Whatever Happened to Sunday Evening Services?

May 10, 2014

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

  • George Shannon says on

    My Church quit having Sunday night service about 5 years ago and I just don’t get it… What could be more important on Sunday night? They said it was suppose to be because we could have more family time at home. My question is for who? The Preacher? Some of us live alone so the Church is our Family… I see this trend more and more and it bothers me. The preachers are suppose to be our spiritual leaders and I live in the Bible belt and this is not a good indication. Another problem at my Church is they quit having the invitation hymn at the end of each service??? What is going on with the Baptist? Several of us have written and voiced our concerns but nothing has happened and I go to a really nice Church. If the Salt is losing it’s Saltiness then we all better look out…

    • Mark Newberry says on

      I am not speaking for or against evening services here, but just to address your point about canceling evening services for the benefit of the preacher. At my church, our preacher already preaches two sermons every Sunday morning. He spends all Sunday afternoon doing hospital visits and general visitations, and many times has to cut off these visitations in order to return to church in time to preach on Sunday evenings. He spends all week making more visitations (general and hospital), running church errands, handling church business…and just when he decides he might just take Thursday as his off day, he might get a call about a death in a church member’s family, so no off day that week. Pastoring and shepherding the flock is a 24/7/365 job. There are no published hours. That is the calling of a great and caring Pastor. Much more than just a preacher…

      So if we might be looking for a little bit of a break for our hard-working pastor, then yes, you are correct!

  • Andrew Koerner says on

    Some of the above comments have mentioned spiritual weakness and apathy as a reason for decline in Sunday evening services. I believe that this is the basic issue. People don’t want to go twice because they want more time for themselves. But the whole point of going to church is that it’s not about me, but rather about giving thanks and praise to God for His unspeakable gift of salvation in Jesus Christ, and doing so with other believers! Also, consider this: the ultimate hope of the Christian is (or at least should be) to live with God in heaven some day. When we enter into the church sanctuary, what we really experience is the closest thing there is to heaven on this earth. What Christian in his right mind would want to miss an opportunity to have a foretaste of heaven?

    As for the history, I think that every church from the time of the apostles onward that has had any love for the Sabbath Day has recognized that to have only one Sunday service is not enough. The entire day must be consecrated to God. To “rest on the Sabbath Day” does not mean “do nothing,” but it means to rest from the labors of the rest of the week and engage as much as possible in the work of worshipping God.

    Really, the fundamental issue is one of Keeping the Sabbath Day. Below is a link to an article on this subject. It is from a Reformed perspective. It is unequivocal and uncompromising, but that is exactly what the Church of today needs.

    http://www.the-highway.com/sabbath_Engelsma.html

  • I came across this post while searching for Sunday evening services in my area. My husband works until 3am on Saturday evenings, and doesn’t get home until 4am, and bed until 5am (shower, eat, sleep). I don’t have the heart to ask him to go to church and be attentive and friendly on 4 hours of sleep. But it would be great to be able to go to church as a family.

  • Honestly I find Sunday night church to be difficult to attend because I am honestly tired. I am a mom of 5 kids from ages 14 to 19 and I work about 50 hours a week. I would rather eat dinner with the family and spend time with them then go back on Sunday night and get a similar style sermon I had that morning. I always grew up going to church on Sunday fay night but then again my mom was a stay at home mom with two kids and plenty of time with us and did not fight with the time constraints I do. I really think if I was a stay at home mom I would probably be in attendance most of the time.

  • I pastor a church here in Nigeria which i took over from a missionary from UK. We do have Sunday Morning Service starting at 9.00 am (Sunday School & Regular Morning Service) and at 6.00 pm (Regular Evening Service) and during week at 7.00 pm (Wednesday – MidWeek Service).

    Our Sunday Evening Service & Wednesday Evening Service has been a concern for me. I have tried to encourage & challenge the church but no good response. Sometime my family happens to be larger part of people in attendance on these service days but on Sunday Morning the church is always up to 80 people.

    I get comments from the church such as we use Sunday Evening to prepare our kids and family for school and work or we visit our family members in the afternoon and getting home in the evening so tired etc.

    What do i do?

  • I stumbled upon this article reading a different article. The Reformed perspective has already been mentioned in this article but for further research, take a look at the Reformed community in West Michigan specifically Zeeland and Holland. MANY churches still hold Sunday night services and do so with a faithful following. I agree with the posts prior especially those that mentioned other increasing church activities such as life groups and other mid-week events. There comes a time where you have to balance your faith-life OUTSIDE the walls of the church and quit spending so much time INSIDE those walls.

  • Ted Walker says on

    In our church, we have basically split the difference. In the summer months we have Wednesday Evening Fellowship. We have a dinner, followed by the worship service. The money from the dinner supports those in our church that go on short term missions trips. This summer we offered Vacation Bible School as well so we had a program for our young children and youth. We have now gone back to our 9 month schedule where we have evening worship. Choir Rehearsal is held before the evening worship service. I find that our attendance in either format is about the same which is about 1/3 of our morning worship attendance. We have about 165 in attendance on Sunday mornings. I feel the 2 biggest reasons in the drop in evening attendance is that Sunday evenings have become family night, and a lot of members drive in from the suburbs into Dallas TX to attend church, the are not willing to make that drive twice a day.

  • I am the pastor of a small church (running about 100) and we have traditional services Sunday morning, evening, and Bible study on Wed. night with youth. Our Sunday evening service sees about 1/4 to 1/3 of the AM service returning, and very few with children. Our format is much the same as the AM, except a bit more relaxed. Frankly, I’m tired of doing the same thing twice on Sunday. People don’t come because they are tired too. I want to change what we’re doing. I’m not proposing cancelling it, but I want to change. Maybe we could do a meal and break out into groups or something. I could really use some great ideas with specific rationale and solid results to show for it. Any help out there?

  • KathleenMM says on

    Our church’s Sunday evening service is struggling. Attendance is small and the attendees are only the elderly.
    My husband is an elder and I am very active in ministries at church. Between emails, internet articles and blogs, meetings and work at church many times a week, including Wed evening prayer service, we are not interested at all in attending an evening service. We are worn out by Sunday and truly need a quiet day of rest. There comes a time when we have to step out of church to have time to apply what we’ve learned. Our pastor emails us three times a day with prayer requests and updates and links to articles we “must read”, there are special services, missions conference week, octave of prayer week, the overwhelming Christmas and Easter seasons…yep…come Sunday evening, I’m staying home.

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