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Members gather for Sunday morning worship at the Springfield Church of Christ in Vermont. Like a growing number of congregations

INSIDE STORY: Frustrated with Sunday night? Five ideas to consider

“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.”

But what if that standard no longer makes practical or numerical sense in the 21st century, either because of changing cultural preferences or the emergence of commuter churches with many members driving 30 minutes or more to attend? 

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.)

In wider Christian circles, Sunday evening services (which have a long history) are disappearing, evangelical trends guru Thom S. Rainer suggested in a recent blog post.

In a follow-up 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 with your traditional approach, here are five ideas to consider:

1. Organize small group meetings

Your turn, dear reader: What is your congregation’s Sunday night practice? What lessons have you learned? What ideas do you have?
Bobby Ross Jr. is Chief Correspondent for The Christian Chronicle. Reach him at [email protected].

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