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
Posted on May 10, 2014
With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
More from Thom
I tried to do some research myself to discover the history of the Sunday evening service. I couldn’t find anything definitive either.
I would love to get some definitive history as well. So far, I have not been successful.
We did away with Sunday evening worship and now use that time for church-wide fellowships on the second and fourth Sunday. The response has been incredible and the unity in our church is awesome. We mix it up as far as what we offer but we always make sure there is something for all ages. It’s been one of the best things we have ever done. Besides, most people said they only came to Sunday night worship out of obligation or to get together for fellowship afterwards. No one seemed interested in a other sermon.
What is Church – wide fellowships?
I would assume supper and hangout time at the church
Our church just started having a Sunday evening service last fall (October). At first, attendance was good, but now that spring and Daylight Savings Time has arrived, we’re struggling. I also serve in an area where Sunday evening services at other churches is basically non-existence. Quite frankly, spiritual apathy is the culprit.
I can never understand the idea someone has “spiritual apathy” just because they don’t attend Sunday night, Wed. night, or any other church services outside of Sunday morning church/Sunday school. Spiritual maturity is not based on how many times you go to church, but rather someone’s personal walk with Christ. Some of the strongest Christians I know who have a very close walk with Christ do not go to church any other time other than Sunday morning (they might also go to the Men’s/Women’s Bible study on, not sure). They Talk to God everyday and read/study His word. And some of the most hypocritical people I know DO attend as many church services as are listed in bulletin.
I can see, though, where a new Christian might need to attend the extra services as they develop their walk with Christ.
I’ve been apart of church all of my life and couldn’t image life without it. If all were truly honest, the most mature and dedicated Christians do attend church services consistently. If there church offers Sunday night service or Wednesday services, they are faithful to attend. Someone you truly love (e.i. God) you want to be around them more not less.
I suspect the rise of in-home small groups has contributed to the decline of Sunday evening services. These groups, coupled with a midweek program for children/teens, leave little room for another night of church activity.
I am a real fan of evening services, even though they have only been a part of my life for less than a year and a half. I feel as though they round off the day perfectly.
I could wax lyrical about them, but it might be more beneficial to offer some reasons as to why I think more and more people don’t attend them; 1. If you have a family, especially young children, the timing just isn’t helpful 2. Two services a day can be tiring, particularly if you have been to or hosted lunch with others 3. People have so little free time, Sunday evening might be the only time they get 4. In addition to that last point, there is a real emphasis on ‘me’ time, rightly or wrongly (in my opinion wrongly), so time at church can be seen as draining 5. Church might have been a point to see people and socialise but now with the advent of the internet and social media, Church doesn’t fulfill that role.
Anyway, just a few thoughts, interested in what others will say.
Good points Ciaran. .
So family and friends before God, is that what Ciaran is saying ? Or “me” time ?
I believe more and more Christians have taken the first part of the Great Commission to heart … Go … instead of coming to another holy huddle on Sunday night.
Fortunately that Holy Huddle is ordained and designed by God Himself to minister to His people. His covenant community. He knows who they are and they also know His voice. Considering heaven will be a place of constant worship and praise in the presence of God, God gives us a wonderful foretaste in the church by being able to come before Him in worship. It’s a privilage not a chore.
Sunday worship Is not limited on time. Does God put a limit into how much he serves the church? The sole purpose of the day of Worship is not focused on man’s inconvenience but on God’s faithfulness.
People who don’t attend church regularly DON’T Go and tell others about Christ. If you hate Italian food you’re not telling others to go to the local authentic Italian restaurant
People who don’t attend church regularly DON’T Go and tell others about Christ. If you hate Italian food you’re not telling others to go to the local authentic Italian restaurant
We do have an evening service that over the past 11 years has had a high attendance of 50 (just under half of the morning attendance) and has averaged about 25 for the past few years. On the first Sunday in April we changed the format to preaching followed but discussion on the sermon topic in small groups. It’s all informal and has gotten our attendance back to around 40. Still struggling but getting better since we’re now teaching on discipleship issues. One positive is that young families are now coming in addition to those who’ve come “every time the doors are open.” We started this with the topics you covered in “I am a Church Member.” I’m thinking of adapting Masterlife to this service but am wary that’s probably asking too much of those in attendance. Any ideas to make it better?
Lots of ideas coming from the readers today!
Our evening service is surviving. We run about 40% of our morning attendance. Our SS time runs about 75-80% of our morning service.
I like the evening service time (personally), and am trying to work with the numbers of that worship time. Just because it’s smaller doesn’t mean it’s pointless.
FYI – we have people who say they’d want to come, but don’t (for whatever reason). We have others who don’t come because of family commitment. We have others still who are Sunday morning worship service only people. The last group is a bigger concern to me than the others.
Good points, Timothy.
Our church stopped having Sunday night services over 10 years ago (actually before I became pastor). This is the first church that I have ever served or attended that does not have a Sunday night service. Honestly, at first, it was culture shock. I was use to going to church on Sunday nights. I had done so all of my life. But after two years of being pastor of this church, I must say that I love it. I enjoy being able to spend time with my family on Sunday afternoons, take a nap, or have people (college students/church members) over to our home on Sunday nights. Also, I am a DMin student at NOBTS, so sometimes I use Sunday afternoon/evening to do some reading or paper writing. Just my thoughts. Thanks for doing what you do, Dr. Rainer. By the way, I pastor in Troy, Alabama not far from your family in Banks.
Thanks for stopping by, Dwayne. My wife’s parents live a few miles from Banks, but they do attend church there.
With all due respect to others opinions, have you noticed that it took you “2 years” to get used to it? In other words, before attending/pastoring there you were dedicating that time to the Lord. Yet after that time passed you dedicated that time to yourself.
This is one of the great traps and tricks of the enemy: to use time as the great changer. A frog left in a luke-warm kettle of water will boil to death if the heat is gradually turned up. So will we fail of our Lord’s grace by giving in and giving up little by little those things that work for our benefit and relationship with Him. We will go from serving Him to serving other interests. We must “lay hold of eternal life”‘; we must “be careful lest at any time we let these things slip”.
I don’t think that’s a fair summary of what was said.
I noticed that myself, Nate. Too many churches tell their members that they are canceling services and you should spend that time with family as if that is a substitute for worship or service or study. Its a big lie. I think we are getting too comfortable when we have lazy pastors who would rather “take a nap” on Sunday afternoon and not teach, preach, minister or serve. And people wonder why the church in America is dying.
David, i agree 100%!
Not a fair assessment at all. One of the most important areas of evangelism and where you have the most influence is in your own family! I have known many a Preacher who were dedicated to their work, their church family, but found very little time to spend nurturing their own immediate family, spiritually! In these modern times, both the preacher and his wife often have to hold down additional full-time jobs to make ends meet. That leaves very little time with family, other than a little bit on the weekend and a couple hours during the weekday evenings. Also, a Sunday evening service is a tradition, not a command. Just because a person who has done that all his life has trouble letting go of that, that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with him. That is normal. Consider the many passages of scripture in the book of acts and other NT letters where Jews had trouble letting go of what they had done for so many years and had to embrace the NT. I wasn’t raised in the church, but found it through serious study on my own. I cannot find anywhere in the Bible where it’s commanded that we meet twice on the Lord’s day. Is it a good thing to do? Sure it is!! But it’s not commanded. Neither is it commanded how many days and hours throughout the week you spend quality time with your family. Each church should decide autonomously what is best for their congregation alone. We have decided this year (Eldership) that we will postpone our evening services from January through March. We do this due to poor attendance of Evening Services, several of our church members traveling to Florida for the winter months and also due to poor weather conditions (generally speaking) and a handful of our elderly members who stay local who do not travel after dark.
Our church has always had an evening service, and one is still offered today. However, attendance between Sunday morning and evening takes a definitive drop. One reason, in addition to some of the ones you mentioned, is that our children’s program is more extensive on Sunday evening, which requires more volunteers.
I am hearing that more and more. Thanks Jon.
Our church has always had Sunday evening services and the attendance is only a fraction of the AM service. To be honest, it is mostly an unprepared service with folks appearing tired and uninterested.
Yes. That’s my opinion too. I think people are tired by evening.
I attend a traditional Baptist Church in Westland, Michigan and we have morning and evening. Our morning service runs around 1,000 and even about 400 – 500. Sunday morning is more evangelist because visitors are more likely to come to that service. Evening is more the core family, is less evangelist although the Gospel is always laced through the message. Our Wednesday morning is more for older folks, but some younger come when they know they will not be able to attend the evening service. Our outreaches are numerous: Nursing & Assisted Living, home visiting absentees and visitors and just knocking on doors, etc. It takes hard work to have a successful and that is where the problem begins. There are far too many pastors who are just plain lazy and every rise and falls around leadership. I praise God for my pastor, though terminal with cancer still 100 calls a week. Shame on the rest of you! Bob Kahl
Mr. Rainer, As being new to the Senior Pastor roll (A millennia last), I have seen that our Wednesday night services struggle and volunteers for Children’s ministry aren’t there. I am considering turning Wednesday nights into a life group format.
My Sunday night service is struggling. I use the Sunday PM message to Minister to members. The sermons are how to focused rather than evangelical.
Our Sunday evening service is thriving, but only because we have embraced it for what it is – a traditional worship service that targets senior adults. We call it our “Traditional Service” and it unapologetically embraces elements of worship components that are no longer present on Sunday mornings: singing from hymnals w/ an upright piano; individuals called out from the pew to “open/close in prayer,” etc. Absent is the offering or invitation.
This faithful crew loves Sunday night worship and our Senior Adult Pastor preaches his heart out, along with a supporting case of retired pastors. Attendance is approximately 10% of Sunday morning worship attendance (70-80), and they meet in our Worship Annex (choir room).
Love the inclusion of the “upright piano.”
Are you the Gerald Wolfe that sings with Greater Vision?
I feel that Sunday Night Services should be different from the Morning Service. Morning services should be to encourage and strengthen it’s members. Sunday Nights should be evangelistic, wining the lost, Restoration, prayer for the sick and hurting.,
Can a church efficiently minister to both the members and sinners in just one 45 minute sermon?
Churches that I know of that continue having Sunday Night Services always have visitors, new converts and growth. One particular church , Community Family Church, Independence, Ky has 2 morning services packed, and Sunday Night packed even in bad weather the church is full. They have numerous revivals, Mens Revival, Womens Revival, Youth Revival, and more. All are usually overflowing! Same pastor for 34 years.
Some of what your noticing is probably the by product of God working through the life and vision of the Pastor that has been there for so long. That would be one of the things I would primarily attribute that success too.
I agree. I did have it backwards though. I thought morning for evangelism and evening for the discipleship and encouragment.
I can’t help but wonder if the death of the Sunday evening service isn’t part of the great falling away (apostasy) that the Bible talks about.
How many churches still have a mid-week prayer service anymore. Mine does, but out of 400-500 people, maybe 10 show up for prayer.
Sunday school has also become a thing of the past in many churches.
Most of us who are over 50 grew up in churches that Sunday morning, Sunday evening, Wednesday evening services were etched I stone. Even back then the morning service was best attended. But now the complaint is parents can’t come to church because they have children who have church the next day. I guess no one had children in the 50s and 60s? Remember parents, your children are watching you and will follow your lead. If church is not very important to you, it will be even less important to them, until the following generations believe in nothing. Churches are filled with people who feel they have done their duty as Christians to be in church Sunday morning, but don’t ask them to get involved other than that. Jesus prophesied that in the last days men’s hearts would grow cold. John speaks of the lukewarm church in Revelation. My church stopped Sunday evening services when the pastor of 30 year retired. Previous to the Sunday evening services were testimony time and times where we got to hear missionaries speak. Now, if lucky, you might hear a missionary speak once every few months for 5 minutes. And we wonder why giving to missions is down? Jesus asked: when the Son of Man returns, will He find (the) faith on the earth? The Lord’s church is in big trouble and it’s not His fault. Sunday evening services are a symptom of it. Thank God for the faithful remnant. Look what price underground churches in China, Russia and Islamic countries pay to worship. Could we, would we be willing to pay the same price? We need to weep and pray for our churches. God forgive us where we have failed. Thank you, Thom, for this article. It is a more significant, relavent topic than we even realize.
My apologies. I should have proof read my comments before hitting the submit button. Too any errors to be acceptable, I’m afraid. I just hope the spirit of what I said translates well.
I was thinking how I could express my thoughts on this subject, but this brother does it perfectly. I agree whole heartedly. My only other comment is God’s word is the food for our spiritual needs. I can’t imagine ever getting full on his spiritual food. I need and desire his word as often as I can hear or study it. And yes sir we have services Sun. morning, Sun. night & Wed. night. As far as how many attend the night service, where two or three are gathered in his name. God Bless.
I know about Wednesday evening services too. Where did they go? I understand the busyness of a Pastor, but this is why we need to step up, disciple our young, and perhaps may get to be called upon to teach or preach.
Great comments, Dan. We sure do need to pray for our pastors and church. It’s discouraging to see lack of interest in church in general,especially in the Sunday evening services.
YES AMEN! YES AMEN!! YES AMEN!!!! I think it IS a (if not THE) great falling away, and it is apparent everywhere we look. It seems the church believes what the world is saying, “You’re not relevant anymore. Sunday School is unprofitable. Why go to church at all?”
What absolutely APPALLS me is, there is hardly a Pentecostal Church in Wichita Falls, Tx, where i live, that has a Sunday night service. That’s when the greatest moves of the Spirit seemed to happen, on Sunday Night!!! WHAT ON EARTH?!?!?!?!?!?!? That is why i looked this article up, in my despair…
Love this! This is what I am looking for in the Pacific NW for my mother and myself. I did go to a church in Sumner, WA with an 11 a.m. Traditional Service (complete with fiddler) and, for me, it was a “real” worship experience. I would prefer evening for her because she is stronger, physically, in the evening. I am currently linked to a church with two Sunday a.m. services, but both are directed to young people. Not ashamed to say I am growing older and appreciate some of the elements church leadership seems to run from.
This was in response to the comment from Mark Dance.
So what you call Traditional suggests your congregation supports one service and it is held in the evening.