Does your church hold a Sunday evening worship service? Evening services have long been a staple of Sunday worship in many Christian traditions. But a recent article in my local paper shed some light on a discouraging trend in my own denomination: Sunday evening church service attendance is significantly down… in some cases, enough so that evening services are being dropped from the weekly church calendar altogether.
The survey [within the Christian Reformed denomination] found evening worship attendance is “plummeting,” down from 56 percent of members in 1992 to 24 percent in 2007.
Researchers wrote that the data “seems to suggest that evening service attendance has become optional.”
It’s a conclusion that may seem harmless, but to some it’s cause for concern about the integrity of the Dutch Reformed family’s faith convictions. For others, the tradition’s decline is a natural outcome of the church’s aspirations to evangelize a broader demographic.
“Many churches are substituting evening worship and putting their energies into other things,” said Jeff Meyer, pastor of Crosswinds Community Church, a 4-year-old CRC congregation in Holland [Michigan] that, like many new churches, does not conduct evening worship.
There’s a lot to unpack in the article. For some, the decline of the evening church service is a tragic breakdown of a long-running church tradition. For others, it’s a clear sign of apostasy and spiritual decline. But for many of the churches jettisoning their traditional evening services, it’s a matter of using church resources (and staff time) efficiently and realistically.
One of my close friends (who is quoted in the article) is the pastor of a church that recently changed its Sunday evening worship service in response to very low attendance. Instead of a full-blown worship service, the church instead hosts a less formal time of community study and discussion. For that church, it was partly a simple question of church resources: was it a good use of the pastor’s time to spend hours preparing a sermon that would be heard by only a fraction of the congregation? (The same could be asked about the time spent by worship planners, musicians, and other staff involved in preparing worship services.) Were there more effective ways that time could be used to serve the church than preparing for a poorly-attended evening service?
Speaking as somebody whose evening church attendance is spotty but improving, I’m not sure what to think. I do worry that the tendency to make evening church “optional,” while not sinful in itself, is one sign that churchgoers today are giving less priority to Christian worship and fellowship than they used to. On the other hand, I completely sympathize with churches looking for alternate ways of fostering fellowship and study. And I resent the idea (voiced by one pastor in the article) that the failure to observe a 16th-century human tradition makes one an apostate.
What about you—does your church hold evening worship services? How is attendance—and how is your attendance? Is evening worship an integral part of Sunday worship, or is it an optional (and possibly outdated) practice that churches should jettison if it doesn’t get adequate participation?