Just a couple of decades ago, the more popular question would probably have been “Why have some churches stopped having a Sunday night service?” In the last 20–30 years, things have changed, and the trend seems to be that more and more churches are no longer having Sunday night services. The churches that still have a Sunday evening service do so to provide even more opportunity for corporate worship, singing, and Bible teaching than can be offered with a morning-only service.
In the New Testament, the disciples seemed to hold Sunday in special regard because it was “the Lord’s Day,” that is, the day the Lord rose from the dead. Beyond this, we do not see any pattern as to whether their meetings always took place in the morning, afternoon, or evening. And, certainly, the believers met together more often than on Sunday only. Acts 2:46 says that they met together daily, at least early on. There is no command in Scripture as to the times or number of Sunday services or meetings.
The Sunday night service has long been a tradition in Christianity, with different churches treating it differently. Eusebius, writing in the third and fourth centuries, seems to indicate that meeting on Sunday night was common practice. Even in the modern era, churches usually had Sunday night services (called Vespers in many churches). In the days before television, the evening service was another activity to attend, and in some sense it held some entertainment value in that there was singing, visiting with friends, and hearing an interesting sermon.
Many (if not most) churches have gradually dropped the Sunday night service for a variety of reasons. As more and more entertainment options have become available, and as Western culture has become busier, attendance at most Sunday night services has waned. (On the other hand, more and more Christian resources have become readily available. One hundred years ago, the average Christian might have the opportunity to hear only two sermons per week. Now with Christian radio, podcasts, etc., the average Christian may listen to a dozen sermons if he or she chooses.) For many churches, the lack of interest in a Sunday evening service has signaled that it is time to focus their efforts elsewhere. For churches in rented facilities, the Sunday night service may be cost or labor prohibitive. Some churches emphasize that Sunday night should be family time or perhaps outreach time spent with friends and neighbors. Many churches have adopted a decentralized approach, seeking to “take the church into the world” so activities like service projects, small-group meetings in homes, and even backyard barbeques and watching football are seen as a replacement for the Sunday night service. Some churches may have youth group meetings, children’s programming, or other meetings at the church without a formal service. A few churches with multiple services have a Sunday night service that is simply a repeat of the Sunday morning service for those who cannot attend on Sunday morning.
There are a number of churches that continue to have a Sunday night service. Some continue because there is a portion of the congregation who are accustomed to a Sunday evening service and want it to continue. Most churches that continue this practice also put an emphasis on Sunday as being “the Lord’s Day”—not a Sabbath, per se, but a day that should be set aside for worship. What better way to do this then to bookend the day with worship services?
It is a good thing to provide Christians with more exposure to biblical preaching and corporate worship each week, but, in the final analysis, there is no biblical mandate for the times or number of services that a church must offer. Whether or not a church conducts a Sunday evening service has no bearing on how biblical that church is. Each church must decide what services and programs to offer and when they will be offered in order to make the maximum impact on the congregation and the community. Every believer should be involved in a local church, and, if that church has a Sunday night service, we would encourage all members to attend it faithfully so that they can be fully engaged in the life of that church.