The Evening Service?

Ten reasons why pastors should fight for it

Even in conservative evangelical churches the general state of affairs these days in the UK is that the evening service is in steep decline. 

Often a church with a congregation of say, 120 in the morning will find that only around 30 to 40 people turn up at for the evening service. Many churches have ceased to have an evening service at all. 

Back in 1994 the Tory government legalised Sunday trading. Sunday has become almost like Saturday – a time for shopping, sports, leisure, and family. And added to that the pace of modern life has made many people stressed and tired. The evening service for perhaps the majority of Christians has simply become a step too far. They stay home or go out elsewhere.

It will be an almost impossible task to try to reverse the trend, but our current trajectory will not help the churches in the long run but only hasten their unravelling. So here are ten reasons why pastors and preachers should fight to save the evening service.

1. You will not build church communities by not meeting

Church, according to the New Testament, is relational. It is about people meeting together with Jesus among them. Church is family. Church is the interconnected and mutually supportive body of Christ. But those relationships between God’s people will not flourish by halving the amount of time they spend together. Further, the evening service particularly gives time for fellowship to grow. There is not so much pressure to get home as in the morning when the lunch is in the oven. Young mums or dads can be out on their own while their partner cares for the children and so have uninterrupted time for informal conversation and even prayer after the worship.

2. The Lord’s Day is still a part of Christian obedience

The novel and recent idea that one of the 10 commandments no longer applies to the church has done and continues to do immense damage to the churches. In one large church I know of, an elder tells me that on any one Sunday a third of the regular attenders / members will be missing. There is little sense that meeting together is a Christian duty which should not be forsaken lightly.

A thoroughly exegetical and quietly devastating answer to the claims of ‘New Covenant Theology’ concerning the dropping of Sundays is given by Greg Beale in his New Testament Biblical Theology.[1] He argues, for example, that the very fact that the fourth command, unlike any of the others, begins with the word ‘Remember’ should alert us to the fact that the Sabbath goes back to Creation. People, made in God’s image, are made for a one day in seven rest and true rest is found in fellowship with God. The need for that rest has not ceased. Further the book of Hebrews in the New Testament specially concerns ‘the world to come, about which we are speaking’ (Heb 2:5). Therefore, to insist that ‘the Sabbath-rest which remains for the people of God’ (Heb 4:9) is solely about resting in Christ now will not wash. Our weekly celebration of the resurrection each Sunday anticipates and witnesses to the fact of that coming rest—when Christ returns. 

3. Putting family before God won’t help in the long run

Often the absence of young married parents from the evening service is defended by saying that it takes both of them to get the children to bed. Really? The idea that Sunday is a family day is not totally wrong, but when everything revolves around the children on Sundays instead of the worship of God, we are sending a message to the children that actually they are more important than God. We may not do this consciously but nevertheless when we continually skip church for family it is there. And then many Christian couples lament the fact that their children don’t become Christians. Maybe it was because we gave them the impression that actually God is not very important? Jesus warned us about loving our families more than him, Luke 14.26.

4. Leadership requires commitment to the church

Many promising young people, who have the potential to be leaders, are ‘oncers’. They are there only at church in the morning. They are gifted, have a good grasp of Scripture and a generally godly life. But they can’t be approached to be leaders because they are only there once on a Sunday—and their secular jobs often preclude them from being at the midweek prayer meeting. This kind of situation is impoverishing many churches in these days. They lack that sine qua non of leaders—commitment to the church. So, pastors by fighting for the evening service you are fighting for the future leadership of your congregation.

5. Make the most of your gifts

Plainly, only having one Sunday service a week means less work for a pastor. But God has gifted you as a preacher to speak for him and you should try to make the most of that gift (Rom 12:11).

Many pastors have had it drummed into them in their training that every sermon they preach must be original to them and they feel (perhaps understandably) that they can only manage one such sermon a week. There just isn’t time for more. Hence the morning only Sunday suits them. But they forget that our calling is not to be original but to be helpful. I’m not saying you should just rip off other people’s sermons from the internet and read them out. You have got to preach things that have touched your own heart. But that means that it is not wrong to use other people’s material—that which has spoken to you and fed you spiritually can feed others. Ever heard of the Synoptic problem? The idea that we must never use other people’s material is simply not scriptural. And was it so wrong of Jude to ‘rip off’ 2 Peter (or vice versa)?

6. A closed church building on a Sunday evening is a sorry witness

As cynical non-Christians go about their business on a Sunday evening, to see a church building with a gospel poster outside and the lights off and the doors locked is going to do nothing but confirm them in their belief that God is dead. They still know that Sunday is the day of Christian worship, but perhaps it occurs to them that Christians may claim to worship the living God, yet they seem less than enthusiastic about him.

One of the great marks of true revival is when God’s people can’t wait to get to church. On the day of Pentecost, God came by his Spirit and the people came too—even people who were as yet unconverted (Acts 2:6). They couldn’t help themselves. The fact that we are so far from that and seem comparatively unconcerned by that as Christians seems a terrible indictment as to our true spiritual condition.

7. It reveals our priorities

If Christians are not at church on a Sunday evening, then what are they doing? What is more important to them? In my experience, those who do still come out on a Sunday evening tend to be the older saints. We could understand if folk were too old and frail, or too ill, to make it to the evening worship. But that is not how it appears to be. It is often the younger people who feel that one service is enough for them. What is going on here? They have the ability. The have the choice. But they choose not to be there.

In their book The Coddling of the American Mind,[2] Greg Lukianof and Jonathan Haidt propose that the current generation have been fed a number of ‘untruths’. The first of these they term ‘the untruth of fragility’. They have been taught that human life is very frail. We are all fragile people, and we need to look after ourselves all the time because ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you weaker’. This is the exact reverse of what was taught in previous years—that challenges are good for us because they make us stronger. Yes, it may be a challenge to get organised and get out to a second service on a Sunday. But it won’t kill us. And it will increase our love for God and his people or not.

8. There is more to say 

We believe that God speaks through the preaching of his word. So, is it true that God has nothing more to say to us or to teach us for the week as a church than what we learn in a 30-40 minute message on Sunday morning? 

I suspect that many Christians avoid the evening service simply because it is usually so similar to the morning service. Wedded to the idea that only exposition of a short passage of Scripture is true preaching, it often comes down to a choice between say, John’s Gospel in the morning and Ezra in the evening—but it is basically the same routine. And meanwhile the pressing topics of the day—like transgender, or how to be a man in a feminised world, or how we can help each other through the cost of living crisis, etc.—are never addressed. Maybe there needs to be some new thinking hereIs it time to generate a new vibe for the evening?

9. Leaving tradition behind?  

In Scripture a day includes a morning and an evening. In the Old Testament there was a morning and an evening sacrifice. During the Middle Ages, morning worship was known as ‘matins’ and evening worship ‘vespers’. At the time of the Reformation the custom of morning and evening services was continued in Cranmer’s Book of Common Prayer. And that was the custom, the tradition for churches.

In the twenty-first century do we really know better? I am not mad on tradition but are we really wiser Christians than all who have gone before us? Or is it rather that we are simply succumbing to the spirit of our age which marginalises God?

10. Don’t miss Jesus

Each Sunday is a statement about the reality of the resurrection of Christ. It is a weekly anniversary declaring that Jesus was raised, and sin and death were vanquished, not in theory, not in myth, but really in our history on the first day of the week. 

And it is noteworthy that on that first resurrection Sunday Jesus met with his disciples twice. He revealed himself in the morning (Matt 28:8-9) and again in the evening (Jn 20:19). Imagine Jesus coming to where the doors are locked, entering and standing—but there’s no-one there.  

So, pastor let me encourage you to fight for the evening service.

[1] Greg Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology: Understanding the Old Testament in the New (Baker Academic, 2011), 775-801.

[2] Greg Lukianof and Jonathan Haidt, The Coddling of the American Mind (Penguin, 2019).

Matt Pilkington, a Pastor in Bradford, has written to offer a couple more reasons in favour of an evening service:

We’re encouraged at the moment that our evening service is gaining momentum. In addition to the 10 reasons you give there are two more that have influenced us:

1. Having a second service on a Sunday is a helpful training ground. In our context it is a smaller more informal service and we use it to give people opportunities to preach, lead and share who are just starting to test put their gifts. If there are a number of men in the congregation who are gifted and able to teach only having one weekly sermon really limits people developing in their gifting.

2. It is helpful to have a second service for people who are unable to be in the morning service (e.g. shift workers; Sunday School helpers etc.). Whilst people can catch up with Sunday Morning teaching online that is no replacement for meeting in person with other believers.