What Happened To Sunday Evening Services?

Is Culture Or Compromise To Blame?

Sunday evening services have been the topic of many discussions in the past few years. This subject is important to me as a pastor and as a church consultant. My own experience with Sunday night services goes back well over 40 years. In the early 70’s nearly every church I can remember had an evening service. And, to my recollection, many of those churches had roughly 75% or more of the congregation return for the night service. Often the pastor preached a topical or expository series of messages. I noticed sometime in the late 80’s that the numbers began to decline. And, by the 90’s only about 50% (roughly estimating) of the folks would be in the evening service. By the early 2000’s it was difficult to get even a 3rd of the church to come back to the Sunday evening services.

I am from the era that emphasized the importance of being in church three times a week. (i.e. Sunday Morning, Sunday Evening and Wednesday night). At first, it was difficult for me to understand this gradual decline in the Sunday evening services. I fought against the trend and resolved to maintain the practice of having an evening service. But, over time I had to come to grips with issues that were far beyond my control. I found that I was not alone in this struggle. On the one hand, many churches have given up on Sunday evening services out of discouragement. But others, despite the current trends, still have a fairly good turnout.

Where Did Sunday Evening Services Begin?

I’ve heard all kinds of reports about how Sunday night services began. Some denominations have never had a Sunday night service. But others, like some of my Baptist brethren, trace it’s roots in America to our early agricultural years. Farmers would travel by wagon and bring their lunch with them. Because of the distance and time involved, they would stay after the meal for a second service before returning home. Some sources trace the Sunday evening service to the industrialized period of WWII. Many folks had to work long hours in factories, so the Sunday evening service was often the only one they could attend.  I think we can say these services were birthed out of a cultural and economic necessity. Of course this practice later developed into the normal and expected part of church life for many denominations. Many Sunday evening services were, and still are, geared more toward Christians rather than those who have yet come to Christ.

Why Have Sunday Evening Services Declined?

As I stated earlier, many churches still have thriving Sunday night services. But the overall picture tells a different story. There are a number of reasons, most all of them are tied to changes in our culture.

Change In The Attitude of the Christian Demographic

Some make good points about the decline in Sunday evening services being the result of at least five things: (1)a negative attitude toward preaching, (2)the creation of small groups that replace Sunday evening services, (3)the increasing number of people driving long distances to mega-churches on Sunday mornings, (4)a diminished view of the Lord’s day and (5)aging congregants who are unable to drive back to an evening service.

Change In Our Culture and Economic Paradigm

One fact is, we’ve moved from an industrialized country to a service/retail economic paradigm. Sunday retail hours and work schedules are now the norm for a great deal of folks in America. For most families, both the husband and wife work (this includes Sundays). Economic pressures create situations where individuals must work two jobs, this often means Sunday evenings as well.

Change In Family Dynamics

These job pressures and constraints leave many Christians wanting more time with their families. As a result, they view Sunday evenings as the best opportunity to fill that need. There has also been a greater emphasis placed on both amateur and professional team sports, which keeps many families away from Sunday evening services.

Change In the Cultural View of Christianity

While the disinterest in the Sunday night service can largely be blamed on cultural and economic pressures, there’s also been a decline in the spirituality of many Christians. This again can be traced to a highly secularized American society that is at war with God and biblical Christianity. Most Christians are ill-equipped to handle the subtle attacks that come from the media, centers of education and other sources. So they become easy prey to these onslaughts.

Change in the Way Churches Meet

Because of the decline and closure of many churches, some congregations have opted to rent a building or space in which to conduct services. New church plants and older congregations can no longer afford large facilities. Many are renting a place to worship. The additional cost for conducting Sunday evening services just isn’t feasible.

While it is easy to point out the possible causes, its safe to say that it is a combination of all of the reasons I have stated above.

I will be posting a follow up on the subject of Sunday evening services in the near future. And, I’ll talk a little about some of our options.

What’s your experience with the Sunday evening services over the years?