Whatever Happened to Sunday Evening Services?

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.
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  • When I was young (about 40 years ago) Mom forced us to church every Sunday Morning, Sunday Night, and every other time the church had a service. I despised it but must admit, the Sunday Evening Services were always the most spiritual, in my opinion.

  • With the word of the Lord our life will be easier and our hearts will be filled. Thank you for sharing this wonderful thought that the Lord give to you. Keep it up!

  • Hello! I have been desperately looking for a sunday night service. For now, my family and I are only able to attend a pm service, and I am having trouble finding a christian church that has one. My family really needs to attend a church, we haven’t in soooo long! we live in menifee ca. We would like a church close, or at least not further than 30min away. Would someone please leave me some names and phone numbers of churches that have pm services?? thank you mya geis!

  • I am trying to find a church with an evening service or late service to join. I would appreciate any ideas you may have. I would prefer a unitarian or non denominational church since we are of mixed faiths but any church would be okay.

    Thank you for you assistance in this matter.

    [email protected]

  • Our Sunday evening service was struggling, but instead of dropping it we made a substantial structure change to the service. We changed the time to 5:30 p.m. We moved our AWANA program from Wednesday evening to Sunday evening. And in place of the regular preaching service we now have Adult Bible Fellowships. We offer a number of classes ranging from Finances to parenting along with at one Bible study class. Only time will tell if this change will produce the desired results. However, on the first night that we instituted this format our attendance on attendance on Sunday evening nearly tripled.

  • I have been pastoring since 1979 and at our current church since 1983. Evening attendance used to be about half. Not it is about 15-20%. What has changed, to me, seems obvious:

    1. Working moms and wives. That means less time to get housework done and less time to relax with family.
    2. Bigger homes and higher standards for those homes. This means trimming more shrubs and decorating and redecorating.
    3. Perfectionistic and doting attitudes toward child-rearing means our kids are involved in too much; Sunday evening is one of the FEW evenings alone as a family.
    4. Many Christians no longer want Bible. Church is compared to the OT Temple. You go to “the House of the Lord,” sing praises and listen to music, make a donation, and endure the sermon or get a pop psych sermon. In our tradition (Bible church), the draw of the evening service used to include fellowship, gospel songs, testimonies, and more of a deep-teaching type sermon/lesson. The hunger for the Word has been sated often by spiritual junk food; people are bloated and don’t want to come back for more.
    5. Everyone is too busy. Period. We have to much fun stuff to do in our recreational time, and many prefer to sit in front of the tube and watch Duck Dynasty with their families.
    6. Many more spiritual Christians who do not come Sunday night get fed from reading, Christian radio programs, home study groups, etc. They do not sense they need Sunday night, and it is frankly hard to fault that way of thinking.
    We have tried many things — we have a Jesus Lodge where we play cards and then break up for prayer once a month. We have in-depth studies for those who want them — the whole hour. I have tried to focus on those who are hungry for more and address their hunger, for both the Word and fellowship.
    As a city slicker, it is important to note how evening services started in CITIES. It wasn’t electric lighting, but gas lighting that made them popular. An evening service is different from a later afternoon one after a meal.

  • Our baptist church still has Sunday evening service but only 10-20 people come faithfully. 7 of them are the Pastors family. It is actually a continuation of the morning service and I have gone to the p.m. service the whole time I’ve been at this church (about 7 years). This year we had to take custody of our 5 yr old grandchild and since no bus runs for p.m service no children get there. Its Pastors grandchildren the only ones there, I don’t attend because there are no classes for the kids. My grandchild is 5 and has a learning disability and its too hard for her to sit still for an hour. I have suggested something for the kids and I would take turns with them but it never got off the floor. I miss going to the Sunday night service.

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