My parents took us to church and Sunday school on Sunday morning, and they always took us back on Sunday evening. We even went when the Bears were in the Super Bowl. The crowd was much smaller than Sunday morning, but there were always people eager to be there.
Over the years, the evening service started to feel less like a “real” service as preaching became less prominent. 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 a wonderful OPC (now PCA) congregation. The attendance could be sparse on Sunday night, but I was always eager to go. I 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 to 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 wanted to resurrect the evening service. Over the years, the service grew to a strong core of committed folks, about one-fourth of our Sunday morning attendance.
Now as the pastor at Christ Covenant, I’m eager to pour into Sunday evening and, by God’s grace, see that service flourish.
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. It can be a chore to get the whole family back for the evening, and at times with young children my wife hasn’t been able to make it. But we hope to instill in our family the same habits that have served us so well.
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 church members are 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 can’t make the case 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 someone, out of necessity, has to work on Sunday evening or at 4 a.m. on Monday morning. Or the family has young children who 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
And yet, I think you’d be hard pressed to argue that the waning of the evening service has been a mark of renewed strength and vigor in the Western church.
Here are a few reasons why I’m thankful for the evening service and why I hope you’ll consider keeping yours, going to yours, finding a neighboring church that has one, 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 on the day set aside for worship. 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.
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. With evening worship, Sunday feels like a day set apart. Without it, Sunday morning worship feels like one thing to do in the midst of a busy weekend. The temptation to squeeze worship into the margins of life is even more pronounced when we can finish our worship “requirement” by 8 p.m. on Saturday evening.
4. The evening service is a lot of work, but it is good work. It can allow more teaching opportunities for others in the church. In most churches, there will be men, other than the senior pastor, gifted to teach and preach. Having an evening service gives those men, and those in ministerial training, more opportunities to exercise and hone their gifts.
5. Most pastors are busy (even crazy busy!). We aren’t usually looking for one more thing to do. But of all the things we could do, spending more time in the Word is one of the best. A second service forces the pastor to spend more time in the Bible, which is a good thing too.
6. The evening service is a great time for extra fellowship and extra prayer. We can do certain things with meals, small group prayer, and lingering conversations that are more difficult on a cramped Sunday morning. Sunday evening provides opportunities for testimonies, for prayer requests, for organized prayer for missionaries or unreached people groups.
7. I’ve found the evening service to be a great training ground and proving ground for future officers and leaders in the church. As a pastor, I take note of who is committed to morning and evening worship and who seems to be growing in hunger for the Word of God.
Just to reiterate: I don’t think we can mandate the evening service as an explicit command of Scripture. That doesn’t mean, however, that the evening service should be a take-it-or-leave-it proposition. The tradition of the church should not be quickly overturned, especially by those who want to lay claim to the Reformed-Puritan mantle. There may be good reasons not to attend your evening service or not to have one, but these should be considered prayerfully, not as an easy concession to lifestyle habits and cultural pressure. Why not give the evening service a try for three months and see if your walk with the Lord is better or worse because of it.