“I don’t like Sunday night services,” said a minister friend, whose congregation draws 250 for morning worship but only 100 for the evening assembly.
“Our Sunday night attendance is plummeting,” a different preacher said. “We go from 130 in the morning to 30 at night.”
In many — but certainly not all — Churches of Christ, the Sunday night gathering has a glorious past, a lackluster present and an uncertain future.
In our fellowship, the tradition can be traced to the earliest days of the American Restoration Movement, which began on the U.S. frontier in the 1790s and called for Christians of all denominations to follow the Bible only.
“Multiple meetings on Sunday were common from the beginning, including some in the evening for prayer and Bible study,” said John Mark Hicks, a Restoration scholar and theology professor at Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tenn.
“Revivalism in the late 19th century and the rise of better lighting encouraged Sunday evening gatherings for evangelistic preaching, and then shift work during WWI and WWII encouraged Sunday evening offerings for those who missed, including the Lord’s Supper,” Hicks added. “This became standard in the 1940s.”
In wider Christian circles, Sunday evening services also have a long history, but they are disappearing, evangelical trends guru Thom S. Rainer suggested in a recent blog post.
This column appears in the July 2014 print edition of The Christian Chronicle.