UPDATE: How embarrassing. I didn’t realize this post went live. I hadn’t finished it yet. Now I have. Sorry for the mix up.
My whole life I’ve gone to church Sunday morning and Sunday evening. My parents took us to church and Sunday school on Sunday morning and they always took us back on Sunday evening. The crowd was much smaller, but there were always people eager to be there. Over the years, the evening service felt less like a “real” service. We’d watch a video for a month or combine with another church for the summer or try small groups. I have nothing against videos (in their proper place), joint services, or small groups. But at the time they all seemed like efforts to keep up the tradition of the evening service without putting forth much effort.
In college I went to a Baptist church with strong preaching. My friends and I went Sunday morning and came back hours later to their well-attended evening service. While at seminary, I attended an great OPC congregation. The attendance could be sparse on Sunday night, but I made a point to come (and even met my wife there).
My first pastoral charge was at a large church in Iowa. As the associate pastor I would often preach on Sunday evening. We had around 900 people in the morning and about half that in the evening. I was glad to be there for two services.
When I came University Reformed Church in 2004 the long-standing tradition of evening services had just about disappeared. I don’t think the interim pastor had much interest in them and the attendance had dwindled to a few dozen. I told the search committee that I was committed trying to resurrect the evening service. Over the years, the service has grown to a strong core–around 125 during the school year, or about 1/4 of our Sunday morning attendance.
Every church I’ve ever been a part of has had a Sunday evening service. I’ve always gone. It’s what I grew up with. It’s part of my rhythm as a Christian and I am immensely grateful for it. I hope this brief blog post will encourage other Christians and other churches to consider making an evening service a part of your Christian walk and worship.
Saying Enough, But Not Too Much
Before I say anything else, let me make clear that I don’t think Scripture absolutely requires an evening service, nor do I think a church member is necessarily disobedient if they don’t attend their church’s evening service. I know some good Reformed folks will argue that the evening service is a matter of biblical obedience. I just can’t make the case that definitively. Some churches may be in cultures that make a second service on Sunday evening prohibitively difficult. Some congregations may be really committed to home groups on Sunday nights. Other congregations may have repeat services that stretch into the afternoon, or they may do the same Sunday morning service on Sunday evening. Many churches have never had an evening service. It’s just not in their DNA. I sympathize with the difficulty they may have in even considering an evening service. Other churches may find it difficult to pull together a second quality service because their resources and personnel are stretched thin. Many smaller churches or church plants may be in this situation.
And then there are the individual church members who may have a hard time getting back to the evening service because they live an hour away. Or the person who has to work on Sunday evening or at 4am on Monday morning. Or the family with very young children that need to be in bed before the evening service will be over.
I know there are many reasons why having, starting, keeping, or going to the evening service may be difficult. I do not want to require more than Scripture requires.
What Is Still Worth Saying
Having said all that, let me give you several reasons why I’m thankful for our evening service and why I hope you’ll consider keeping yours, going to yours, or even starting one at your church.
1. Starting and ending the Lord’s Day with corporate worship fits the pattern of morning and evening sacrifices. I don’t think this is a slam dunk argument for evening worship, but it corresponds to a good pattern that the day would begin and end with worship.
2. If the sermon and the sacraments are truly means of grace, let’s give people the opportunity to experience this grace and take advantage of the opportunities when they are there.
3. Having an evening service keeps the Lord’s Day the Lord’s Day. Without the evening service I find it too easy to treat Sunday worship like an hour to get done at the beginning of the day. The temptation to squeeze worship into the margins of life is even more pronounced when we finish our worship “requirement” by 8pm on Saturday evening.
4. Martyn Lloyd-Jones supported the practice of evening worship because he believed there should be a hunger for the preaching of the word–a hunger that desires a second time to feast on the Bible.
5. The evening service is a lot of work, but it is good work. It can allow more teaching opportunities for others in the church. It should force the pastor to spend more time in the word, which is a good thing too.
6. Our evening service is a great time for extra fellowship and extra prayer. We can do somethings with meals, small group prayer, and lingering conversations that are more difficult on a cramped Sunday morning.
7. The tradition of the church should not be easily overturned, especially by those who want to lay claim to the Reformed-Puritan mantle.
Just to reiterate: I don’t believe the evening service is mandated by Scripture. But I am saddened that so many churches have moved away from the evening service. There are good reasons to keep at it or consider adding it to the life of your church.