“I don’t like Sunday night services,” said a minister friend, whose congregation draws 250 for morning worship but only 100 for the evening assembly.
“Our Sunday night attendance is plummeting,” a different preacher said. “We go from 130 in the morning to 30 at night.”
Inside Story | Bobby Ross Jr. In many — but certainly not all — Churches of Christ, the Sunday night gathering has a glorious past, a lackluster present and an uncertain future.
In our fellowship, the tradition can be traced to the earliest days of the American Restoration Movement, which began on the U.S. frontier in the 1790s and called for Christians of all denominations to follow the Bible only.
“Multiple meetings on Sunday were common from the beginning, including some in the evening for prayer and Bible study,” said John Mark Hicks, a Restoration scholar and theology professor at Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tenn.
“Revivalism in the late 19th century and the rise of better lighting encouraged Sunday evening gatherings for evangelistic preaching, and then shift work during WWI and WWII encouraged Sunday evening offerings for those who missed, including the Lord’s Supper,” Hicks added. “This became standard in the 1940s.”
In wider Christian circles, Sunday evening services also have a long history,
but they are disappearing, evangelical trends guru Thom S. Rainer suggested in a recent blog post.
The LifeWay Christian Resources
president and CEO explored possible reasons why, from the disappearance of “blue laws” mandating Sunday store closings to an increasing emphasis on family time to ministers lacking the “desire, energy or commitment to prepare a second and different sermon.”
If your Sunday night assembly is still going strong, that’s wonderful. Praise God!
But if you — like the ministers I quoted — are frustrated, here are five ideas:
The 50 or so souls attending a Sunday night service at the Whitehall Church of Christ in Pittsburgh are scattered entirely on the left side of the auditorium. (FILE PHOTO BY BOBBY ROSS JR.)
1. Organize small group meetings.
This typically involves members gathering in each other’s homes for food, fellowship and faith-oriented activities, such as prayer and Bible study.
“We have consistently had more people in attendance on a given Sunday night in small groups than we ever had when the church met together at the church building,” said Alan Phillips, an elder of the Lake Cities Church of Christ
in Trophy Club, Texas. “We have also found that relationships are strengthened, shepherding is more effective, visitors are less intimidated, and more prayer takes place.”
2. Move Sunday school to Sunday night.
“We decided to ‘throw the clock away’ on Sunday mornings,” minister Dale Jenkins explained. “Our services typically last an hour and 30 minutes, though that is not a form.”
This approach allows more time for singing, the Lord’s Supper, preaching and special-focus assemblies, Jenkins said. “We don’t feel rushed,” he said.
“Then we moved our classes to Sunday evening,” Jenkins added. “Our people love the flow of our Sunday morning services, and more people stay around and visit afterward.”
Sunday night attendance? It’s up as much as 75 percent.
3. Eat lunch, then meet again earlier in the afternoon.
The Walnut Street Church of Christ
in Cary, N.C., replaced its Sunday night assembly with 2:30 p.m. services twice a month. “This has worked extremely well,” member Dennis Billingsley said.
4. Enjoy a night of rest.
But once a year, the congregation plans a “Day of Worship and Rest.”
That Sunday begins with an extended morning worship assembly lasting about an hour and 45 minutes. But no Bible classes or other church events are planned that day.
“We began doing this out of a realization that our church calendar frequently conspires against already overcommitted members of our church family,” minister Tim Pyles said. “We urge people to seek times of Sabbath and stillness before God and maintain margin in their lives, and then we make it virtually impossible for them to actually accomplish this by a relentless whirlwind of services, activities and events.”
5. Replace the sermon with a service project.
Some churches dub this approach “We Are The Sermon.”
“It makes sense to me to hear the Word in the morning and live it out in the afternoon/evening,” said Jamin Speer, a member of the Stamford Church of Christ
A friend from my home congregation balked, though, at my ideas.
“No one should be expected to attend on Sunday night if they have something more important to do than worshiping God,” my friend said.
My friend makes me smile.
Bobby Ross Jr. is Chief Correspondent for The Christian Chronicle. Reach him at [email protected].
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