I recently did some calling around, and asked various evangelical churches (in the US) if they do a Sunday night worship service. Most do not, but what surprised me more is the reasons they gave for having dropped it. First, a bit of history:
Historically, many (most?) evangelical churches have had a Sunday evening worship service. The idea, stretching back to the Protestant Reformation, has been that if the Bible is the authority, then it makes sense to have it taught as much as is practical.
Many of the early Protestant churches not only had Sunday morning and Sunday evening gatherings, but mid-week Bible studies as well. In Catholicism, the more you celebrated Mass, the better, and in the reformation that frequency simply jumped into services that revolved not around the sacraments, but around preaching. Eventually, as the reformation spread into Scotland and (sort of) into England, the practice settled into two Sunday worship services, both with different messages.
And in fact, this remains the pattern in much of the world. It is almost universal that Baptist churches have a Sunday morning service, a Sunday evening service, and a midweek prayer gathering of some kind. Some churches do this because they view (wrongly, I think) Sunday as the Christian Sabbath. Others do this because they have learned to appreciate (correctly, I think) the concept of Sunday as the Lord’s day, and the experience that comes with having the Lord’s Day bracketed with worship. But regardless of the motivation, in much of the world, churches that value the Bible (“Protestant” seems too wide of a term, and “evangelical” seems to miss as well—so I’m going with “churches that value the Bible”) have two Lord’s Day services.
But American churches began to drop the Sunday evening service in the mid-1990’s. There were many factors behind this rapture of evening worship:
- Some churches developed a seeker-sensitive approach, where the commitment of two services was seen as a hindrance to outreach. Many churches were planted as part of this seeker-sensitive wave, and never had the Sunday night service to begin with.
- Some developed a negative view of preaching, which led to the attitude of “why would we need another sermon? Shouldn’t we be in the community?
- One of the most common reasons I heard from churches for dropping their Sunday evening service was to launch community groups or home Bible studies. By stopping Sunday evening corporate gatherings, they could direct everyone to home Bible studies and increase the shepherding dynamic of the church.
- For many pastors, the pressure of a professionalized sermon became too great to deliver twice in a week. With the rise of the rock-star pastors of the early 2000’s, I know many pastors who felt like they needed to spend 20 hours in sermon prep if they wanted to really be faithful to preaching. Well, obviously that is something that can’t be done twice a week (at least not without abandoning every other responsibility you have!), and the Sunday evening sermon is what got voted off the island.
- Quite a few churches gave me a reason that I hadn’t thought of before: they began to focus on growing Sunday morning services, so they added services there, or they even added a Saturday night service. Many churches added a contemporary service Sunday morning, and when they went from one to two services there, they simply dropped their evening service. Some churches added satellite campuses, and with that it became too much to have a Sunday night service that was different from Sunday morning. Where would they do it? At all their campuses? What about the music? Plus, the amount of volunteer hours it took to have multiple Sunday morning services, plus a Saturday night service or satellite services, and it became too taxing to get everyone back on Sunday night for something different.
- When you combine the rock-star pastors with more services on Sunday mornings, people began driving further and further to go to a church that fit what they were looking for, and this had an adverse affection Sunday evenings (pointed out by this excellent article on patheos). It was one thing to go 10 minutes back to church Sunday evening, but through the 90′s and early 2000′s, many churches saw their attenders living 30-45 minutes away, and it was just too much to have them (and their families) make that drive more than once a day.
- But the number one reason churches gave me (in my very unofficial survey) for dropping Sunday night services… they wanted to devote the evening for family time. In previous generations, Saturday was for family, and Sunday was for corporate worship. But sports began to eat up more and more of Saturday, so family time got bumped to Sunday, and it appears that it edged out that worship service. If you are running all around for sports on Saturday, Sunday after church really became the only time all week that your family got to spend together, and–after all–churches are in favor of stronger families, so the worship service had to go.
What about you? Does your church do a Sunday evening service? Why or why not?
[Tomorrow I’ll talk about what my church does]