 am--Smaller service in the chapel
10:30am--bar/bat mitzvah service in the sanctuary
[I thought there might be] fragmentation when the split-up of Saturday was discussed at the Ritual Committee level. But the experience has been so positive...I have to say fragmentation is not the result; rather, the "whole building" is alive. I'd recommend it.