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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  • Tommy Mitchell says on

    Dr. Rainer,
    Just to add a little more on the history side – when I was a young boy in the 60’s, my Dad became a Director of Missions in Pontotoc, MS. There was a push from the SBC and Mississippi Baptist Convention for DOM’S to encourage all 1/4 time churches to go 1/2 time, and all 1/2 time churches to go full-time. A fully cooperating church was one that used SBC literature, gave to the Cooperative Program, and had services on Sunday morning and Sunday night. In those early days of my life, Sunday night was not universal. It came about in many areas as the result of “improving” the church and to enable the teaching of discipleship courses.

    Most of our people have little interest in church history over the last 100 years – but many would be surprised to learn that Sunday evenings have not always been a part of our tradition. In rural areas a church was doing well to have services every Sunday!

    As for today, I think what a church does on Sunday night should be determined by what best meets the needs of the congregation. Most people have already voted with their feet regarding what best serves them!


  • As a retired Pastor I served 5 Pastorates over 40 years. All had evening services. I often questioned the
    origin of them and the constant answer was that they began to provide a Sunday service for shift workers
    and those who had day jobs requiring Sunday work. The demise of them seems related to a variety of
    factors……lack of interest, working wives, long term daily commutes, the proliferation of “programs” in churches and the growth of Home Bible studies. In retirement the 4 Interims I have had have NOT had
    evening services. I don’t miss them.

    • Another lukewarm Pastor. This is a lot of the problem with the lukewarmness in the pews. If you have a passionate, dedicated Pastor, be thankful for him because they are becoming rare

      • This is just a carnal response, Tammy That’s “loving your neighbor”? Interesting…. It reads more like self-righteous rudeness.

        Here’s my take on it – having grown up in a pastor’s family. Pastoring is exhausting and gives the pastor very little time with his own family. Not only does he have to spend hours each week preparing 3 sermons, he does house calls, hospital visits, counseling, one on one discipleship and is expected to be available to his congregation 24/7. Especially in the early years of a church plant when he has no “support staff” or lay leaders yet. One of the requirements for a pastor found in scripture is that he rule his family well. In my experience, pastors who are stretched this thin cannot rule their family well. Having Sunday nights as a time dedicated to family is as spiritual and worshipful as you claim attending Sunday evening services are… That time dedicated to building your family and teaching them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord often does more for the kingdom of God than an obligatory tradition of Sunday evening service. I have seen altogether too many ministry kids get burnt out and resentful towRd the church because of this imbalance. This is not a “sold out” pastor as much ad it is an imbalance due to pressure from the people most times. Scripture’s admonition not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together is not written in the context of formal church attendance. My observation is that those churches who do not have Sunday evening services but DO have small groups and other opportunities to edify and grow in community produce stronger Christians. They ARE assembling themselves together and so much the more, and this approach seems to be producing more devoted Christians in how they live out their day to day in growing in grace than those who are “devoted” simply by checking the box for “3 to thrive.” This has just been my observation. To close with my original thought, Sunday evenings reserved as a time for the body of Christ to also reach and “do life” with their OWN family is far more beneficial, and is producing greater results for the Kingdom than tradition ever could.

  • Our church is 113 years old and had been accustomed to the traditional morning and evening format for as long as anyone could remember. We stopped having Sunday evening services about four years ago, substituting the service with small groups. Our small groups attendance has far outdistanced our Sunday evening attendance.

  • Todd Benkert says on

    I think it has to do with the fact that church members have only so many hours they are willing or able to give to church activities. Stewardship of time thus results in emphasizing small groups, ministry, outreach, or some other function of the church’s mission rather than an additional worship experience. Whether this emphasis originates from the church’s leadership or the members’ preference, the result is the same — no more Sunday night service.

  • Russ H says on

    Thom, have you done any research into the percentage of congregates who are commuters?, more than say 15 -20 minutes to get to church.
    This is another major change from 20 – 30 yrs past which affects the decline in Sunday evening and mid week services.

  • Gas prices have gone up too. It seems really silly to me to drive to church, drive back home, and then drive to church again – wasting all that gas and time in the process instead of just having whatever service you were going to have, back to back with the first.

    • We recently made the decision to take the approximate hour we were spending on our Sunday evening services and plugged it into the morning services. We added time to Sunday School as well as to the morning worship. Our attendance was 30% of the morning attendance at best and we have many families that drive a long distance and didn’t come back for the Sunday evening service.

  • We have struggled to get people to come to Sunday evening services. We are one of a handful in our association to still have Sunday night services. However, I recently began a Bible study series on Revelation on Sunday nights, which has been well attended. There have been Sundays in recent months where our evenings equaled or exceeded our morning services. So, apparently they will come if we find something that draws their interest.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      I do hear more about short-term success stories, but fewer consistent success stories.

    • I believe that you have nailed it with your conclusion, “So, apparently they will come if we find something that draws their interest.” Many of the observations about dismal attendance numbers is that Sunday evenings were slipshot and like an afterthought: the “JV” service. I have never pastored a church that ran over 100. But the AM & PM service in both churches that I have pastored usually ran pretty much the same numbers: 60 & 50+ in one church and 80 & 50 in the other. We had passion in the pulpit which generates passion in the pews.

  • Great discussion!
    Most of my life I’ve attended Sunday evening services. However, when a group of friends and family started a church plant a year and three months ago, we chose not to include an evening service. This has proved to be a wonderful decision. We do not live in the quietness of Mayberry any longer. That’s a sad thought, but it’s true. What we’ve observed is our church families have grown closer. We encourage them to keep Sunday evening free from distraction and focus on their family. Healthier families equal a healthier church body. As a church plant, we started in a local fire station, we continue seeing souls saved, and now we are on our way to breaking the two hundred mark! God is good!


    Dr. Johnny Nixon, Pastor
    First Love Baptist Church
    Doerun GA 31744

  • Lee Haley says on

    Sunday night has been replaced with Saturday night services at many churches.
    One dynamic that has changed is that Sunday night is family night.

    The next question for many churches is “What about Wednesday night?

  • We don’t offer a Sunday night service. If we ever did it would be because all Sunday morning times are maxed out and we’re out of space. Like, 8:30, 10:00, 11:30, 1:00 on Sunday morning. And then 5:00 & 6:30 on Sunday evening. All services with same sermon content.

  • Russ H says on

    The changes in society have dictated changes in how we see worship. The loss of Blue laws is major. The 24/7 society we live and work in. The need for “down time” before starting a new 50 – 60 hour work week .
    My former church found success with informal group meetings in homes on Sunday evenings.

  • We have Sunday night service. It’s dwindled to about nothing. We have kids and youth on campus and their attendances are fantastic. We are a church of 600-700 weekly and have around 40 who return. Honestly, it’s a very ill prepared service. Like a JV service.

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