I recently heard one pastor make the remark that the health of a local church can be traced directly to the life of the evening service. If that principle is true, things don’t look so good as it pertains to the church in America these days.
I can still recall as a young boy singing “This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it” as we gathered together on Sunday during our worship service. From a very early age, my family gathered with our church family for both the morning and evening worship services on the Lord’s Day. There was an intentional focus placed on the fact that the whole Sunday should be kept holy and devoted to the Lord. However, things are changing today. In fact, things have been changing for quite a while now as it pertains to the functionality of the church. Most church buildings across America are dark and lifeless on Sunday evening.
The question that I would like for us to consider is whether or not the Sunday evening service is necessary? Let’s be quite honest from the beginning, the Scriptures do not contain any passage that mandates that the church gather together for a morning and evening worship service (not even Psalm 92). We must avoid the ditch of legalism, however, we must consider this subject through a spiritual lens.
Church Commitment: Are We Forsaking the Assembly?
The very definition of the word church (ἐκκλησία), carries the meaning of “a called out assembly.” The devil loves isolationism and will do anything he can to keep the church from gathering together. He will use fear of COVID-19 and pragmatic church growth gimmicks.
While no specific text of Scripture mandates that a local church officially assembles together for worship on Sunday evenings, a family could be intentionally guilty of forsaking the assembly of the saints together if they are members of a local church that meets for Sunday evening worship and they determine that they would rather stay at home and enjoy family time (Heb. 10:24-25).
The Greek term translated “stir up” is παροξυσμός – and it carries a positive and negative emphasis. In the positive, it means to rouse to activity, stirring up, or to provoke. In the negative, it means a state of irritation expressed in argument or a sharp disagreement. The usage in this verse is clearly positive, and the idea is to provoke or encourage love and good works. We are called to be doers of the Word – not merely hearers. You can hear the Word through a technology, but we are called to be active in the lives of the church, doing the Word (James 1:22).
How is it possible for us to shoulder the burden of the church family and stir-up the church in a positive manner if we’re not gathering together with the church when the members gather? What about being nurtured by pastors through the preaching and singing of the gospel? If one of the elders is preparing to feed the sheep on Sunday evening in his sermon, if I willfully sit at home and refuse to attend, how is this week’s preparation in his study benefiting me and my walk with Christ?
On Sunday evenings, our elders engage in a rotation through a selected series. I typically lead in the direction of the pulpit ministry, and sometimes I ask all of the elders to engage in the series while in other occasions I may preach a mini-series alone or only have one or two elders rotate with me. When I’m not preaching, I attend the evening service and sit under the preaching of the other elders because I need to receive the Word preached and I also want to support the men who are sharing in the shepherding responsibilities of the church.
Spiritual Formation: Do We Need Less?
Every church service matters. Rather than approaching this subject by asking if less is required, ask yourself if less is better. As we live in a sin sick society with devils filled, do we really need less church? Each service provides us with key opportunities for spiritual growth. Will we benefit spiritually from less worship of God, Christian fellowship, or less of the ordinary means of grace?
One of the arguments used in support of cancelling the evening service is the idea that the family needs more time together. With the crowded schedules filled with athletics and academic commitments, the typical American family seems to be stretched thin on a weekly basis. This being true, we’re told that the family needs to spend more time together and in order to accomplish this goal, we must take the evening church service away.
While it is true, time is stretched thin—do we need less time with our spiritual family (the church)? What would happen if we watched less television and played less video games each week, could we redeem time during the week that would enable us to strengthen our families and still emphasize the value of our gathering together as a church family on Sunday evenings?
As it pertains to the spiritual formation of our families, should we think our families would be stronger if we took one of the Lord’s Day services away and replaced it with general family time at the local park or other recreational ventures? George Swinnock wrote:
Worship comprehends all that respect which man oweth and giveth to his Maker…It is the tribute which we pay to the King of Kings, whereby we acknowledge his sovereignty over us, and our dependence on him…All that inward reverence and respect, and all that outward obedience and service to God, which the word [sc,godliness] enjoineth, is included in this one word worship. 11
Honoring God: Lord’s Day or Lord’s Morning?
The Puritans often referred to the Lord’s Day as the “market day for the soul.” God has given us six days to labor and enjoy our family. Yet, there is one day that is called the Lord’s Day on purpose—to set it apart from the other days and to honor God.
The 1689 London Baptist Confession states the following in Chapter 22 Paragraphs 7-8:
As it is the law of nature, that in general a proportion of time, by God’s appointment, be set apart for the worship of God, so by his Word, in a positive moral, and perpetual commandment, binding all men, in all ages, he hath particularly appointed one day in seven for a sabbath to be kept holy unto him, which from the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ was the last day of the week, and from the resurrection of Christ was changed into the first day of the week, which is called the Lord’s day: and is to be continued to the end of the world as the Christian Sabbath, the observation of the last day of the week being abolished. ( Exodus 20:8; 1 Corinthians 16:1, 2; Acts 20:7; Revelation 1:10 )
The sabbath is then kept holy unto the Lord, when men, after a due preparing of their hearts, and ordering their common affairs aforehand, do not only observe an holy rest all day, from their own works, words and thoughts, about their worldly employment and recreations, but are also taken up the whole time in the public and private exercises of his worship, and in the duties of necessity and mercy. ( Isaiah 58:13; Nehemiah 13:15-22; Matthew 12:1-13 )
One might quibble about some language in these paragraphs, but the point is clear that we should honor God on Sunday. Does this mean that one must huddle up in a dark room and refuse even to gaze out the window to guard the mind against thinking some worldly thought? Does this mean that we cannot watch a football game on Sunday? Does this mean that we are unable to enjoy a cookout with family or ride in a boat on the lake on Sunday?
Once again, various positions are held regarding where the line is drawn on how we observe the Lord’s Day, but we must observe it with intentionality to honor God. As we enjoy the beauty of the day and rest from our worldly affairs, we may enjoy time with friends and family, but we can also return to worship with the church in the evening.
Points to consider:
- Could it be that the pride of pastors who continued to see lower numbers on Sunday evening led to the evangelical trend of Sunday evening cancellation?
- Do other substitutes for an evening service have the same benefit upon the entire church family? Do they help in the formation of how we worship? Do they help us sing better? Do they give us more or less preaching?
- If you’re a church leader and you’re considering cancelling your evening service, perhaps you should pray and consider ways to encourage your church members to attend.
- If you’re a church leader who is working to establish an evening service, remember to be patient with the church family as you lead them in this specific direction. Don’t be discouraged with lower numbers at the beginning.
- If you’re a church member and you’re not attending your church’s evening service, how could you better honor God, grow spiritually, and connect relationally with your church by attending and engaging?
- How is isolationism dangerous for the spiritual growth and maturity of the church?
The Dutch Reformed believers years ago referred to those who only attended the morning service as “oncers.” If you’re a oncer make the commitment to be a twicer for a season and you’ll likely never again be a Sunday morning only church member. The benefits of attending the evening service are well worth the effort.
- George Swinnock, Works, (Edinburgh: James Nichols, 1868), I:31.