Ministers talk about it at luncheons and over coffee. Many members have abandoned the practice without giving it a second thought. It is a tradition not found in the Bible or practiced by the early church. At one time, it was quite popular, but now its popularity has dwindled. Some churches have given up on it while others are still hanging on to a tradition that may eventually fade away. I’m speaking of Sunday evening worship.
Growing up in a small country church in the South, the validity of Sunday evenings was never questioned. Our family adhered to the belief that every time the church doors were open we should be there. Although I did not always see the benefit in attending every service at the time, this practice has served me well. Little did I know, I was being shaped by those boring lectures on Sunday evening when I was daydreaming of being somewhere else. Sunday evenings were not always fun, but they did teach me to appreciate and love God.
I am not that old, but I can recognize the times have greatly changed since I was a teenager. We are busier. We are more distracted. We live in an age where we love to deconstruct without rebuilding. We may easily give up on a practice we take issue with, but we neglect to replace it with something better. If we give up on something that may not have been perfect but offered some benefit and replace it with nothing, then we are worse off. This is the problem with deconstruction. We can be right in pointing out the problems of a practice or belief, but if we fail to reconstruct or replace what we have deemed faulty, then we are left with a void. It is not enough to say, “Sunday nights no longer work.” We must think through why they do not work. We must consider the benefits of Sunday night worship as well as the benefits of other alternatives.
What should we do about Sunday evenings? I do not have all the answers. I suspect the answers will be different for individual congregations. Some congregations might have great success in getting people to attend services or events on Sunday evening while others struggle. I am not the first, nor will I be the last to address this topic. You are not going to find a magic solution in this post or anywhere else. Christianity should not be about the latest greatest solution. It should be “a long obedience in the same direction.” With that in mind, here are a few principles we should consider when it comes to Sunday evening worship.
The purpose of Sunday evening is not to offer the Lord’s Supper to the one person who was absent from morning services.
Sometimes it seems like this is the only reason we are gathered. We feel an obligation to make the Lord’s Supper available at a later time on the first day of the week even though there is no precedent in the Bible for this practice. Nowhere do we find a congregation in Scripture offering the Lord’s Supper twice in one day. It was offered once, and if you missed worship, then you missed it. The Lord’s Supper is a meal the entire body of Christ takes together. It is a time of communion where we commune with God and our brothers and sisters in Christ. There is much more that could be said about this subject, but as we contemplate Sunday evenings, we do not need to be bound by a fairly new practice that we have created.
Bible study is a good thing.
We need to be studying the Bible more and not less. When I hear Sunday evenings being discussed, someone will always suggest an alternative to Bible study. They mean no harm when they do this, and they suggest other things we should be doing like feeding the hungry or making visitations. I don’t believe the problem with Sunday evening is Bible study, and if it is then, we need to examine ourselves. We need to study the Bible. We should want to study the Bible. God’s word speaks to us in ways that nothing else can. Biblical illiteracy is a huge problem in our culture, and we need to be doing all we can to encourage people to study the living and active word.
If your numbers are declining, then get out of the auditorium!
Church leaders and members are discouraged when they see a full auditorium on Sunday morning and a scattered fraction of that just a few hours later. It is like beginning your day on a high note and ending it on a low note. We need to embrace Sunday evening for what it is. If you can fill up your auditorium, then great! If you cannot, then move what you are doing to a classroom or a fellowship hall. The setting will be more intimate. It will encourage more people to participate. It will make you feel more like a family rather than a scattered remnant.
Give people a reason to attend.
I like the idea of presenting a message from the Bible on Sunday evening, but make sure it is a message people get something from. For too long, Sunday evening has been a repeat of Sunday morning that is not done as well. Preachers spend more time on their Sunday morning lessons than their Sunday evening lessons. This is because there are only so many hours in a week, and they know there will be twice as many people present on Sunday morning. The singing sounds better on Sunday morning because there are more people there. The people who are leading worship are usually more prepared for what takes place on Sunday morning. Now if I offered you tickets to see the Boston Red Sox or the Pawtucket Red Sox (Boston’s triple-A team), then what would you choose? You would obviously choose Boston. We want the best. We need to give people a reason to attend, but we also need to acknowledge that Sunday evening will never be Sunday morning. This is ok. Instead of trying to reenact everything that is done on Sunday morning, why not try to do something different? Why not have a Bible study where people are free to speak, and we learn from one another? Why not gather in a circle or around tables rather than in pews facing a stage? Avoid making Sunday evening a letdown and give people a reason to show up.
Whatever you do, make sure there is freedom to change and adapt to the needs and challenges of your congregation.
One of the reasons we sometimes face challenges like the one we are facing now is because most churches are not good at adapting. We resist change with every fiber of our being. This is not necessarily bad, but it is not good either. We need stability. We need to hold to ancient traditions that have been passed on to us by other Christians, but sometimes we need to evaluate what we are doing and tweak it a little. Christians have always done this. Things that we now accept as normal were once great controversies. We need to allow ourselves freedom in the areas where God has not spoken.
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