I’ve written about how following COVID the church needs to think in terms of re gathering and re-planting. There are people who were on the fringes of church life who are currently not returning. As well as this, the pandemic also seems to have hastened a move towards less frequent Sunday attendance. In the past we would have considered regular attendance to be at least once every Sunday. Increasingly it means “once every 2 or 3 weeks” or even “once a month.” Not only that but I hear from a number of people that there are significant numbers who would have attended twice on a Sunday who will not only come once.
Like other things that we are seeing, this is not a new trend brought about by the pandemic but lockdowns may have exacerbated it. So recently I’ve been involved in some conversations about the decline of the traditional Sunday evening service, whether that’s a good thing and what we should do about it if anything.
Well, first of all, here are a few thoughts on why Sunday evening attendance may have been in decline even with churches that have sustained or even increased Sunday morning attendance.
- Much of what I wrote here about regular attendance in general applies to the specifics of Sunday evening.
- Increasingly Christians do not see the whole of Sunday as set apart. There has been a decline in Sabbatarian traditions.
- People feel increasingly less safe about going out later in the evening, especially during the darker winter months.
An additional factor to consider is that the pattern of how we gather has changed. Consider these two scenarios.
- The whole family attends a Sunday morning service. The service lasts for 1 hour. Afterwards they return home.
- Some family members attend a Sunday evening service. Again, the service lasts for 1 hour and then they return home.
- Some family members attend a midweek prayer meeting/Bible study which again lasts for about 1 hour.
Notice that a few family members but not all will attend for about 3 hours and are primarily passive. Other family members may only be present for an hour maximum.
These are changes that have been taking place throughout my life time.
- The whole family attends a Sunday morning gathering. The structured part of this lasts for 90 minutes with singing, congregational participation and teaching. Refreshments are served afterwards and everyone stays to talk for up to an hour or more. Occasionally there is either meal afterwards or Breakfast before hand.
- In the week, there are community groups. These are often organised so that parents with children have others coming to their house for prayer, fellowship, Bible study and food. Another 90 minutes – 2 hours is spent in the company of believers.
In the second scenario everyone sis spending at least 3 hours gathered with other believers.
Now, I’m not saying that having two services is a bad thing and that the decline of the evening service is good. Personally, I grew up attending morning and evening. I believe there to be benefits to having a second service. However, I don’t think see anything prescriptive in Scripture about this and I’m not convinced that all the reasons for decline are negative. Some may be but others may simply be about changing habits and timings.
The crucial thing is not how many times someone gets to the church building in a week but whether they are truly gathering as part of God’s people and whether that gathering is useful and beneficial.
 At this stage I’m not making a judgement on whether or not we should think of Sunday as a Christian Sabbath I’m just observing that fewer people do.