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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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Comments

  1. Mark Dance says

    Our Sunday evening service is thriving, but only because we have embraced it for what it is – a traditional worship service that targets senior adults. We call it our “Traditional Service” and it unapologetically embraces elements of worship components that are no longer present on Sunday mornings: singing from hymnals w/ an upright piano; individuals called out from the pew to “open/close in prayer,” etc. Absent is the offering or invitation.

    This faithful crew loves Sunday night worship and our Senior Adult Pastor preaches his heart out, along with a supporting case of retired pastors. Attendance is approximately 10% of Sunday morning worship attendance (70-80), and they meet in our Worship Annex (choir room).

  2. Patrick Ziegler says

    My Sunday night service is struggling. I use the Sunday PM message to Minister to members. The sermons are how to focused rather than evangelical.

  3. says

    Our church has always had an evening service, and one is still offered today. However, attendance between Sunday morning and evening takes a definitive drop. One reason, in addition to some of the ones you mentioned, is that our children’s program is more extensive on Sunday evening, which requires more volunteers.

  4. says

    Our church stopped having Sunday night services over 10 years ago (actually before I became pastor). This is the first church that I have ever served or attended that does not have a Sunday night service. Honestly, at first, it was culture shock. I was use to going to church on Sunday nights. I had done so all of my life. But after two years of being pastor of this church, I must say that I love it. I enjoy being able to spend time with my family on Sunday afternoons, take a nap, or have people (college students/church members) over to our home on Sunday nights. Also, I am a DMin student at NOBTS, so sometimes I use Sunday afternoon/evening to do some reading or paper writing. Just my thoughts. Thanks for doing what you do, Dr. Rainer. By the way, I pastor in Troy, Alabama not far from your family in Banks.

    • Thom Rainer says

      Thanks for stopping by, Dwayne. My wife’s parents live a few miles from Banks, but they do attend church there.

  5. Timothy says

    Our evening service is surviving. We run about 40% of our morning attendance. Our SS time runs about 75-80% of our morning service.

    I like the evening service time (personally), and am trying to work with the numbers of that worship time. Just because it’s smaller doesn’t mean it’s pointless.

    FYI – we have people who say they’d want to come, but don’t (for whatever reason). We have others who don’t come because of family commitment. We have others still who are Sunday morning worship service only people. The last group is a bigger concern to me than the others.

  6. Don says

    We do have an evening service that over the past 11 years has had a high attendance of 50 (just under half of the morning attendance) and has averaged about 25 for the past few years. On the first Sunday in April we changed the format to preaching followed but discussion on the sermon topic in small groups. It’s all informal and has gotten our attendance back to around 40. Still struggling but getting better since we’re now teaching on discipleship issues. One positive is that young families are now coming in addition to those who’ve come “every time the doors are open.” We started this with the topics you covered in “I am a Church Member.” I’m thinking of adapting Masterlife to this service but am wary that’s probably asking too much of those in attendance. Any ideas to make it better?

  7. Tom Pryor says

    I believe more and more Christians have taken the first part of the Great Commission to heart … Go … instead of coming to another holy huddle on Sunday night.

  8. Ciarán Kelleher says

    I am a real fan of evening services, even though they have only been a part of my life for less than a year and a half. I feel as though they round off the day perfectly.

    I could wax lyrical about them, but it might be more beneficial to offer some reasons as to why I think more and more people don’t attend them; 1. If you have a family, especially young children, the timing just isn’t helpful 2. Two services a day can be tiring, particularly if you have been to or hosted lunch with others 3. People have so little free time, Sunday evening might be the only time they get 4. In addition to that last point, there is a real emphasis on ‘me’ time, rightly or wrongly (in my opinion wrongly), so time at church can be seen as draining 5. Church might have been a point to see people and socialise but now with the advent of the internet and social media, Church doesn’t fulfill that role.

    Anyway, just a few thoughts, interested in what others will say.

  9. says

    I suspect the rise of in-home small groups has contributed to the decline of Sunday evening services. These groups, coupled with a midweek program for children/teens, leave little room for another night of church activity.

  10. Jeff Glenn says

    Our church just started having a Sunday evening service last fall (October). At first, attendance was good, but now that spring and Daylight Savings Time has arrived, we’re struggling. I also serve in an area where Sunday evening services at other churches is basically non-existence. Quite frankly, spiritual apathy is the culprit.

  11. Ben Jameson says

    We did away with Sunday evening worship and now use that time for church-wide fellowships on the second and fourth Sunday. The response has been incredible and the unity in our church is awesome. We mix it up as far as what we offer but we always make sure there is something for all ages. It’s been one of the best things we have ever done. Besides, most people said they only came to Sunday night worship out of obligation or to get together for fellowship afterwards. No one seemed interested in a other sermon.

  12. says

    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.

  13. Russ H says

    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.

  14. Lane says

    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.

  15. Lee Haley says

    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?

  16. says

    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!

    ~Johnny

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

  17. says

    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.

  18. Denny says

    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.

  19. Russ H says

    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.

  20. Todd Benkert says

    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.

  21. says

    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.

  22. says

    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.

  23. Tommy Mitchell says

    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!

    Tommy

  24. says

    When I reads scripture, I see God telling us to rest on the one day in seven. I surely understand why we get together early in the morning on the first day of the week, in our regular commemoration service of what happened on the first “Easter Sunday”. But I never did understand why we had to duplicate it again on Sunday evening. And I remember the first pastor I ever heard bring that up … at our church in Muncie, Indiana, who said he saw no reason to come back again and do the same thing in the evening, when God Himself told us to rest. We could just stay an extra hour in the morning, if we needed to spend 2 hours instead one 1.

    I’d never been in a church that had evening services up until then, but he’s the first one that ever mentioned it. And I still agree with him.

  25. says

    This is antidotal, but in my family Disney at 7:00 PM on Sunday night was the “competition,” and I wonder how much that was true for other 50′s families also. The kids begging to stay home to watch Disney pre-VCR was certainly a factor in my tribe!

    • Kirk Holloway says

      I was 32 before I ever got to see “The Wizard of Oz” from beginning to end! As a child I couldn’t wait to be sick on Sunday so I could watch “The Wonderful World of Disney”!

      • Bonnie says

        Me, too, on The Wizard of Oz. As an adult I realized I had seen certain parts over and over and other parts not at all. And I always wondered why The Wonderful World of Disney was scheduled when people were at church (because I assumed everyone was!).

  26. says

    Our church had a somewhat consistent attendance in Sunday night services up until a year ago, when we began toying with the idea of replacing it with a service identical to the morning service to free up space in the two morning services or reach those who might not come on Sunday mornings. When word of that possibility spread through the congregation, we experienced a dramatic drop in attendance at our 6:30 p.m. service. The younger generations were noticeably absent. Also, we realized that Sunday night had become an afterthought. Preparation was far below what it was for Sunday morning. Our senior pastor tasked me, along with my wife, in leading a team that would transform Sunday nights into a gathering that offered more variety in teaching and music, and one that offered more opportunities for members to participate. We observe the Lord’s Supper once a month on Sunday nights, and this is more frequent than before. We have been doing this new format for several months, and attendance has increased some. We’ve received positive feedback from those who are coming. However, we also have noticed that attendance varies based on the theme or elements of participation. If the kids are involved, more young families are there. But those same families may not come to services that don’t include elements for children.

    We plan to continue this effort through June, then break for July-August (when evening services will be more traditional) and resume in September. The jury is still out; we will simply have to wait and see if the Sunday evening service will thrive again.

  27. says

    Most all theses responses seem to be from churches who see Sunday nights as a second time at church on Sunday, as in they have it structured for people to go to church twice on Sundays. Therefore the responses regarding lack of family time, home small groups, targeted topics for members etc all make sense.

    I would like to see research done on churches who are bucking the traditional Sunday morning church model. What about churches seeing success at reaching NEW people (unchurched or dechurched) at a different time like Sunday nights?

    I heard of a church in Denver who only has Sunday nights because they found people are too busy Saturday and Sunday at the lake house or in the mountains hiking or skiing.

    Could it be possible to see wide spread success on Sunday nights if we were to have a strategy which included reaching families by saying “go, have a full weekend with family, traveling sports teams, at the lake house. We will see you Sunday night.” Then have preschool program, children’s program, student programs, small groups at say 5 PM. Then come together at 6-6:15 PM for worship.

    Should we dare to change with the culture?

    • says

      This is precisely what I’m seeing around the country. Emerging and church plants seem to be thriving on Sunday nights, largely out of necessity of space and focus on the unchurched as an alternative.

      The other model I’ve seen is given to Student Ministry, which enables the family to “serve” together…which is an awesome model of community.

      Another factor is childcare. If you want families in their 20′s and 30′s to come back for yet another service, this financial commitment must be made. If not, they won’t come.

      In the end, the American church seems reduced to three hours of challenge today: worship, serve, and community groups. If you serve or gain a change in culture beyond that scope, it is vital to have a diverse fellowship in age. Otherwise, your guest services group will experience burnout and not be able to maintain the quality of welcome you desire.

  28. says

    At 42, I recall growing up in a small country church with Sun AM & PM, Wed night, and also two Sat nights per month.
    I now serve two rural churches. One has Sun AM and Tues evening. The other meets Sun AM, PM, & Wed night.
    Midweek is quite a significant drop for both places. I find the one Sun night meeting garners 40-50% of avg AM attendance, which has been my experience since I was a child.
    Whether that’s good or bad is relative, I guess. In my mind it’s good; because I have heard of others who drop off even more than we do. Thankfully we’ve had a resurgence of interest in the last couple of months.

  29. says

    Thom, I am the founding Pastor of Grace Baptist and we do have an evening Worship service. We have since our inception over 23 years ago. We currently have about 600 on campus Sunday morning and about 250 on Sunday night. Our services are very similar. The Choir sings and we do offer activities for the children. We are one of just few Churches in our community that offers Sunday evening services. My concern is, as many of the comments posted confirm, that “the Church” is once again allowing the culture to define us. I, too, would love to have definitive documentation on the origins of the Sunday evening service. At what point did “the Church” cease to meet “daily and from house to house,” as Acts records, and start meeting on Sundays and Wednesdays? My belief is that as darkness gains a stronger hold on our world the Church has an even greater responsibility to be “the light.” In order to do that in a hostile environment we need more and more encouragement and instruction. That should be occurring every time we meet. Sadly, the world has precious little influence in the world today and I don’ t believe that is coincidental. This is just one of many areas of “compromise” that has crept in over the past 50 to 60 years. And lets be honest and admit that Pastoring is a much easier job with just one sermon to prepare per week. The truth is, a bi-vocational Pastor should be able to accomplish that with very little strain. In your “Predictions” for the Church, you mentioned the trend of more Churches using bi-vocational Pastors. Our willingness to “cave in to societal demands” is driving that trend. Leadership is key in everything The Church does. If preaching and teaching and fellowship is a priority to the leaders it will be a priority to the followers. Sadly, the converse is also true, and that’s where we live in 21st century America. I can’t imagine that God sees less frequent meetings and less Bible preaching as an indication of a greater commitment to Him and His glory, Can you?

    • Richard says

      Less frequent corporate meetings on church grounds could result in a more biblical pursuit of keeping the Sabbath. How many lay people are serving Sunday morning and serving again on Sunday night foregoing a meaningful and refreshing Sabbath rest? What’s healthy and effective in one context may not be in another. Let each church hear from God on the matter- in faith. Let form follow purpose instead of tradition.

      • PJ says

        In this culture, the younger generations are less Biblically literate. If our fellowship is not rooted in the Gospel and congregations are not being taught the Bible, how are our meetings different from social clubs? Leadership in churches need to understand that many people are not raised in church and that preaching and teaching need to be central. In some churches, the desire to reach the younger generation has made churches conform more to the world than the world has become acquainted with the Gospel. I understand families need time together to be strengthened, but Friday and Saturday nights can be opportunities for those times. We need to mature in our faith. I’m not sure that in today’s culture one sermon a week that can be relatively short is sufficient, and not every person who goes to church even reads the Bible consistently, especially in the younger generations. Think about the challenges that we have every day because we are believers. If churches make the decision not to have Sunday evening services, then the Sunday morning sermons should be longer, and churches should have a time of solid teaching on Wednesday nights so that people are Biblically literate.

    • Brian says

      I agree that doing less is not the answer to combat the darkness. This conversation is one of relativism though. What works in one church may not in another. The resolution must be that we survey the context of our ministries, and prayerfully determine what is the best course of action and the best use of time? It is not so much (at least for me) elimination of time/hours/messages. It is what we doing and how we are using the time/hours/messages to impact the area God has given us. Great words, brother!

  30. says

    When asked why we don’t hold Sunday evening services, I will reply with one of the following depending on who’s asking:
    1. I figure that if you get it right in the morning there is really no need to try again in the evening.
    2. So long as the Super Bowl is played on Sunday night it is easier to cancel them all than just one.
    3. We encourage rest and recreation on Sundays rather than a day full of religious meetings. Wives and mothers are the ones who appreciate this most. Most men wouldn’t come anyway.

    • says

      Point # 3 would have gotten a hollerin amen from me in the back pew.

      I can tell you why people are not at the Sunday evening service…they don’t want to be there…profound, I know.

  31. Lottie Partridge says

    Our church has Life Groups in homes on Sunday nights. We offer activities for children and youth on campus. Our people are truly learning to do life together through these groups. Each group studies the Word and fellowships together.

  32. Kirk Holloway says

    I have always wondered about the Sunday Evening service as well. As far as I can tell there is no example of Jesus worshipping twice on the Sabbath. I have assumed it came from churches having intinerant preachers. The Sunday they were in town, they made a day of it! They had morning service, dinner on the grounds, singing and then a second service. The other Sundays they just had one service.

    Our Evening service is held at 5:00 and is mostly attended ( 20-25) by Senior Adults who go home afterwards. It consists of four songs and our pastor basically doing a Bible study. At 6:00 we have Awana for children up through 6th grade, Youth Discipleship, Men’s Discipleship and Ladies Discipleship. We do this from September through May. For years we consistently ran 70-80% of our Sunday School attendance but, the last couple of years we have seen that attendance start a decline.

    Our pastor started the sermon series, “I Am A Church Member” last week. (We just finished taking a church-wide survey which was eye-opening.) Next, as a staff, we are going to start with a clean white board and take a hard look at EVERYTHING we do. Why we do it, should we continue to do it, etc..

  33. Mark Lindsay says

    Dr. Rainer,

    I had this discussion twice this week! Since I am an associate of education, Sunday evening largely falls into my hands, as we focus on discipleship – preschool through adult. We have a large preschool/children’s program that is fairly successful, but our student and adult offerings are minimally attended, with the notable exception of our ladies study (usually a Beth Moore study). Here are my thoughts, for whatever they’re worth:

    1. Culture is certainly not our ally. People are busy and need a clear reason to choose a “second helping” of church over the many other things that are screaming to be done. Examples are the many local rec leagues that operate on Sunday afternoons. Family recreation and gathering opportunities take place on Sundays, as Saturdays are often filled with children’s athletics, yard work, and house work. Furthermore, high schools in the area start at 7 AM, rush hour starts earlier, and with the crazy schedules people keep, they strive to keep Sunday night as a time to rest – a sabbath, if you will. An interesting note in our experience is the group most absent on Sunday evenings is men.

    2. Still, our preschool/children’s program and our ladies studies have been very successful on Sunday evenings over the years. What’s the difference? We have honed in on three things that we believe may be driving this differential: quality, group identity, and fun. The preschool/children’s program is done with quality and it’s a lot of fun for them. The ladies studies again are high quality and they have been a consistent group for my entire eleven years at the church. They have a very strong group identity and they actively recruit other ladies to join that group. It is also possible that moms tend to be the ones to engage with their children in church, and may be at church for that reason on Sunday evening. Therefore, the Sunday night ladies study may also be impacted by a convenience factor.

    Our conclusion is, though Sunday night may be losing its former relevance for the broader Christian community, programs that are done with high quality and that offer fun for children and a strong group identity can still be successful – if church leadership wants them to be. That is a completely different question.

    Thank you once again, brother, for your very authentic and challenging thoughts.

    Blessings!

    Mark Lindsay

  34. John Divito says

    For a Reformed treatment of this question from a church historian, check out “Whatever Happened to the Second Service?” In R. Scott Clark’s book Recovering the Reformed Confession.

  35. Gary says

    Is there a difference here from state to state? I’ve been told basically churches in Oklahoma close for holiday evenings or at all.

  36. Mark Dance says

    Although our senior adults still enjoy Sunday evening services, we shifted all of our adult discipleship groups to Wednesday night. We did the same with our children, youth and worship ministries so that we have one big mid-week family night to complement Sunday morning, instead of two mediocre evenings that compete with each other (Wed and Sun).

    Sunday night is merely another niche small group for senior adults, which works for us.

    Bty- LifeWay’s “Gospel Project For Kids” is a huge hit on Wed nights here.

    • Mark Lindsay says

      Mark,

      We have discussed the Wednesday night option as well. Atlanta traffic is such a terrible snarl in our area that we struggle there, too. We’re in a time crunch on school/work nights with the very early starts that are demanded. But… many churches in our area still do this. Honestly, in my opinion, it would be easier to give up Wednesday than Sunday, except that Wednesday seems to have more intrinsic need, due to its midweek nature.

      What I’ve sensed, Mark, is it would be “easier” just to toss them both and go with a Sunday morning only schedule, except that there is value in what we do on these nights (and that’s not my decision to make). But since we believe in that value, then it is our responsibility to make sure that we do all we can to position it for greatest success. Therein is the “opportunity tension.”

      Love your thoughts, brother.

      Blessings!

      Mark

  37. Zach z says

    As a kids pastor who typically follows what the adults in worship do I wonder how many of the Sunday night churches have children or teen programming at the same time.

    There is a strong push for multigenerational worship services but that is difficult to accomplish when kids and teens are in a different part of the room. I see both sides of the coin – parents and kids needing to prep for the week ahead as well as a time for congregations to be fed again. I think people need to be not afraid to do what they feel is best for them or their families.

    I believe we hold on to traditions and services because the minority says so. I wonder what churches could do with all the money saved on utilities and efforts to reach our communities if we didn’t have Sunday nights. I wonder if somehow we could equip parents to be the spiritual leaders of their families and families engage in discipling their kids instead of always looking for a church program to do that for them.

    Lots of good thoughts!

  38. Allen Calkins says

    The church I currently pastor does not have Sunday Night services. Like other pastors have mentioned, it has been a bit of an adjustment. But now, I appreciate the less stressful and less frustrating Sundays having no evening service provides. Here are some reasons I am seeing not having Sunday Evening service as a BIG PLUS:
    1) Less stuff to get ready for. It is hard enough to get music and preaching ready for the AM service. Having only one Sunday service has allowed me to focus more energy on Sunday AM.
    2) A good time to visit. Since I am not cramming on my Sunday PM prep Sunday afternoons, they are now good times for me to do hospital visits and connect with any ‘hot prospect’ visits I want to make.
    3) A great time for special activities – No preaching services on Sunday evenings means we can have concerts, special dinners, movie nights and other special services on Sunday nights at varying times without having to cancel anything.
    4) A more positive way to end every Sunday – regardless of how good of a service Sunday AM was and how many were in attendance, etc, the minimal crowd on Sunday evenings was ALWAYS a let down making me return home not only physical tired but spiritually weary. My attitude on Mondays is much better without a Sunday PM service to bring me down.

  39. Chris Amos says

    Excellent post Thomas. Like many responses our evening service is much smaller than the morning, the Wed evening Bible Study smaller still. The Lord convicted me one Wed. Evening as I was check off in my mind the number of folks who were not there. “Chris, you see the people not here more clearly than you do those who are. Pour your heart into those in front of you and I will take care of the rest.”

    Well attended or not we have to give it our all and trust The Lord to do that which He desires to do.

  40. Chris Amos says

    Sorry Thom, my spell check inadvertently added a as to your name. Apparently, you have had a misspelled name all these years and may not have even known it. Where would we be without technology?

  41. says

    Great article. This year we made the switch from having Sunday evening activities at the church to family worship at home. We encourage our parents to step up and disciple their kids by spending time discussing Sunday School, worship, life in general, read God’s word together, pray, etc. If they need accountability we encourage families to partner with another family. As a staff we visit families to encourage and equip our parents. For those without kids at home we encourage our church family to get together in home groups for fellowship, discipleship, and missions. Since we made the switch we have more of our church family involved in ministry on Sunday nights than before and our parents are learning how to better disciple their kids.

    • Mark Lindsay says

      Jason,

      This is *exactly* what we have discussed doing. Disengaging from what we have been doing well is the most difficult issue, in my opinion. I’d love to get any ideas, plans of action, or other types of analysis that you may have used in your transition and that may be generally relevant.

      Mark

      • says

        Hi Mark,

        Context – I pastor a small church, around 100 people. I have been at the church 5 years in August so the trust level is where it needs to be. When I began my conversation with our church about family worship our Sunday Night attendance was really low in comparison to Sunday Mornings. This was not my argument for Family Worship, but most of our church family didn’t object to the idea because they weren’t coming on Sunday nights anyway.

        I started casting the vision for family worship beginning with my staff, deacon body, and then church family. I did a three part sermon series entitled I love my family. I focused on our parents having the primary responsibility to disciple their children and not the church. I pointed out that most of the time we separate families into their age appropriate groups when they come to church. Families sometimes sit together in church but even then the children do not see their parents in a discipling role. I painted a picture of the potential life change for our families as the parents invest in their children’s spiritual walk through family worship. How will their children be different 10 and 20 years from now because of the time they spent together as a family in God’s word and prayer? Looking back I believe they will be thankful for the time they set aside to teach their kids about the Lord. The stronger our families become the stronger our church will become.

        Most of the parents I have spoken with look to the church to provide discipleship for their children and do very little in their home. Sunday Evenings should not be the only time parents disciple their children, but by incorporating it into our church activities we express the value of it and remove some of the excuses. They have to start somewhere, and for most of them it was with committing to family worship. Every week we encourage our parents on Sunday Morning to use their Sunday evening to worship the Lord together in prayer and Bible study as a family. We use Bible Studies for Life Sunday School curriculum and the One Connection page to facilitate discussion about Sunday School from that morning. We provide a worship guide in the bulletin and on Facebook for Sunday evenings that gives them the upcoming Sunday School scripture for the children. This way they are familiar with the passage prior to coming to church the next Sunday. They are given a series of questions to ask concerning the passage for an inductive Bible study. We visit homes and offer resources and ideas to families as they work out what it looks like for their family.

        One of my arguments for family worship was the number of bible studies we were expecting our average church member to participate in if they came to everything we offer. Most adult believers can do 1 or 2 Bible studies max in a weeks time. More than that is excessive and make our members to busy to live on mission for the Lord.

        One of the most important things I did was to call for a commitment from our church family to family worship at the conclusion of my sermon series. We placed a commitment card in the bulletin and asked them to come forward during the decision time to commit. The majority of our church family came forward so there was no need to vote on anything. The huge show of support was the vote. Joshua’s call to Israel to serve the Lord was a great passage to call the church to commit to family worship. As for me and my house we will serve the Lord!

        Partnering families together has been important so that one family can help the other learn how to lead their family in worship time.

        Encouraging our church members without kids to get together with other members of our church family has been important in not leaving anyone out.

        We still have some occasional fellowships and quarterly business meetings, but I try to protect that time slot on Sunday Nights.

        We started in January and still have a lot to learn. I am thankful for my church’s support and willingness to try something different.

  42. Ralph Juthman says

    When I came to this present church it had the traditional Sunday school, 11:00 boring I mean morning service and 7:00 evening. None of my people are farmers but they maintained the tradition for the few who would come. Over the years we have transitioned to one service Sunday morning, and a once a month prayer and praise time held in homes. This has worked out very well as we tend to get more of the younger families and teens attending.

  43. says

    Our church does have a Sunday evening service. It is barely hanging on. I have been told many times that I’m “preaching to the choir” because of the choir practice immediately that follows. I have been considering strongly moving our Sunday nights focus more to discipling the flock as those who are coming.

    The only place that I had seen a Sunday evening service work well is where it was another option on Sunday of the same exact service.

    I would love to see a history of this practice. I have never been able to find out the why behind its beginnings.

    • Thom Rainer says

      Anthony – I too would love to find a definitive history. Maybe one of our readers has some newly found research.

  44. says

    When I started full-time in ministry it was in the late 80′s in California. I became the pastor of worship at the church where I grew up which had a thriving evening service. After being away for 11 years for my education, the evening service was a small shadow of what it had been: less than 10% of morning attendance. It was not a difficult sacred cow to put down. The big problem, as we perceived it then, was the growing number of dual income families. Family time (as you have noted) was precious and Sunday evening became one of those times to prepare for the coming week.

    I’ve also served at another church that put it’s evening service to rest. Twenty people meeting in a sanctuary that holds 500 was discouraging. I currently serve as senior pastor to a church that has an evening service. I simply call it “Evening Song and Study” because I don’t want the expectations of special music, etc… About 10% of our morning attendance come and the average age is 70. We sing gospel songs exclusively and that is helpful because our AM music is becoming increasingly contemporary. When I get complaints from traditionalists, I point them to the evening song and study.

    But to tell the truth, it is a difficult burden for me. Unfortunately, even though my church is healthy and over 200 in AM attendance, I’m also the chief musician. I spend 15-20 hours prepping for the AM sermon. I can’t afford that for the PM service. Typically, it gets about 3 hours of prep on Sunday afternoon with a little bit of exploration and reflection during the week. During January, (we are in the snow belt), our attendance will drop below 20 people. Most likely, I will discontinue the service next January and go to a monthly hymn sing. None of the church leadership attend and I just can’t sustain it without burning out.

    • Thom Rainer says

      Thanks for a cogent case study of your church, Bob. And thanks for the obvious love you have of the members of the church.

  45. says

    Our church has a Sunday evening worship (I assume it has been since it’s inception 63 years ago) and I very much enjoy it. We have probably somewhere around 60% of our Sunday morning total in attendance on a good Sunday evening. I use this time to speak on various issues going on in the world today or specific Bible study topics. One month we did a month-long series on church planting and had a few church planters and denominational leaders do a guest teaching. Another time we did a month-long teaching on life (ie. abortion, euthanasia, adoption, etc.) and that went very well. When I first arrived at the church we did a multi-week series going through our Confession of Faith (BF&M 2000) which was very good for me and the church.
    I like having the flexibility to do a teaching on whatever the feeling and mood of the church is. When we don’t have a special topic in mind we are teaching through a harmony of the gospels.

  46. says

    This is just another area where change is occurring – a change that isn’t all bad. All of your statements regarding the potential history of Sunday evening services ALL point to cultural elements. Missing from the discussion is any clear Biblical directive to meet the second time on Sunday for worship or for any reason. Once everyone realizes we are talking about something that has been a “cultural construct” in the first place, we should be able to discern the need for change if we are holding on to a dying tradition or with new church plants, whether or not to even begin an evening service at all.

    We planted 25 years ago with a few young families with small children and without a Sunday evening service. As we began to grow, a number of folk from traditional churches asked for a Sunday evening service. We geared up with the necessary preparation, volunteers, children’s ministry, nursery workers, etc. Oddly enough, the people who had stated they just couldn’t do without a Sunday night service never showed up – no not once. Those who were coming were the “core group” of the church plant. We met regularly during the week for prayer, discipleship, leadership training, etc. The “core group” concluded we were far more effective in ministering to our own families and keeping Sunday nights open for fellowship times between families/friends. We became more focused on actually doing community ministry than merely coming back for another “holy huddle” on the same day. After six months, we went back to our original format. We have never looked back.

    We have experienced significant growth over the last few years. The Holy Spirit’s work is very evident in our church with people regularly coming to Christ each Sunday. One thing we consistently hear from people who are coming from more traditional backgrounds is – when I first came, I missed the Sunday evening services I used to go to. But after I got used to having Sunday nights open to meet with other believers in my home or to just rest (isn’t that what the whole concept of Sabbath is supposed to be about anyway) I would never go back.

  47. says

    Our Sunday night attendance always depends upon the topic. When I preach on apologetics issues, the Holy Spirit, or eschatology, the attendance increases significantly.

  48. Wayne Yeager says

    I think it is multifaceted as many have said. At my current church we do not have Sunday evening worship. Instead we have awana only and encourage our adults to serve. It’s a way to serve in the congregation and takes away the excuse of not serving to attend church.

    Another reason is we already do multiple services. Instead of building a new building, we expanded our service offerings. Out musicians already do all three service so asking them to play another is working them even more.

    I’m heading to a church that has Sunday nights. However after the kids and youth programs most of the people leave. Only a handful come or stay and it’s all older folks with no kids. There is no child care in the evening and it’s a school night so parents want kids home early.

    I think too often the evening service is a sacred cow. It’s not affective but the older folks don’t want it to go away.

  49. Alex Clayton says

    Sunday evening came about because of the automobile and the industrial revolution. People started working Sunday morning shifts and could not attend morning worship. The car made it possible to come back. Another cultural change was the located minister.

    Traditional Sunday evening service has always been statistically about 40%.

    Family time is great, however, that hour of fellowship and spiritual formation has been lost.

    One thing to consider is making Sunday evening a second service time. Who doesn’t want to sleep in on Sunday morning and have a casual breakfast and coffee. Attend a dynamic worship in the evening. Sunday evening same as morning.

  50. says

    Dear Thom, I minister in the Hudson Valley, an hour north of NYC. When I came here ten years ago Sunday evening attendance was in single digits. When I polled the members who attended Sunday mornings, most felt no need for another worship service. We were the only church around that was still offering a Sunday evening service.

    What we have done is to offer a Sunday evening Bible Study which I lead. We still sing from the hymnal, open and close with prayer, but we’re seated in the fellowship hall where we can talk to one another and interact during the study. The studies are topical; everything from parenting, to financial stewardship, to prayer.

    Sunday nights still have about 25% of our Sunday morning worship but it is healthy vibrant group. Interestingly we have several who first attended Sunday nights prior to coming Sunday morning.

  51. Sorina Christian says

    I actually prefer Sunday evening services to Sunday morning services, although evening services are admittedly smaller. I have noticed that when the quality of Sunday evening programming improves, so does attendance. When leadership invests in Sunday evening programming at the same level as Sunday morning programming, members are more likely to do so as well. On the other hand, culture and apathy also have an impact. I’ve never quite understood the argument that Sunday night is the only time to be with our families. There are 6 other days of the week to work, play, socialize, invest in family, friends and missions. The Lord asks us to set aside one day for Him, not merely 2 hours one morning, but to give Him an entire day. Surely we can find meaning, purpose and even spiritual rest in dedicating His day each week to worshipping, studying, praying, serving, fellowshipping – together. Spiritual and personal growth can be greatly enhanced by regular, extended times together, like spending most of the Lord’s day together. In an association where I previously served, one Pastor and his wife opened their home weekly for Sunday lunch to any in the congregation who wanted to spend the afternoon together. Another, more urban church, held lunch on the grounds on a semi-regular basis, in between services, to help with commuting issues and to encourage fellowship. Sometimes the church hosted an outreach, instead of lunch, on Sunday afternoon. Sometimes, Sunday School classes would organize lunches by class. Sometimes a class would organize an evangelistic outreach after lunch and before returning to church that night. Whatever the plan for that particular Sunday, these were wonderful extended times of worship, service and community building within the family of God. It seems our lives and our sense of community have become so fractured that many church members talk about spending time with family but have forgotten our family is the body of Christ. We’ve allowed culture to overtake us and now see church as something to fit in, an hour here or an hour there, when our busy schedules permit, instead of emphasizing extended, quality time together as a spiritual family. Unfortunately, for many, it has become a low priority to be with God’s family, each week, on His day, in His House. It would be wonderful to see this trend reversed.

    • says

      Amen and amen! The early Church wasn’t something it’s members “fit in to their existing lives.” They recognized their complete and utter dependence on God and sought Him diligently. Prosperity has all but destroyed “The Church” in 21st Century America, and it’s heartbreaking. Because of our apathy, it won’t be long until we’re forced to once again recognize our dependence. Post Christian America is less friendly by the day for those who take their Christian faith seriously. We’ve seen in the past two weeks that “Freedom of Speech” is a thing of the past if we speak anything that is not “Politically Correct.” We’re naive to think that “Freedom of Religion” will survive much longer given the current political climate. As such, God’s people will begin to experience persecution which will motivate Believers to search out opportunities to gather with fellow Believers to be instructed and encouraged. I want to be sure “The Church” God has called me to lead offers more, rather than less, occasions to meet and worship our great God. But then, that’s just my opinion.

  52. says

    Thanks for the article. My dad, who served bi-vocationally in Northeastern Ontario in Canada, and is now with the Lord, was convinced television had created a huge distraction Sunday evenings and permanently changed the use of Sunday evenings.
    The church we fellowship at in Oshawa, Ontario see 2 trends – 1) bring a ‘prophetic’ speaker and the p.m. service will be packed or 2) turn p.m. into an equipping time with discipleship groups, applying the morning sermon and now those who attend (attendance increased significantly) come prepared to engage rather than sit as a passive observer.

  53. doug says

    How do we define a successful Sun night? Is it attendance in a service or program? Could success be defined another way? Perhaps intentional family time is needed to encourage mom and dad as primary steward of their childrens’ spiritual maturity. Perhaps in homehospitalitiesi are needed to encourage fellowship as many members are too busy to really speak and hangout with others. Perhaps Sun night is an action night where the Church actually gets out of its walls and becomes the church. I think a local church needs to assess and determine what a win on Sun night would be.

  54. says

    Without Sunday nights I have struggled to have opportunities to give young preachers opportunities, extended missions reports, musical presentations, etc.

  55. says

    We have Sunday night services. However, Sunday night is not a repeat of Sunday morning. There is no choir and no sermom as in the morning. Sunday night serves as a teaching time that is interactive with the congregation. Dress is more casual. The Am service runs about 200 and Sunday PM runs about 70. With these numbers at night, it is important to me as a pastor to give our congregation the option of a PM service.

  56. Ralph Juthman says

    When I came to my present church 10 years ago, it had the traditional format of Sunday School at 9:00, boring I mean morning worship at 11:00 and Sunday night service at 7:00. The Sunday school was meagerly attended by 3 children and 7 adults, the Sunday night service was about ten percent of the morning crowd. Over time I transitioned Sunday School to the morning service. We increased our children’s ministry to 20 children and a team of teachers who rotated teaching. I transitioned the Sunday night to Wednesday as the exact same people came to both. I presently have a monthly prayer and praise on the first Sunday night of the month. It takes place in homes, and is working very well. Where I never had any young families before, with this format almost all my young families and teenagers come out.

  57. says

    Personal Reflections…

    My father began pastoring at his current church in 1982. At the time it was a small “neighborhood” church. Growing up in the 80′s and 90′s church life was mostly fairly traditional. Sunday night services and Wednesday night services. As the church grew and culture changed it became impractical to continue the services. For example, our Wednesday night services had a dinner before the adults teaching time and kids groups. When the church got bigger than 300 people it required so much volunteer effort and resources to host a church dinner every Wednesday that it began to give way to small group ministries instead. Also, as the size grew we had to go to 3 services on Sunday morning which left little energy for my dad to preach/teach another two times a week, not to mention the extra work involved with coordinating the different ministries.

    Today, they are a church of about 2000 and they are completely small group focused. Even if less than half of the people would come to a second and different service on another night that number of people would require so much volunteer work that it would quickly burn everyone out. Not to mention, the current sanctuary still couldn’t accommodate a single service of 800 plus. So, if they were doing an evening service you would have to do at least 2 of them back to back. Which would be following 4 “regular” sunday services(one Saturday night 3 sunday morning). You could easily see that just teaching(and the preparation) over a 24 hour period would take up 20-30% of a normal work week. (assuming around 50 hours). And that doesn’t even take into account doing a Wednesday service.

    Personally, I am a pastor for a small rural congregation in the middle of no where(literally). The closest town is 6 miles away and has less than 300 people. No church in our area does small groups and everyone is fairly traditional. Yet, less than 20% of the people in our county go to church on a regular basis. While I inherited a Sunday/Wednesday night service church, people in our area don’t even go on a Sunday morning, let alone during the evening hours when kids sports and family activities are taking place.

    Over the past year I am slowly working on transitioning our church into home based small groups. Our evening services are exclusively attended by those who are 60+ and our young families wouldn’t even consider going because we can’t consistently rely on child care. What’s the point of going if you spend the whole time shushing your 3 year old?? One of our first small groups is every other sunday night(subtly changing peoples expectations of the church doors being open every sunday evening!!) for families with young kids. We have them come over to our house since we have a big place for our kids to play. We just lock them in and ignore them…..its wonderful….. The people who are coming NEVER went to evening services, but love doing home groups. And we get some families who don’t come to church at all.

    While we are a small church(less than 85) we could pull off multiple evening services. And we kinda still do. But I just don’t see a lot of value to it. I don’t mind hanging out with my senior saints, but they are the only people who come. No one “new” ever comes out to those events. And sometimes it is frustrating because I put as much teaching effort into those times as I do sunday morning. But, seriously, who wants to hear me preach three times a week??

    General Observations/Thoughts wrapped up in Questions:

    Is the evening service model impractical at a certain church size?

    What does it accomplish that is better/more effective than a small group?

  58. allen Calkins says

    I actually did a paper on the history of evening worship for my MDIV in the late 80s at SWBTS. What I found is that it was the invention of rural Baptists that coincided with the introduction of carbide lights. At this time homes were still without electricity so when it got dark everyone went to bed, not because they really wanted to but because there was little to do.

    Recognizing the need, some churches raised the money for carbide lights which gave them to ability to hold more informal ‘evangelistic services’ on Sunday nights. These services sometimes included food, were very informal and unstructured, usually included a little of picking and grinning country gospel singing and plenty of loud ‘hell fire and brimstone’ kind of preaching.

    When BYPU was introduced and followed shortly by the invention of Training Union, the focus of the evening service shifted to structured weekly programs for church members vs. unstructured random but frequent special preaching services centered on evangelistic preaching to unbelievers.

    Today, Sunday evening services are only evangelistic during a revival meeting. Many do not end in an invitation time even though every Sunday AM service in that church probably does. I was not raised in the SBC. The first Southern Baptist church I joined was in Tulsa, OK in the mid 70s after graduating college and moving from CO to OK for a job. In the bulletin of Calvary Baptist Church every Sunday was an abbreviated order of worship for the evening worship service. They always listed it as ‘Evangelistic Service’ even though there was nothing evangelistic about it.

    I do not have my seminary paper any more. So I do not know what my sources were. But this is what I remember finding out.

    I hope that helps shed some light on its origins.

  59. says

    I used to enjoy sunday evening services I was a member of the worship team and on sunday nights we would go a little deeper in worship some nights just music and prayer others reading the bible fun times i miss them so

  60. says

    Thom,
    We’re a new church plant that was launched out of a healthy church. We intentionally ONLY meet on Sunday evening. Encouraging busy young adults and families that we’re reaching to take advantage of the one morning they have to sleep in. Taking family time. Them joining us to “end your weekend and jump start the week ahead”! We meet from 530-7pm and some folks gather for dinner together after. Some families head home it’s working well for us. 230-250 average. Trying to reach some folks that don’t have “Sunday morning” church on their radar screen and capitalize on “event” feel of nighttime service. I hear from some young families they enjoy not having to rally their kids for an early morning on Sunday. Our 2 cents.

  61. Derin Stidd says

    Though I am a pastor I want to respond to your article as a father. For me I work 50 and sometimes 60 hours a week (not in the church, I am serving as an elder on a team right now) outside of my home, so in my family I NEED Sunday nights as a time for me to engage with, instruct, and lead my own family. Some say that men have always worked long hours and therefore long hours are not a good reason to give up Sunday night worship. On that note I would point out that historically before the industrial revolution a man would work long hours, but often his sons would work with him, or his whole family would work with him in the family bussiness, we do not live in that world any more. If we want to compel men to engage and lead in their homes then we can’t expect them to be at the church 3 or more nights a week when they are already working 40+ hours a week outside the home. I appreciate your article! Thanks for writing!

  62. Hal says

    Dr, Rainer,

    Back in the 60′s and 70′s, initially our Sunday night services were heavilly attended by nearly the same number of people that were present on Sunday mornings. Our church offered special sunday night programs and activities for all ages of youth, several different Bible studies to choose from for college age and older adults as well as the usual Sunday evening sermon and song time for those that were interested. We literally had something for everyone.

    I am now 62 years of age and when I became an adult, I served as an elder in our church for many years and witnessed the transition first hand when Sunday evening services eventually went by the wayside. The reasons were a compilation of several that caused this to happen:

    The first things we began to notice was the extreme difficulty in staffing all of the activities that took place on Sunday night. Typically, it was the same people that served in various capacities during the Sunday morning services that also filled slots of service during the Sunday evening service as well. Eventually, these fine servants grew older, more tired and frankly ended up burning out and we began hearing comments quite often that “we thought that Sunday’s were supposed to be a day of rest”. For many in the church this was hardly the case; some complained that Sunday was their busiest day of the week and hardly a day of rest.
    Fast forward to present day with volunteerism in the church seeming to be at an all time low, it is very difficult for many churches to staff what they need to do on a Sunday morning, let alone recruit more volunteers for Sunday night. For many churches finding volunteers is like pulling teeth.

    Quite frankly….when the Sunday evening service went by the wayside it was like a breath of fresh air. My wife and I were in that group for many years where it seemed like we were chasing our tails all day long on Sunday from sun up to sun down. It was anything but a day of rest.

    Other family members that did not attend church on Sunday night often planned family gatherings on Sunday afternoons or Sunday evenings and my wife and I almost never attended these family events because we were already committed to our Sunday night duties at church. This often caused some hard feelings among our family members because they felt we were constantly putting the church ahead of family activities.

    Another factor that I believe eventually played a role in the demise of Sunday evening services was the underlying attitude by some that if you did not attend church on Sunday night you were considered a second class Christian. One almost expected to find written somewhere in the Gospel the commandment that read “Thou Shalt Attend Church on Sunday Night or Be Doomed to Hell”. I think the hard core Sunday night group derived this from the verses that talk about not forsaking the fellowship of believers. I know there were some that only attended Sunday night services out of a sense of expected duty rather than out of desire.

    Other factors that may have contributed to Sunday night services to be done away with is the economy; the cost of fuel for example.

  63. Mark says

    Some high churches say another mass at 5 pm on Sunday nights. Others, typically in big cities, have Evensong and /or Compline, which are derivatives of, if not the actual, old monastic services. There they have multiple clergy and, if there is a homily, it is short and to the point.

    In a lot of churches though the Sunday night service was much simpler and the sermon was better because it was teaching, not one that was more evangelizing, like the morning sermon.

  64. Gerald Wolfe says

    Reading these different examples of “why” or “why not” have a Sunday evening service, reminded me of something I experienced several years ago in Budapest, Hungary.

    We had traveled to Budapest to do a recording with the Hungarian Radio Symphony, and had been invited to do a concert in a local church while we were there. The concert was on a Sunday evening, in a converted theater. The room was packed with people standing around the walls. Others stood in the lobby, trying to hear what was going on. Although most of the audience couldn’t understand our lyrics, they really enjoyed the music, and we used an interpreter between songs, which worked out really well. We were able to get everyone involved, when we added some familiar, older songs to the program. They even sang along… in Hungarian, of course. It was a great experience.

    After the service, I asked the Pastor how they managed to get everyone into the building on Sunday mornings, since the Sunday night service was an overflow crowd. He looked at me with a strange expression and said, “We don’t have church on Sunday mornings,” which was a shocking statement for an East Tennessee Southern Baptist to hear. “We meet on Sunday evenings.” Of course I had to ask why, and his response was very enlightening. He said, “Almost everyone is at home on Sunday mornings, here in the city…relaxing, reading, or watching television. We do our home visits on Sunday mornings, because we know we will find people at home. Then, we invite them to our Sunday evening service, and many come, like tonight, and the building is full every week.”

    I’m certainly not suggesting that as a model, but it did make sense, and was obviously working in Budapest.

  65. says

    I am sure someone has already mentioned this but just in case not, one thing to remember too is that people used to be born, live , and die pretty much in the same town. And they used to go to a local church and many still do. But many others do travel further to church. I don’t know if that’s good or bad. I just is. So I see why the decline in Sunday eve services. Add to that something mentioned in comments from one of your previous posts that many feel they need to be somehow entertained or “moved” emotionally in someway and that does create extra hazard ship and it IS draining. But I would also add that many are NOT using that extra Sunday time to “rest” in The Lord. And believe me this includes me. Many are going to school or sports functions. Some go to work to get extra work done. And there are many other reasons too. I have been curious if there are any even underground efforts to take the Sabbath back. I’m talking no eating out, no housework, no shopping, etc… And if not on Sundays is that happening on Saturdays. I have just been doing a lot of soul searching on if I am Keeping the Sabbath Day and keeping it holy.

  66. says

    I am a pastor in Brazil and we are experience not necessarily the Sunday evening problem but the “one service only change”. My church still has 2 services, morning and evening, with almost the same attendance but two different groups. Out of the 1,200 for each service, only 20-30% come to two services.

  67. Mark says

    Some of that traveling to get to another church is the result of the old local church refusing to have anything for youth. Sometimes the little churches out in the country had more for youth than the one in town.

  68. Becca says

    I am not personally very familiar with Sunday evening services, but in respect to the historical question, I recently acquired a copy of the 1932 revision to the Book of Common Worship of the Presbyterian Church in the USA (which later became the PCUSA). It gives equal wait to Sunday morning and evening services, so the tradition was probably well-established at that point. In terms of content, there seems to be no substantial difference between the services.

  69. Beau Sullivan says

    I think a major reason why churches are moving away from Sunday night services is that you can use the time for strategic discipleship and evangelism to spend that time in small groups. Why spend that time and energy on another worship service that is poorly attended when you can engage the people in their neighborhoods, in a setting that involves the whole family in small groups. It is much easier to invite a non-believer to a small group, especially if it is in your neighborhood, than to a Sunday night service. It also fits the need for believers to joined together in fellowship.

  70. Philip Doggart says

    We (in the UK) have had an evening service which has been around forever. Attendance has been around 200, about 35% of our morning attendance. Over the last months we have re-jigged our services which have increased attendance and started to bring families and younger people back out.

    We have a song and a prayer then the sermon. After another couple of songs, we tend to have an interview with members of the congregation whose experience has been relevant to the sermon. The benefit is that we earth the sermon in real life experience. This has had a great impact on the congregation and has led to some great ministry conversations after the evening service.

  71. says

    Our Sunday evening services are actually well-attended. I think it’s because of the rural way of life. However, we are thinking of changing it to a 2:00 PM service because young families struggle to get to church in the mornings. And families with children with disabilities or caring for elderly parents also find it more difficult to get to a morning service. We will still have the morning service as usual, just move the 7 PM service to 2 PM.

    As a young mother, I had a very difficult time with evening services because of school the next day. It was just a struggle to get the kids to bed on time. Mondays were always hard. I still struggle with mid-week services, too. I’m so tired by 7 PM and just want to rest! But these services, too, are well-attended by kids and youth, so we keep them.

    I always wondered whose bright idea it was to have evening services. Thanks for the history on it. I’ve never liked them. I’m hoping the 2 PM service on Sundays sticks for us!

  72. Danny Davis says

    OK. I have to interject a lighter story. A friend told me that back in February 1964 the pastor of his church railed against anyone who would dare skip the Sunday night service to stay home and watch the Beatles’ 1st appearance in America on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” (People not old enough to remember need to understand that this was before you had any way to record a TV show. If you did not view the event when it aired, you totally missed it. It would not be replayed.) So all the faithful parents forced their unhappy teenagers to be at church that Sunday night. But, interestingly, the pastor’s teenage daughter suddenly got “sick” at the last minute and “had” to stay home that night. Needless to say, this created quite a stir.

  73. says

    The explanation I’ve heard for the start of Sunday evening services is that is was an evangelism program. The morning service was for worship; the evening service was to be more like a seeker-service or rally. When I was a kid, some churches still referred to it as “the Sunday evening evangelistic service.” The decline came, in my experience, when that purpose was lost and it was just a second worship service. We don’t have one, and my church (started in 1994) never did. Interestingly, a church plant nearby began with only a Sunday evening service, which continues to be its main gathering. For most families, it’s the only block of time (including Sunday a.m.) that isn’t programmed with other activities.

  74. says

    Our CrossRidge Church family does not have Sunday night worships. However, during this time, it’s encouraged that our church family members seek and attend an in-home small group, or what we call LifeTeams. Typically facilitated by a husband/spouse duo, they’re typically composed of other families of similar demographics where they can “experience life together”. This includes bible studies, book studies, socials, and both family and/or adult outings. My wife and I have the amazing blessing to facilitate what was the “Adult Sunday School”, that has now transitioned in to the “Sunday Morning Adult Life Group” – another interest of mine, the diminishing but yet important “Sunday School”.

    Our church family also does Spring/Fall Wednesday “Discipleship Classes”, of which have been a semester of worship/message time. If the attendance of a Sunday Night Worship were of any indication from the Wednesday nights – there’d be few there. Even on Wednesday nights, they start off booming and dwindle down to few after the completion of the 12 weeks.

    Blessings,
    Bryan

  75. Brian says

    I like the one brother’s comment: “…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!”

    Although that is a sad reality, it is a fantastic statement and analysis of the situation. I don’t want to submit to defeatism, but as Pastors we are well served to determine what best meets the need of the people, and not be slaves to traditionalism. This article is well timed for me and my church as my vision team will be meeting in the next 2 weeks to discuss this very topic. I already have had some informal discussions with a couple of deacons about this. Our prayer is that we spend our time wisely and do the best to make disciples. And if that means something different from “the way we have always done things”, so be it. At the same time, I don’t want to “change for the sake of change”. To me it is not so much about exhaustion on my part. It is a matter of what is the best use of our time? It seems ineffective to work another 10-12 hours a week developing and preaching a message to about 20 people, who honestly, would show up if I was preaching on underwater basket weaving. :)

  76. says

    We have Sunday evening service the first 3 Sundays of the month. We have moved the service into the chapel (more intimate setting), begin with all the “regular” elements of worship, but also include a “prayer meeting” type time of prayer (has become a very special time) as well as adding a 15-minute fellowship time with food and drinks before my message.

    We spend the 4th Sunday evening of each month sending our people out into the community for ministry at Florida Baptist Children’s Home, Lighthouse (homeless shelter and much more), Noah’s Ark (center for mentally impaired), various nursing homes, even going to the lake downtown to pass out water bottles to runners, and more.

    We have AWANA’s at the same time which meets the needs for children’s ministry.

    While attendance certainly does not approach the Sunday morning attendance, it is working well and our people enjoy this time very much.

    Roll Tide, Brother Thom!

  77. Caleb says

    Our Sunday evenings run at 20% of our morning services and I, as the associate pastor, have wanted to drop them for awhile. The energy cost on the leadership doesn’t seem to be worth it. However, it has been our best training ground for young musicians. They learn and play on Sunday nights before they get to lead on Sunday mornings. We are now beginning to use Sunday nights as a training ground for young preachers too. With those two benefits we’ll probably keep it even though some weeks it feels useless.

  78. says

    Hi Thom,
    Enjoy your blog.
    In scanning the replies to this post I did not see a reference to Hebrews 10:25.
    It may be there and I just missed it.
    Would love your thoughts on how this verse squares with the decline in Sunday evening services.
    Do you feel think the moral decline in our culture warrants more and not less assembling?
    Paul

  79. says

    I like the idea of a Sunday evening service. I know of some people who need to work on Sunday and the evening service is the only one that they can attend. Also, I personally like Sunday evenings because it gives me a chance to serve with Sunday mornings being full with Sunday School and the worship service.

  80. Lee Cooper says

    I pastor just outside of Charlotte where the Sunday Evening Worship was in place when I came last Sept. Our typical attendance runs about 20% of Sunday morning attendance. I am presently casting the vision to shift our Traditional Sunday evening worship time and switch it to a discipleship format style. The initial plan would be to offer a Fall/Winter/Spring focused study time on discipleship/growth topics using materials such as “The Jesus Experiment” by Bill Perkins. I was able to use this same material shortly after the book was published in a prior church in the Sunday night context and was able to increase the attendance to about 50%.

    The main issue I have with the 2nd full service is the drain on resources and time preparing for it as I am the only full-time pastor on staff and have no others to preach that time-slot.

    Our plans are to also shift our Wed. structure to focus more on children/teens with one main class geared toward parents. This will provide a one night option for our families who already have too many things happening during the week…either Sunday or Wednesday night.

  81. Isaac says

    Having been a part of churches that have Sunday night services and one that cancelled that Sunday night service while I was on staff, I would be very interested to know if your research told anything about the effects of transition from two services to one. Did it affect participation? Did it affect loyalty? Some anecdotal evidence has shown that participation for some went us, for some it went down. Also, I saw that, with the evenings free, some members visited other churches and we saw their loyalty begin to shift. Any insights?

    Thanks for all your blogs! I find them very helpful!

  82. says

    We have a Sunday evening service that is identical to our Sunday morning services. We market it as an additional opportunity to attend worship. We expect our members to attend worship at least once a week – no matter which service they choose. We have 7 worship services in 3 locations available. We have found that in our area, Sunday mornings are no longer “hands off” when it comes to different organizations scheduling events, youth sporting leagues and the like. We decided to offer it to people who have to work on Sunday mornings or rather it may just fit better with their schedules. We also use it as an evangelistic opportunity for our Sunday morning crowd. We often tell them if they know someone who needs to hear this message, bring them back on Sunday night!

  83. Hutch says

    Dr. R. Scott Clark has done some interesting research into the decline of the Sunday evening service that can be found in his book Recovering the Reformed Confession: Our Theology, Piety, and Practice. One of the more interesting aspects of his research is the reality that the evening service has always struggled. One of the issues that faced the Synod of Dordt was the low attendance at the second service, which was typically when the Heidelberg Catechism was explained; the Synod’s solution: “The reformed churches shall hold a second service, even if it only be the minister and his family who are present.”

    As far as my own church is concerned, our congregation has a very well attended evening service; my best estimate is that 85% or more return. Part of the reason for this is the strong emphasis within both our church and denomination (the Orthodox Presbyterian Church) that “the sabbath is to be sanctified by a holy resting all that day, even from such worldly employments and recreations as are lawful on other days; and spending the whole time in the public and private exercises of God’s worship, except so much as is to be taken up in the works of necessity and mercy” (Westminster Shorter Catechism 60). Another reason for the high attendance is that we are a church that recognizes the importance of being present for the public means of grace.

    My own suspicion is that the decline of the evening service has a significant cultural component: namely, our culture no longer honors the preaching of the Word, and this has crept into our churches.

  84. G. Engstrom says

    Our church has life groups on the first three Sunday evenings and church services on the fourth (and fifth when there is a fifth). Life groups meet in members homes.

  85. Andy Chance says

    I pastor a new church (about 2 years old). We attempted an evening service dedicated to a short sermon and prayer. I would have wanted to continue it, but both pastors are bivocational, and we were exhausted. So we scaled back. We still meet monthly on Sunday evening for prayer.

  86. Steve H says

    I tried to read all the comments but found the task a bit difficult. I don’t want to come off as hostile here but have any of you considered that the Evening Service may be gone because the people in these churches are uncommitted and weak in their love for the Lord?

    Seriously folks…our church is full of young children…we would have a riot if we cancelled the Evening Service. At our church attendance for the evening service runs about 90% of the morning.

  87. says

    As a leader of a recent church plant in an openly anti-Christian college town, our team noticed how active our neighbors were during the late Sunday morning hours – a time when most of us are in our church buildings, worshipping. We also noted the active nature of most Montanans – often engaged in weekend activities such as hiking trips, fishing, boating at the lake, etc – and how sacred the weekend appears to be to the UnChristian. As such, we opted to have our worship gathering take place on Sunday evenings, at 6pm. This would provide a unique opportunity to engage the culture, and would also respect the active “weekender” by creating a space for worship at the end of the weekend.

    The results have been amazing. Our newest converts often comment about how they love sleeping in on Sundays, and some have mentioned that our evening service provides the perfect jump-start to the work week. Also, we have at least nine other denominations represented by those who attend other church services, but who long for the evening service as well.

    I would challenge all churches with this philosophy: If the paradigm is not working – why insist on making it work? In many ways, the two-service model is failing. It doesn’t mean the original structure or intent was faulty – just that, as Rainer states, the past 10 years have seen dramatic change.

    God bless all of you in your work!

  88. says

    We average about 340 in two morning worship services, but only about 30-40 attend the Sunday evening worship service, and most of those are at least over 60 years of age. Since we are not able to support two nights of youth and children’s programming (we have an active AWANA program on Wednesday night and student ministry on Wednesday night), we do not have children’s programming on Sunday night. This may affect attendance, but in my experience, the younger families are not coming back on Sunday night no matter what we do.

    I admit, the sermon is not as well developed as the Sunday morning sermon. There is only so much time to go around, and with teaching three other times during the week in addition to Sunday morning, there is just not much to give to these secondary sermons.

    Most likely, our attendance will simply decline and decline until this generation is called home to the Lord. I see no interest in those who are under 60 in attending an evening service on Sunday nights.

    Todd

  89. Reginald Gabel says

    And He said unto them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath… Mark 2:27

    I believe too many focus on the fact that “we must” have service at night or we are not good Christians. In every church I have served in I had families that came only for the a.m. service that were strong and more active believers than many of those that came for both services on Sunday and the Wednesday services. When we would have mission events in the community, outreach events most of our volunteers were from the group that came only for the a.m. Sunday service. Many of those who came for all the services told me that couldn’t. I have seen so many that come because they want to see their friends. I see this even more with the older senior adults. I have heard so often, “I don’t have anything else to do”… “I want to see my friends”… and “I have to come, that is what God would want”…
    So many of the churches have pushed the idea “we are made for the church”… If we would focus on what the needs are of our members, our community, our church and build from that I believe that we would find the answer. I truly believe each church needs will be different and depends on location, travel time, needs of members and ministry opportunities. We are a small church and room 60 in worship on Sunday morning and on Sunday nights we average 30. Mostly at this time adults and teenagers. I do a discipleship style study and are planning more family events during the summer which will allow more opportunities to invite neighbors and friends for a cook-out style event. Activities that the entire family can be apart of. My pray is that we ask “why” are we doing it… is it to grow the kingdom or is it just to check the box that we went to church on Sunday night?

  90. Michael Seabaugh says

    The lack of focus and strategy is what kills Sunday night. I was brought up with the teaching that Sunday night was not an echo of Sunday morning. It was the discipleship time of the church body, followed by the fellowship time of the church. We have turned that around and found success. We offer a free family meal on Sunday nights followed by our discipleship time. During the summer we don’t do the full program but offer stand alone fellowships and services relevant to the community. Sunday nights are about making disciples at our church, making friends is a big part of that process.

    • Aaron says

      Michael, I would like more specific information on what your church is doing, please. I am a pastor (all by myself) of a church of around 100 and we struggle to get 20 or 30 in the evenings. Our evenings are much the same as our mornings and people are just tired. I’ve thought about a meal and group studies or something. I know we need to change, but I don’t know what to do and I’m looking for ideas.

  91. says

    Our Sunday evening services are doing well. We have about 50 percent (about 140) of our Sunday morning crowd (about 280 to 300). Our church service begins at 6PM and is completed, for the most part by 7PM. Our Senior Pastor preaches the Sunday morning services and Associate Pastor preaches the Sunday evening services. Our choir sings on Sunday nights along with our children’s choir once as month. Our crowd is a mixture of seniors and younger folks.

  92. KathleenMM says

    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.

  93. Aaron says

    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?

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