Is the evening service really necessary? This article discusses the benefits of coming together as God's people twice for worship on Sunday.

Source: Faith in Focus, 2014. 3 pages.

The Evening Service

It’s amazing how quickly things change, and how little people seem to realise it. When I was a new Christian in the 1970s, almost every church that believed the Bible – and even some that didn’t – had a Sunday evening service.

In the past thirty to forty years, however, a great change seems to have swept over the western evangelical world. Many churches have abandoned evening worship; and those which still have it seem to have resigned themselves to the view that different demographics in their church family will attend at dif­ferent time slots – and thus their con­gregation becomes virtually two, or even three separate congregations meeting at different times in different “styles”. The amazing thing to me is that so few Christians seem to realise what a radical departure this is from many centuries of church history. One Christian even once told me that our (conservative) church was a radical innovator having such high (and unrealistic) expectations of church attendance as twice per Sunday. I had to prove to him by reference to the Scriptures and with evidence from church history that we are in fact only continuing what ordinary Christians have always done.

I guess, like most Anglicans, I only had to look inside my Prayer Book in my teenage years to realise that evening services were a time-honoured pattern of church life – there was an order of service for it, just like there was for morning worship, weddings, funerals and other special occasions. Hymn writers even wrote hymns especially for evening worship. Take this one by John Ellerton, which focuses our minds on the conti­nuity of Christians’ praises when, around the world, believers meet morning and evening:

The day Thou gavest, Lord, is ended,
The darkness falls at Thy behest;
To Thee our morning hymns ascended,
Thy praise shall sanctify our rest.
We thank Thee that Thy church unsleeping,
While earth rolls onward into light,
Through all the world her watch is keeping,
And rests not now by day or night.

When I was converted, it didn’t surprise me that committed Christians generally attended evening services as well as morning ones. (Admittedly, in some churches the “youth” tended to regard the evening service as their opportunity to do their own thing; and increasingly, older people stayed away.)

Likewise during the early ‘80s, when I was a student in the U.S., the Presby­terian churches I was part of all held evening services; but because of their clear convictions about what constitut­ed reformed worship, they didn’t distin­guish between morning and evening in the pattern of their liturgy. It seems that since then, the pressure to drop evening services has affected many churches.

During the month of June my husband Paul and I were travelling in the U.S. visiting friends, and we were glad of the opportunity to attend their churches with them. But we found that only one of the four we visited had a whole­-church-family evening service, and that was poorly attended. It seemed that considerable effort was being made to “informalise” that one, too, probably to try and encourage more than the faithful few to be there. It was a sad and somewhat sobering experience to realise that Christians are fast giving up half of their opportunities to gather, worship and learn from the preaching of the Word.

But this trend is not universal, and there are churches and individuals who uphold the blessings of Sunday evening services. In January this year Toronto pastor and blogger, Tim Challies, made these observations on evening worship. He kindly gave me permission to include them here:

Why I Love an Evening Service🔗

Of all the casualties the church has suffered in recent decades, I wonder if many will have longer-lasting consequences than the loss of the evening service. There was a time, not so long ago, when many or even most churches gathered in the morning and the evening. But today the evening service is increasingly relegated to the past.

At Grace Fellowship Church we hold on to the evening service and I wouldn’t want it any other way. It is a commitment, to be sure – a commitment for the pastors to plan a second service and to prepare a second sermon, and a commitment for the members to give the church not only the morning but also the evening. But these are small costs compared to the great benefits. Here are a few things I love about an evening service.

It Begins and Ends the Day with God🔗

Perhaps the best part of having an evening service is that, just as the morning service allows you to begin the day worshiping God with his people, the evening services allows you to close the day worshiping God with his people. As a church we love to sing the song “We Are Listening” which proclaims, “Morning and evening we come / To delight in the words of our God.” And with an evening service, we are able to do exactly that: We begin the Lord’s Day in worship and close it in worship. That’s a beautiful thing.

It Sanctifies the Time between🔗

If beginning and ending the day in corporate worship is an obvious blessing of an evening service, a less obvious but still important benefit is that having these bookends around the day encourages the best uses of the Lord’s Day while discouraging the less significant uses. Knowing that you will have to leave the house before the football game ends does wonders to uproot any real desire to watch football (or, over time, to even care about football, as I have discovered!). Conversely, knowing that you have four or five hours between services helps you spot a perfect window for extending hospitality. There is no better or more convenient time to open your home, especially to those who drive from a distance, than between the morning and evening service.

It Provides Another Opportunity to Learn🔗

I grew up in the Dutch Reformed tradition where the evening service was considered an integral part of any Christian’s duty. The morning service was set aside for verse-by-verse preaching through God’s Word while the evening service was set aside for advancing question-by-question through the catechisms and confessions. Even if your church will not use an evening service for teaching the catechism, it does offer an opportunity to teach something else, perhaps a second book of the Bible or a topical series. It also affords a natural context to integrate new or young teachers, to give them a place to grow in their ability to teach and preach.

It Provides Another Opportunity to Worship🔗

Just as an evening service opens up more time for teaching, it also opens up more time to sing. I often come to the end of our morning service wishing I could sing more than the five or six or seven songs we sing there. There are so many great songs to sing! The evening service gives us another chance to encourage and admonish one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs – those great songs of the faith.

It Provides Another Opportunity to Serve🔗

There are many people in our church who are eager to serve and to serve regularly. With only one service each week, these people would be serving very irregularly – there simply would not be enough ways for all of them to serve the church on a regular basis. However, the evening service immediately adds many more places to serve – we need more people to greet at the door, more people to lead us in song, more people to care for the young children, and on and on. If there is joy in serving one another, our evening service increases our joy by increasing the ways in which we serve.

It Gives More Time with People I Love🔗

I love my church family; there is no group of people I would rather spend time with. And, frankly, Sunday morning and Wednesday evening just isn’t enough. As a pastor I want more time to be with the people I serve, to get to know them, to hear from them. As a church member I want more opportu­nities to fulfill all those “one another” commands with them and to have the other members fulfill them with me. An evening service is yet another opportu­nity to be with people I enjoy so much.

It is Countercultural🔗

An evening service counters our cul­ture’s obsession with convenience and low commitment in matters of family, life and religion. It can be downright difficult to get the family out the door once on a Sunday, not to mention twice and your neighbors will be convinced that you’re crazy for doing it. Let them! The evening service also counters our Christian culture of expecting little from people and, for that reason, being in­timidated to ask much from them. Ex­perience shows that when a church sets the expectation for the evening service, the people rise to it and soon wouldn’t have it any other way.

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