August 7, 2013

The return of Sunday night worship

by Jesse Johnson

Yesterday I wrote about the decline of Sunday evening worship services in the US. The church I pastor, Immanuel Bible Church in the Washington DC area, is one of those churches that used to have a Sunday evening service but stopped it about 15 years ago. The church had grown, they were having four morning services, and it just wasn’t possible to do an evening one. So the elders stopped it, and eventually decided that to better shepherd the congregation they would do community groups on Sunday evenings. But recently the elders began talking about the concept of Sunday evening worship services. Here is the letter I wrote to the congregation explaining why we are going to resurrect ours:  

IBCAs we seek the build believers to the glory of God, the elders of Immanuel Bible Church are focused on leading our congregation toward growing deeper in fellowship, worship and the Word. That’s why this fall we will launch a Sunday evening service that will provide our church with more time to spend together in prayer, praise and study. It’s our hope and expectation this new service will lead to deeper relationships with Christ, and with each other.

While a Sunday evening service is new for many of us, the concept is actually quite old. Bible churches throughout Christian history, including IBC many years ago, have valued church attendance on Sunday mornings and Sunday evenings. Bracketing the Lord’s Day with corporate worship is an effective way to anchor our week through the church. But in the 1990’s, many American Bible churches gave up this practice. The idea was that Sunday nights should be reserved for family … and sports.

But the last 20 years have shown that this was not effective. If we’re being totally honest, the separation of Sunday evenings for family time seldom actually works out that way. Often, sports – which had traditionally been confined to Saturdays – now dominate much of the day Sunday, from morning through evening. For many of us, church has become a task to “get out of the way” on Sunday morning so we can focus on other chores, errands or personal pursuits the rest of the day.

We believe it’s important to challenge this status quo. So, starting September 8, we will go back to offering this kind of service. The service will start at 5:15 pm, and take place in the Atrium. I want to be clear that this evening service will not be a repeat of morning worship. To start, I’ll be preaching on what the Bible says about contemporary issues (such as gay marriage) and theological issues (such as the end-times). Many nights will feature testimonies, and we will often do Q & A sessions where topics raised in the Sunday morning message can be addressed with more depth. Eventually, we’ll start a series in an Old Testament book, so that the kind of focus we have in Mark in the mornings can be matched in the Old Testament in the evenings.

We are not launching this service to broaden our attendance – though we pray God continues to bless us by drawing new members into our community – but to deepen it. We are encouraging members to attend both services, and take advantage of this opportunity to get to know each other better while growing deeper in the Word of God together.

Jesse Johnson

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Jesse is the Teaching Pastor at Immanuel Bible Church in Springfield, VA. He also leads The Master's Seminary Washington DC location.
  • Larry

    Jesse–absolutely beautiful! This is so, so inspiring. What an elder board you’re working along side of, that they realize a need to go against the status quo and do what’s best, rather than what’s popular. “We are not launching this service to broaden our attendance – though we
    pray God continues to bless us by drawing new members into our community
    – but to deepen it.” Love that bro!

  • Larry

    Jesse– I know of some churches here in the Baltimore area that wear Raven jerseys and almost do a “Ravens rally” during worship, where the pastor is feigning prayer for a win, while people are laughing and cheering, (straight blaspehmous, I know).

    How do you think you and the elders might combat such carnality? (a lil side joke about the team is ok but………my goodness!)

    • Fortunately most of the Redskins games are over by 5 pm 🙂

      • Steve

        To be completely truthful, in years past many of the Redskins games were over by half-time. You could have started evening service at 3 pm and been just fine. Preach on, Jesse!!!!

  • Kent Maitland

    It’s funny, so many churches forego a Sunday night service for the perceived convenience of their current membership. But our story is that a Sunday night service was precisely what we needed as prospective members.

    My wife is a dispatcher for Beverly Hills PD right now which forces her to work overnight Saturday into Sunday. Literally, a Sunday night service was the only way we could share formal church worship together on Sunday. It was quite the challenge to even find a church in our area that had a Sunday evening service and the irony is that the sole reason we even thought to attend the church we are now involved in was because it had one!

    There was even a time when Saturday evening was the only opportunity we had to worship and we faced the same challenge of finding a church that had such a service.

    I’m not saying that churches need to bend over backwards to accomodate the average, overly-frantic schedules that we Americans are so prone to make. But, I think our experience might prove your point that the purpose for a Sunday evening service is simply to provide additional opportunity. Literally, in our case, it was the only opportunity we had!

  • Brian A Shealy

    This is certainly an area of Christian Liberty, but be careful. My experience with Sunday evening services is that it wore everyone out on what was supposed to also be a day of rest. It also led to a legalism and a self-righteousness that said, “Those who attend Sunday evening service are better Christians.” It frustrated the leadership that more people did not attend it. And it added another event to already busy schedules and pressed out hospitality and discipleship to a large degree.

    • Larry

      Wow. Many drawbacks to that Sunday night service. Are those variables a possibility for simplistic lovers of the Word and fellowship?

    • Similar could be said for Wednesday night services, which seem to be more common in this area than Sunday night services. The people who tend toward legalism are always going to reason thus, and I think of a family member who tends to look down on those who don’t attend on Wednesday nights and who measures peoples’ spirituality by how often they attend church services.

      But the real issue there is the individual’s heart attitude about God’s word and church services: whether they see their religion as something external, focused on church events and activities (unfortunately many do), or they have a true heart attitude of love for God’s word and everything that flows out from that.

    • John_D_11

      Brian, interesting post, I totally disagree.

    • I get what you are saying Brian. Thanks for the warning. It would be a shame if it created two classes of Christians, or if those who were attending developed some sort of self-righteousness about it. Hopefully the opposite will happen, and those who attend will be further sanctified. My biggest fear in doing it is disrupting the community groups that we do have. I’m thankful for them and want them to thrive. So that really is the tension.

      • Heather

        Side-note…What is a community group? Just curious 🙂

  • John_D_11

    Jesse –

    I love, and miss, Sunday night services. When I was a new Christian and college student I grew immensely in my faith by attending Sunday morning and Sunday night services. And now, as a husband and father, As far as the “Sunday night is family night” argument goes, I agree, I love having family night AT CHURCH. Family night is great! Fortunately, there are six other nights a week families can read the catechism, play Scrabble, knit, laugh at home videos, and eat dinner together. Our church currently doesn’t have a Sunday night service right now because we meet in a public elementary school, but once we have a building (3 years out) I’m pretty sure Sunday night services will start.

    I remember Johnny Mac once encouraged a pastor friend of mine to start a Sunday night service for church growth, because it was a little easier for curious “Seekers” from weaker churches, Catholicism, etc, to “Check out” a Bible church on a Sunday night without being absent from their church Sunday morning. Eventually as they attend both, their appetite for the Word will grow, their faith will strengthen, and they will transfer membership.

  • brad

    Encouraging, Jesse!

    Why not take one more step and go with the “missional/house church” model? I attend a “missional/house church” and we gather 5-6 days/nights per week to study the Scriptures, devote ourselves to prayer, eat together, pursue the lost together, etc. I find it very encouraging and a more robust expression of the church!

    • Larry

      5-6 nights a week? Are all you guys single?

      • brad

        Ha!! Nope. Most of us are married with kids. We have just made a choice to sacrifice to live as God’s church and on God’s mission! It’s worth it, Larry!

        • Larry

          Well I pray souls are won to Christ, so you all will have a need for larger space as even more souls are added. Brad, I’m sure I’d love ya bro, but I wouldn’t wanna see you and yours each night of the week! Lol.

          • brad

            Thanks Larry for praying for us! Our goal will never be to find a larger space to meet. Instead our goal is for disciples to be making other disciples. As this happens, the Lord simply plants another church in another house. Just a note of encouragement: Dig into the Scriptures and let them define for you the goal, purpose, and identity of the church! Blessings!

    • Interesting concept, Brad. I didn’t see anywhere in your comment where you mentioned practicing the ordinances like baptism and the Lord’s table and are accountable to a pastor or several as the shepherd and overseer.

      Maybe you just didn’t mention those things. My experience has been that home church model folks often do not follow the NT guidelines for the local church, but, rather, they are a group of radical folks who don’t like traditional church so they end up not conforming.

      Let me know. I have nothing against doing church differently if you are talking about gathering frequently and the other wonderful things you listed. I am not someone who thinks you have to go to a building or dress a certain way, so please understand my question as honest.

  • John Chester

    As a church planter in Northern Virginia (not too far from Jesse’s church) in a church that is very much a “destination church”, I found that no one wanted to come for a Sunday night service, but that we had pretty good attendance for Wednesday night worship.

  • Allen Wiznitzer

    This is a first for me…commenting on The Cripplegate. The church I am so blessed to belong to has had a Lord’s day evening service for as long as I have been a member – about sixteen years. This service has grown to be a favorite; very much a family time. Over the years, attendance has first waned, but since our pastor came in 2001 the attendance has slowly increased and now is just short of packed out. I used to give my close friend “what for” about not

  • METOWNSEND Townsend

    Sunday night service will bring in those hungry for more of His Word. They will be the ones who grow in spiritual knowledge and Biblical understanding. My church does not have a Sunday night service, I miss it.!!.
    You are doing a great thing. Kudos.!!.

  • kevin2184

    Amen, Jesse, amen. May the Lord continue to use you to strengthen and equip the dear saints at IBC.

  • Thanks for sharing Jesse. As we learned from Pastor MacArthur through the years regarding ministry decisions … just concentrate on the depth of ministry and leave its breadth to God. Think your reasons for resurrecting Sunday evening worship will do just that. Blessings to you and your flock as you begin this new and exciting journey… on Sep 8th.

  • Judy

    My husband always tells me sunday morning is ministry time for the workers and sunday night those workers are able to come in get fed otherwise those people would always be giving out and will get burned out 🙂

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