Whatever Happened to Sunday Evening Services?

May 10, 2014
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I received a phone call from a pastor I have known for many years. Indeed, I consider him a leader and friend. His question was quick and to the point: “What can I do about our Sunday evening services?” Despite numerous valiant efforts, attendance continued to struggle. The church he serves is, by most standards, a healthy church. But the attendance on Sunday evening is going counter to all the other positive indicators in the church.

This pastor is not alone. Other church leaders are concerned as well. Some have given up on Sunday evening services out of frustration. Others have discontinued the services without much lament. And a few leaders have fairly good reports about these services.

The feelings tend to run strongly one way or another about these services, particularly among those whose traditions have affirmed them in past years. Perhaps a quick overview of the Sunday evening services would be helpful.

An Uncertain History

There will be a number of church leaders reading this article who will hardly give it a second glance. Their church traditions have never, or at least not in recent decades, had Sunday evening services. But there are many other traditions for which these services have been staples. Frankly, the decline in the Sunday evening services among these churches is both noticeable and getting worse.

For years, I have attempted to understand the history of these services. My efforts have not been conclusive. I’ve heard many times, for example, that the evening services began with the advent of the electric light in America. But that explanation seems unlikely since I have found examples of the services in both the 1600s and the 1700s.

Here are some other historical tidbits I have found, all unverifiable at this point:

  • The services grew during the agricultural phase of our history. Farmers had to work their land six days a week. But, on Sunday, they would have come to a morning service, then have dinner on the grounds, and then have a second later afternoon services before returning home.
  • During World War II, many men and women worked seven-day weeks to meet the production needs of the war. The Sunday evening service allowed them to attend worship since they couldn’t come on Sunday morning. Thus the service time grew in popularity.
  • Some denominations and other church traditions focused one service on equipping the believers, and another one on reaching the lost. Thus the Sunday evening service became distinctively different than the Sunday morning service.
  • As a reminder, some church traditions have little to no familiarity with Sunday evening services; their leaders often wonder why there is so much discussion about the issue outside their traditions.

Possible Reasons for the Decline in Sunday Evening Services

While the history of this service is largely unverifiable, the decline in its attendance, and the reduction in the number of churches offering are clearly evident. Let’s look at six possible reasons for its decline or demise.

  • The advent of Sunday evening services in many churches was a cultural adaptation for its time. Its decline or demise is thus a cultural response.
  • The disappearance of blue laws (mandatory Sunday closings) allowed many alternatives to Sunday evening worship, and many church members chose those options.
  • There has been an increasing emphasis on family time. Families with children at home particularly viewed one worship service on Sundays to be sufficient for them.
  • Many pastors simply do not have the desire, energy, or commitment to prepare a second and different sermon. Their lack of emphasis was thus reflected in the congregation’s lack of interest.
  • When many churches began offering services on alternative days, such as Fridays or Saturdays, there was neither the desire nor the resources to keep Sunday evening services going.
  • A number of churches, particularly new church starts, are in leased facilities. They do not have the option of returning on Sunday evenings.

Trying to Be Objective

In my previous post on changes in church worship services, I stated my desire to be the objective researcher and not inject my own opinions on the issue. That remains my goal in this article as well. But the previous article engendered many comments and not a little emotion. I see that possibility in this endeavor as well.

I do want to hear from you. I continue to be impressed with the acumen and the insightfulness of the readers of this blog. It will be a joy to hear your comments and opinions on Sunday evening services.

Does your church have a Sunday evening service? If you do, is it thriving? Surviving? Struggling?


photo credit: patrickfranzis via photopin cc

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212 Comments

  • Karen Hancock says on

    I agree that it is a cultural thing. Working parents with chilren are into everything: basketball, football, cheer, gymnastics, soccer, baseball, etc. In our Church we have a healthy childrens program on Wednesday nights that last an hour and a half. Sunday nights seem to be the only time parents can catch a breath before starting all over again on Mondays.

  • Joseph Bumgarner says on

    Having been a part of Alistair Begg’s Parkside church for the past 5 years, it has been nothing but a blessing to be there on Sunday mornings AND Sunday nights. As he preaches verse-by-verse through the Bible, he just keeps going on Sunday nights through whatever sermon/book series he is on. If you miss Sunday night then you miss a chunk of his teaching and you are behind the following Sunday morning. It is a motivation to attend. He also actively preaches against the laziness of missing Sunday night services. I can personally attest to more passionate and solid sense of my Christian faith from Monday-Saturday because I attend twice on Sunday. It isn’t easy and we commute 30 minutes, one-way, with 3 children (ages 5mo, 3yr, and 6yr), but it makes all the difference in the world for me and my family. I wish we also had Wednesday night supper and fellowship too, but, I guess you cant have it all!

  • Jeff Blaisdell says on

    I recently retired from the full-time pastorate. In every church I served as pastor, our Sunday evening attendance was at least 75 to 80% of the Sunday morning worship attendance. This, I believe, was because both the pastor and the worship leader/music director took the evening service as seriously as they did the morning service. They poured everything they had into full preparation of BOTH services. I refuse to believe Sunday night has to die. I have seen excellent attendance on Sunday night; have seen people saved on Sunday night. There was a vibrancy and an expectancy on Sunday night that was greater even than that on Sunday morning. The key is preparation, prayer, and taking it seriously.

    It’s an amazing thing to me. When the “new wave” worship style became popular about thirty years ago, this was said to be the REAL way to reach people for the Lord. This was supposed to be the way to grow church in the modern era. But ever since we began going dumping classic worship and ministry, baptisms are down, attendance is down . . . in all categories we are declining. Could it be that somebody misled us?

  • I read the bible to understand that most folks do not understand is subject matter on
    a. walking according to the flesh ( romans 8)
    b. clear conscience. all thu the Bible
    c. quench not the Spirit Thessalonians
    d. walking in the light as he is in the light. 1john
    e. reading the Word of God, KJV version. which christian used to do! you do not read if you can not understand. a KJV is spiritual decerned.
    I say these thing as they are a result of a failed church that has lost her way! All I can. do is Pray for the church and keep myself pure. I believe the the book say ” unto the pure is all thing pure but nothing is pure to the defiled and unbelieving. We got away from God when we took up new bibles. I am not a pastor just a student of the word of God

  • Keaston Edwards says on

    I have been a member of the same church for over a decade. The church I attend still have Sunday night church since its founding in 2001. Yes, we have midweek services on Wednesday as well. We have Sunday school and morning service and outreach ministries because Matthew 28:18-20 commands us to. We are an old fashion Independent, King James only Bible believing Baptist church. Folks, whether or not the crowds are up or down, evening services must continue because of Hebrews 10:25 about having more church because the day of our coming of our Lord Jesus Christ is approaching. We do not need less church but more of it!!!!!

  • Leilani says on

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading these responses and wanted to add a few of my own thoughts to the mix. I grew up with both parents involved in ministry and teaching. Our church had Sunday school (9am) followed by a morning service, a Sunday evening service (6pm), and a Wednesday evening study. Since my parents were so involved, we were always at church when the doors were open. A typical Sunday for me was like this: wake up early and participate in a hectic scramble to get all the kids dressed and in the car by 8:00, drive for 30 minutes to get to church, sit around and wait for 30 more minutes for my own Sunday school teachers to show up and start the lesson, have Sunday school and church until about 12, drive 30 more minutes to get home, eat lunch with the family and retreat to the couch for (on a good day) a couple hours of rest, get everyone out the door again for another 30 minute drive, have a service for an hour and a half that very closely mirrored the style of the Sunday morning service, head home, and get in bed for school the next day. It was always chaotic but we understood church was important. My parents both worked full time, so Saturdays were usually spent getting all the work done around the house that no one had time to do during the week. We rarely did anything spiritual as a family outside of going to church. I remembered once I wanted us to start doing a devotion together, but that only lasted a couple days. Here’s my point in saying all this – my parents were doing a good thing getting us to church all the time, and I’m grateful for it. But something else happened that I know they never intended. I started to resent church. I felt that everyone’s stiff clothing made it seem like we thought we were too good for the poverty stricken community surrounding us. I hated that I had to spend 2 hours in the car every Sunday and 1 hour in the church just waiting for it to start, because I was too young to be doing anything but sitting down staying out of trouble. I didn’t like that the music seemed like a performance by the worship leader and the worship leader alone. And I really really really didn’t like that everything done there seemed to be done out of a sense of obligation to tradition and nothing more. Why were we doing things the way we were doing things? No one ever could really explain. We were gathering together, but that was it. We weren’t going out and serving the community as a group. We weren’t teaching parents who were willing to learn (including mine) how to disciple their children in the Lord. We weren’t doing anything as believers where we could get to know each other and foster relationships, because every time we met, we all had to be quiet and listen to the pastor speak. That’s important, don’t get me wrong. But it’s also VERY important to get to know and be vulnerable with other Christians. I spent hours upon hours in that building, but I truly felt more alone there than anywhere else at times. What I’m saying is that meeting together is certainly vital, but so is service. So is discipleship. So is letting people know, through means beyond a PowerPoint slide, that they are known and cared about and loved. So is visiting the sick, and helping the elderly, and sharing the gospel with those outside the church walls. I know I don’t have all the answers by any means, but my thoughts are that we shouldn’t necessarily give up on Sunday nights. Maybe we just need to use them for something prayerfully purposeful and truly aim to meet a need with them, rather than just defaulting to yet another sermon that few people show up to, just because we’re in the habit and have been for a while.

    • Jimmy Perdue says on

      I am with you! I am a Lead Pastor and have done so since the age of 21. At 37, I have been doing this for 16 years now. Traditional churches have missed the point of Sunday nights IMO. What ever happened to Sunday being a day of rest? For many working families, Sunday evenings are the only time that they can spend quality time together. We have the ‘worship’ part down pat, but have missed the ‘rest’ of the Sabbath. As a Pastor, Sunday is the toughest day of the week. If a Pastor utilizes 2 sermons every Sunday, then they are using double the resources. In short, if there wasn’t a Sunday night service, the Pastor could preach another YEAR OF SERMONS! The majority of members will never see through the eyes of the Pastor because they don’t truly understand the weight that comes with preparing for Sunday evenings. My goal has been to make Sunday evening services PURPOSEFUL. Why do we come? I have often told my congregation, “We’d be better off to have an hour of prayer on a Sunday night, instead of just another sermon!” However, I’m certain that such a move would absolutely demolish the attendance. If Sunday night is driven by tradition alone, then it needs to be changed…possibly even stopped.

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