church

Sunday night worship

Lately I have noticed people posting articles suggesting Sunday night worship services be scuttled. The most common reason cited is that the attendances are generally lower than Sunday morning worship.

I understand that Sunday night worship is not the only way to strengthen a congregation. Please let’s be clear. The early church observed the Lord’s Supper and gave their offering on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:1,2). So should we.

The Bible does not suggest exactly when on Sunday these things should take place. It is likely the early church had to meet either early Sunday morning, or in the evening, prior to or following a long workday. It appears the church at Troas did so in the evening when Paul came to visit (Acts 20:7). Pliny the Younger suggested congregations met early Sunday morning. “On an appointed day … [Christians] meet before daybreak and recite a hymn antiphonally to Jesus as to a god” (Pliny the Younger, AD 112)

I accept that there are other ways to do what we need to do.

* A congregation I served flipped the order of Bible class and worship. Bible class attendance rose by about one third. There were, of course, those who vehemently opposed this action, though they had an extremely difficult time finding a book, chapter and verse for their objections.

* Some congregations have moved to a worship/fellowship/early afternoon worship format. Biblically I can see nothing amiss with this format.

* Others have suggested Sunday afternoon and evening could be utilized for fellowship, outreach or visitation. Fair enough.

* Still others have suggested small groups meeting in member’s homes. Again, fair enough.

* Another suggestion is moving Bible class to the evening.

Just make sure of two things: First, let’s make sure that an opportunity to grow closer to God is not sacrificed. When speaking of low attendance on Sunday nights as the reason for abandoning it, I fret that it is the least spiritual in our congregations who are driving this decision.

Second, make sure that the alternative we choose is treated with the same vigor and dedication that the Sunday evening format deserved. Mumbling platitudes about replacing worship with fellowship or family time without following through does not pay the reverence for our Lord he deserves. Do not make this the excuse for serving the Lord less. Do not use “family time” as the excuse for severing Sunday night. If something must be excised in your family’s week, may I suggest television time, internet time and recreation activity.

Brothers and sisters, worship is family time. Your church family and your genetic family should be there!

Beloved it might be that poor attendance on Sunday nights says more about us than the format itself. Sunday night is not sacred (in the sense that we must worship at that particular time). But thoughtful and spiritual leaders in the church need to pray about and think about alternatives with great care before abandoning something that has served the church well.

In the meantime, this Sunday night, I’ll be there. Will you?

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Stan Mitchell

Stan has preached since 1976, in Zimbabwe, California, Texas and Tennessee. He serves as preacher for the Red Walnut Church of Christ in Bath Springs, TN. He is currently Professor of Bible at Freed-Hardeman University. He is married to the former Marjorie McCarthy, and has one daughter, Tracy Watts. He is the author of four books: The Wise Get Wiser, the Foolish More Foolish: The Book of Proverbs, Give the Winds a Mighty Voice: Our Worship in Song, and Equipping the Saints for Ministry. He has recently published another book, "Will Our Faith Have Children: Developing Leadership in the Church for the Next Generation.

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17 thoughts on “Sunday night worship

  1. WE at the Pleasant Hill church of Christ in Tenn where I preach, have more in attendance on Sunday evening than we do on Sunday morning
    I spend more time at the evening service presenting lessons to help us grow as Christians than 1st principles-more like a class but we do offer the Lord Supper
    for those who did not attend Sunday morning and we do sing songs of praises as well and have prayers

  2. “When speaking of low attendance on Sunday nights as the reason for abandoning it, I fret that it is the least spiritual in our congregations who are driving this decision.”

    Well said.

  3. We have a wonderful service on Sunday evening. I believe it has strengthened our
    little congregation tremendously. We attend at the Tuttle Church of Christ on Hwy 74
    East of Elkins, Arkansas. Keep up the good work and word!

  4. We cannot spend enough time worshiping. There is a strengthening effect in it. Last time I checked, that’s what we will be doing in heaven. So get used to it now. Embrace it and let it fill your heart. There is nothing greater than the saints gathering to unite in respectful praise to Jesus and God the Father. I don’t see how people who do not look forward to worship, whenever, can have much of a realistic view of heaven.

  5. 1. Worship is important.
    2. Edification is important.
    3. And service in our community which highlights the love of Christ and glorifies God is also important.

    In far too many places I have seen some that want a ‘check-the-box’ religion that gives some time to God (Sunday AM & PM, Wednesday PM) and wants to claim the rest of the time for personal use. Anything which keeps us away from proper service (#3) only places us within a group which the Bible calls ‘Pharisees.’

  6. And yet in all of this thoughtful discussion the sacred cow of Sunday night remains. Why are we obsessed with having exactly three hours of sitting in a pew on Sundays? Some people will never see another Christian as being spiritual unless they are enthusiastic and satisfied with three exact hours on Sunday (and one on Wednesday at 7pm). How about multiple activities throughout the week: Friday night small group studies, child rearing seminars? Biannual outreach classes with intensive discipleship groups to follow up including new and old converts. How about regular seminars and gospel meetings on various subjects of importance: personal evangelism, marriage and child rearing, leadership, how to preach, etc -all throughout the week and at varying times. This in addition to Wednesday evenings. Why not continue day by day with one mind together, instead of a spread out three hours on Sunday? There is only one answer to this question: Tra-di-tion! (cue Fiddler On the Roof dancing and singing). I think three hours on Sunday can be a great thing when a church intentionally decides to hold such meetings for a purpose that matches the word of God with a clear need of that curch. The industrial revolution no doubt was a good reason to begin two separate meetings on Sunday. However, it has become a dead tradition that people do just because they always have done it that way. We need to move beyond three boxes to check on Sunday and one on Wednesday.

      1. I think I did get the point: the brother is afraid that calls to scrap or alter the Sunday night service are mostly the desire of immature or lazy Christians. So he explains that Sunday night is important for spirituality. On the other hand, I believe that the real reason people are so defensive of a traditional in-the-building Sunday night service is mostly plain old tradition. They can’t imagine life without that Sunday night service, and they don’t feel like they would be pleasing to God if they didn’t have it. Before we had a Sunday night service where I’m at, there were members who moved to my church from down South who went home every Sunday night and watched the services of other congregations on video. Well, why not watch a lesson on Tuesday or Thursday evening? Why at 5 o’clock on Sunday? It’s plain old tradition and not scripture or not any necessarily superior reasoning that demands it. It may be very beneficial for some churches to do a traditional Sunday night service, but it’s not the only way to do it. For some churches there may be better ways that we could be learning and putting the truth into practice, and it is often plain old love of tradition that keeps us from applying God’s word to our congregation in the best way possible. And maybe a way to get more people involved and learning more would be by having more varied Bible studies, prayer meetings, and fellowships throughout the week. I’ll leave you with that. God bless you!

        1. I completely agree that Sunday night services are tradition and as an earlier comment stated, it was probably instituted at the turn of the 20th century when, due to the electric light being invented, people could now work at night and sleep during the day. So to help accommodate these brethren, we added the evening service primarily for them to fulfill their worship obligation. I was one of these people once and I cherished this second service. This is just speculation on my part but it seems reasonable. Anytime the saints meet is a special time in my book as we look to “The” day getting closer. We should encourage the saints to meet as often as possible.

  7. Our congregation (Dunlap) has good attendance Sunday evening,. As darkness comes earlier this time of year many elderly members have difficulty driving in the dark. We can help by offering to pick them up or maybe even moving evening worship to earlier in the day to accommodate them. I have heard many amazing sermons by Freddie Clayton on Sunday evening and am thankful to be able to worship twice on Sunday.

  8. The last time I looked “the Lord’s day” had 24 hours in it.
    I believe it should be used to the fullest. If you have a hard
    time spending 3 to 4 hours a week in worship and praise
    How are you going to last for eternity. I think we put to
    much thought to our convenience than our glory to the
    One who saved us.

    1. Good thought but as a side note we must not confuse the “Lords Day” with the Old Testament “Sabbath Day” idea. Actually, the term the “Lords Day” is nowhere found in scripture and none of the apostles make reference to that term. If that was an important term for Christians to use, then I would expect to see Peter and the rest of the Apostles using it from Pentecost and throughout scripture frequently. Revelation chapter one is the only place you find it in the English and that is a mistranslation by well meaning translators of the day to make Sunday an almost “Holy” day like the Sabbath day of the Old Testament times which would be incorrect. Everyday belongs to the Lord. Hence every day is the “Lords Day”. Sunday just happens to be the day that was selected for the saints to meet to honor Christ, most likely due to his resurrection on that day. It is indeed a special day to Christians but the term, the “Lords Day” is foreign to the sacred scripture and the additional connotations we tend to place upon it are foreign as well. We are free to use the day as we see fit, unlike the Sabbath day, but we are obligated to meet sometime during the day to honor Christ till he comes again. I happen to believe it’s a good opportunity to center my time around spiritual things more, with less distractions from the world, and to reload for the coming week.

  9. I liked all of your suggestions for alternatives for Sunday night. The article nowhere pled for the sanctity of Sunday night worship, merely that if abandoned, it should be replaced with spiritual alternatives. The intent was to spark a thoughtful discussion, one that demonstrated a profound love for this great fellowship and what was best for it in various locations. I don’t think the same solutions apply for all congregations for all time. It is not necessary, however, to attribute pharisaism or mere traditionalism to those with whom we disagree on the topic. And, for clarification: Revelation 1:10, “Lord’s Day” is certainly a legitimate translation, and is translated this way in the KJV, NKJV, ESV, RSV, NRSV, ASV, NASV, Phillips, Holemans, and every other English translation I can find. It is an adjective “kuriakos, from the noun “kurios,””belonging to the Lord,” similar to 1 Corinthians 11:20, the “supper belonging to the Lord” (see DBAG, page 458). Again, the purpose was to thoughtfully, wisely think about how best to build up the church. Thank you to all who did so.

  10. good discussion, well written article. For me, the opportunity to join together with “like-minded” Christians is nothing we should throw away, thus, the opportunity to worship the 2nd time on a Sunday is something we should be drawn towards. Also, when a congregation “sets hours of worship”, and if you are a member of that congregation, you “belong” with the rest of the family…whether it is a Sunday afternoon, evening, or even a Wednesday night. Hebrews talks about not coming together with each other, and while Sunday 2nd service and Wednesday night services are not “God commanded”, if the family agrees to gather at that time, then the whole family needs to be there. Much as a human family tends to desire to be together, the Christian family should also desire being together, especially when we are there to honor our Father and our Savior. And isn’t there a verse that says, “…and they will know you are…in that you love one another…” Do we stay away from those we truly love…? The point about older Christians not being able to attend evenings due to early darkness…some congregations move their services to 4PM so the older ones ARE able to gather with the family. It’s loving kindness to remove barriers for fellowship.

    1. I agree that Christians should generally submit to the church body for worship meeting times and more. I attend Sunday night meetings faithfully and know that any assembling of Saints is a good thing. However, in this discussion with people I find that there is a tendency to defend traditional Sunday night meetings in any number of ways and at all costs, your comment [Joy’s comment] being no exception. So what am I doing? I am holding the brethren in contempt on this issue, suggesting that the underlying reason for folks so strongly defending Sunday evening services is because of a love for tradition rather than it being the best way for the church to glorify God.

      But what if the church said Christians should meet every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday night in addition to Sunday? Some churches are large enough that they have meetings and activities every day of the week. Would you feel compelled to submit and attend all of those meetings? I am very skeptical of that. If you did so you would be the exception. In fact when I’ve led church approved Thursday or Friday night meetings, I find that many of the Wednesday/Sunday night faithful don’t attend; nor do they condemn others who fail to attend these meetings like they would condemn those who fail to attend Sunday night. Why is this? Because Sunday night is our tradition while Thursday night is not.

      My problem is not with the Sunday night crowd. They tend to be the seekers and the ones with vibrant faith. My problem is with people’s inability to recognize that we may be able to serve God better by meeting on other days in non-traditional ways.

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