Rethinking Sunday Evenings

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.

**Discover other great resources like this article on our mobile app.**


Subscribe & Get a FREE eBook

Sign-up to be notified of new posts and products from Start2Finish and get a FREE copy of the award-winning The Epic of God: A Guide to Genesis.

FREE
New Book for Preachers' Wives

In Girl, We Need to Talk, ten ministers’ wives offer words of hope and help, not to mention a shoulder to cry on. Whether it’s living in the proverbial fish bowl, being a single mom during worship, or helping your husband build a ministry that lasts, this book offers practical advice for your struggles.

$12.99

Scott Elliott is a graduate of Oklahoma State University and Austin Graduate School of Theology. He lives in La Grange, TX and is the minister for the La Grange Church of Christ. He is married and has two sons. He enjoys writing about the Christian faith and posting the occasional film review. His articles and reviews have appeared in RELEVANT magazine, Englewood Review of Books, and other publications.

14 Comments
  1. Reply
    tom September 2, 2015 at 9:47 am

    “Little did I know, I was being shaped by those boring lectures on Sunday evening when I was daydreaming of being somewhere else.”–seems to me that this is the nucleus of the problem, thus part of the motivation behind the article.

    • Reply
      Scott Elliott September 2, 2015 at 8:31 pm

      Thank you for your comment Tom. I hope you would pay close attention to the sentence before and after the one you pointed out. It says, “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.” The feeling of boredom is how I felt as a teenager being required to attend Sunday evening services by my mother, but the entire paragraph is expressing how I believe this was something good. I was bored at the time but I later came to realize these worship services were extremely beneficial to me and I am glad my mother made me attend.

      I would also hope that you consider what is said throughout the entire article. The motivation of this post is to encourage meaningful Bible study on Sunday evening and nothing else. Thanks again.

  2. Reply
    Tim Pyles September 2, 2015 at 10:19 am

    Well reasoned and well written! Thanks, Scott!

    • Reply
      Scott Elliott September 2, 2015 at 8:38 pm

      Thank you Tim!

  3. Reply
    Jason Chesser September 2, 2015 at 2:16 pm

    Thank you for this article. I love your following statement: “We may easily give up on a practice we take issue with, but we neglect to replace it with something better.” A little over a year ago, the elders at the congregation where I worship and serve made the decision to do away with the evening service and replace it with a longer and more purposeful morning service. We meet 30 minutes earlier on Sunday mornings for a period of scripture reading, memorization, prayer requests and prayer. We then have Bible classes, followed by a period of worship that typically lasts around 30 minutes longer than it did when we had a Sunday night service. We use the extra worship time in the morning for more singing, more time spent on the Lord’s Supper, etc. We have tried (and succeeded) in getting beyond the “worship hour” mentality. The change has been a wonderful blessing for us, without compromising doctrine whatsoever.

    • Reply
      Scott Elliott September 3, 2015 at 8:15 am

      Thanks Jason! What you are doing sounds great.

  4. Reply
    Dave D September 4, 2015 at 5:43 pm

    I wonder…in some congregations there would be a pay cut for the preacher.
    Just a thought.

  5. Reply
    Neal September 22, 2015 at 7:34 am

    I take great offense with a part of your article: Boston Red Sox! Really? Surely you could find a better illustration. 🙂
    Very thoughtful article. We enjoy a great return attendance on Sunday nights at Bear Valley, but I recognize the realities you mentioned. Emphasizing the beauty of fellowship, the value of further study, and analyzing your audience all can help us be more effective on Sunday evenings. Thanks for the effort, brother.
    –Neal

    • Reply
      Scott Elliott September 26, 2015 at 12:00 pm

      Thanks Neal, and I will try to work harder on those illustrations in the future 🙂

  6. Reply
    David Courington September 4, 2016 at 5:18 pm

    We often hear, “If you keep doing what you’ve been doing, you will keep getting what you’ve been getting.” As your fine article so ably implies, “If we do worse than we’ve been doing, we’ll get worse than we’ve been getting.”

  7. Reply
    Steve Iverson September 4, 2016 at 10:07 pm

    I believe the whole reason for our meeting to worship on Sunday evening is being missed. It is only our attitudes that change from the a.m. worship and our p.m. worship not God. It is a privilege to come into the presence of God in order to worship Him and should not be a burden. The question I would ask is pretty simple, if you don’t want to spend time with God and His family while here on this earth why do you suppose God would make you spend time with Him and His family for eternity? It not God’s fault we are bored and distracted during this time it is because we are not considering in whos company we are in. We need to always worship Him in spirit and in truth.

  8. Reply
    Roger Leonard September 5, 2016 at 6:35 am

    I take 15 minutes with the young people on Sunday evening for real Bible learning. Then we begin the evening worship. I try to preach solid, biblical and relevant messages. Most brethren stay around and talk. We offer the Lord’s Supper for those “unable” to partake in the morning. The whole church is together and it is a matter of expediency. (I do not believe one can prove that the early church would not offer the Lord’s Supper later to one who missed it. We take it to our shut-ins who request it. We pray, sing, offer the emblems, and I do a little lesson. That is not wrong, but expedient and helpful to them.) I like what Jason Chesser said they do (and I also know him and the elders there), so alternatives can be good if spiritually productive. Since the times we meet is a matter of expedience, It is not wrong to offer alternative meeting times to help brethren be faithful in all ways. But, since we are commanded to GROW in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Pet. 3:18) the meetings must strengthen the church. Some of the best sermons I have ever heard were preached on Sunday nights.
    The little congregation I preach for has a good returning number on Sunday evenings. And I htink it is because I try to lead and feed with good messages. We have studied evangelism for a quarter, covered serious and relevant topics, etc. The one’s I have heard complain about coming back don’t do much for the Lord to begin with. Some of those who are very happy that we have an evening service are the elderly who have a very hard time getting up and going of a morning, and those who have to work or were sick in the morning. I have been preaching as a full time minister for 15 years, have served as a missionary for 17, and as a deacon for ten. My observations concerning most of those who don’t desire to return on Sunday nights is that they are not strong in the Lord to begin with. My observations concerning most of those who do desire to return on Sunday nights is that they are strong in the Lord, and wish to be stronger.

  9. Reply
    Selina Sturgis September 5, 2016 at 4:21 pm

    I have been having a “debate” about this very subject with another member lately. She believes it is not a “sin” if she does not return on Sunday evening. Taking out the argument given by Steve Iverson (although I personally agree with it and we did discuss that as well), we went through the “forsake not the assemblyl” and “we are under the authority of our elders”. Her response as far as the elders went – if that meant we had to do every single thing they offered, we would be sinning if we did not go to every night of a gospel meeting, VBS, every fellowship dinner or any other social gathering that was put out there for the church since we had fulfilled the Biblical aspect on Sunday morning. Basically the same thing about forsaking the assembly. Anyone have some thoughts on where it is a SIN or not if you do not attend on Sunday night and/or Wednesday night? Scripture please to back up thoughts!! Thanks so much!!!

  10. Reply
    Chuck Bronson September 5, 2016 at 4:44 pm

    “When you come together, everyone has a psalm or a teaching, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. . . . For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all may be exhorted” – 1 Cor. 14:26, 31

Leave a reply