Where were you on Sunday night? The decline of evening church services

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?

7 Responses to “Where were you on Sunday night? The decline of evening church services”

  • Ricardo Ibarra says:

    Yes, attendance seems to be on the decline on Sunday evenings. I was grown in a Christian environment as my parents were Christians. However, I was not a genuine Christian. It’s only untill recently, September 2009, that I was able to understand. Prior to that day, the day I became saved through faith, I remember attending Sunday mornning church services as a tradition. I do remember arriving at my Christian church very early morning around 9am and staying their for Sunday School, followed by the service which started around 10 am and endend around 11:30. After that, that was all with church. Later on the evening, my family, children and wife, would just stay around the house and do nothing, sometimes we would go out to the mall or eat at a local restaurant as trying to find pleasures to feel the emptiness. After that, we would just drive (stray) until figuring out what to do next, most of the time we would just go to our local video store to rent some movies, We could had purchased cable at home, but going out to rent movies was more of a routine to get out of the house sometimes. Life was empty, and always felt that something was wrong, and that although I was working, and paying my bills but always felt something missing, there was something which was not OK. Something was really missing. I lived in a world of fantacy and unrealism. My perspective in life was full of perversion, and lust. I think this is due to the fact that I worked in contruction which I worked amongst perverted, godless people (I now pray for them); but I was also one of them. Only God can change once perspective and allow you to see what one cannot not see as described here. I read my bible and feel the need to attend church (God), because everytime I pray at my church, I feel closer to God through Jesus Christ. I write this in the name of the Father, the Son and Holy Spirit.

  • I think this is just a side effect of the real issue. I believe the real issue is that many people think that if you go to church then you are a Christian, not you go to church because you are a Christian. My church doesn’t have a Sunday evening service but it does have two Sunday morning services and a Saturday evening service. They are each identical to each other because the purpose is to provide options for those that say have to work on Sunday or something. My also place an emphasis on it’s Bible study groups which usually meet weekly. So in theory, everyone gets time together corporately and in a more intimate setting where everybody can really know each other. However, we’ve noticed an obstacle to this idea. And that appears to be as stated above, people think that going to church makes you a Christian. With that attitude, people may come but then switch off their brains and most of what is said goes in one ear and out the other. Still, I’d rather they be in church than sleeping in because at least they are somewhere where they have a chance at hearing the gospel. Anyway, as long as being a Christian looks like a Sunday-morning-only thing to our culture we are going to see people with the previously stated misconception.

    Also, I wouldn’t rule out the possibility that it is a sign of decline for a particular church. If the church isn’t replacing it with something else of equal or greater value then the leadership of that church might have to make some hard decisions about the future of their congregation.

  • DIANE says:

    My thoughts on this is that it is just the beginning of what this world is turning into where God is only for Sunday and no other day and now Sunday only not Sunday night it is only because it is too much trouble. It is too hard to have to go on Sunday and Sunday night,we get home and we get comfortable and we don’t want to be disturbed.It is about compromise and that is exactly what Christians are doing with all of their Christian life we want things easy and if it isn’t we just don’t have time to mess with it.It is the way Churches have become only a way to make people comfortable. It is a very scary thing and I pray that the people that call themselves Christians start taking a good look at what WE are dong.

  • John Eakin says:

    My church has a Sunday AM and PM service, Sunday School and Sunday evening Bible study and also a Wednesday night prayer meeting. I think when people decide to cut out services that we are responding to the world and not to what God has directed us to do. When I was a child we didn’t see stores open on Sunday (Called Blue Law). We went to Church
    and rested on the Sabbath. Not all the activity of shopping and other things that took it away from a day of rest and study in the word.

  • Israel Jantzen says:

    I suggest that Christians start meeting every Sunday night, as the resurrected Lord and his disciples and later Paul and the gentile churches left us an example to do in the Scriptures. It’s time the Church stopped following its own traditions, which result in repeated failure, and started following the traditions set forth in the apostolic doctrine of the Scriptures. That means changing the weekly service to Sunday evening and sticking with it every week. Who do we think we are, anyway? The Lord rose on the first day of the week, and he wants us to remember that the eternal life we have received from him is a result of his resurrection. Once we get our physical traditions lined up with the Spiritual concepts of Scripture, God will bless the Church and prosper it.

  • Deb says:

    I don’t think that God mandated how often we should gather together as a local body, He just told us to not forsake the assembling of ourselves together….however often that may be.

  • Dan Bailes says:

    I have to agree with the article. I grew up where Sunday was devoted only to church. The family I grew up in sunday was totally the Lords day. But I have seen in our own church this decline. When I was growing up our pastor required all leaders in the church including teachers to attend all services, it was mandatory. Now, churches are starving for help. I believe we need to reconsider how we use our our resources. I think churches need to make the change to a early evening service every other sunday that is kid and family friendly.