Wednesday evening prayer meetings were a staple in many Protestant congregations during the first half of the twentieth century, but the origins of Wednesday evening services are unclear. Some trace the beginnings of the Wednesday night service to the practice of slaves in the U.S. who met together for encouragement and prayer. Some mention the influence of D. L. Moody, who held noon prayer meetings during the weeks of a revival. Other historians point out the connection between increased leisure time and the addition of a midweek service. With the advance of modern conveniences, people had their evenings free, and Christians wanted to use that time for fellowship.
Wednesday night services started out as a simple prayer meeting but gradually morphed into a church service similar to that of Sunday mornings, sometimes including a sermon, music, and an offering. Wednesday night services are a way to get “refueled” between Sunday services and, being less well-attended, usually provide a more intimate atmosphere than Sunday morning worship. Personal prayer requests can be shared, Bible study can be pursued in depth, and individual questions can be addressed freely. For many, the Wednesday night service is a necessary part of staying spiritually on track.
Today, Wednesday night services are becoming extinct along with the traditional Sunday evening service. Lack of commitment and extreme busyness are considered the culprits that have all but ended Wednesday night services for most congregations. On the other hand, many churches have exchanged traditional Sunday school for small groups that meet in homes throughout the week. These small groups function in much the same way as the Wednesday evening services but on a smaller scale and incorporating more individual involvement. So, even though the formal Wednesday night church services are no longer common, they have been replaced and updated rather than eradicated.
Charles Spurgeon identified three reasons for a church to have a regular prayer meeting: 1) it unifies and encourages God’s people; 2) it generates devotion to God; and 3) it brings God’s promised blessing (Matthew 18:19–20). In a sermon preached August 30, 1868, Spurgeon spoke of the value of prayer meetings in general: “The prayer-meeting is an institution which ought to be very precious to us, and to be cherished by us as a Church, for to it we owe everything. . . . It is in the spirit of prayer that our strength lies; and if we lose this, the hair will be cut off from Samson’s head, and God’s Holy Church will become weak as water and though we, as Samson did, go and try to shake ourselves as at other times, we shall hear the cry, ‘The Philistines are upon you,’ and our eyes will be put out, and our glory will depart, unless we continue mightily and earnestly in prayer.”
Although there is no scriptural mandate for the Wednesday night prayer meeting, its demise could be a reflection on the spiritual temperature of this generation. When the church began, believers met together daily to pray, worship, and study Scripture (Acts 2:46). Today, most believers barely meet once a week. It could be that, as persecution increases and nominal Christianity falls out of favor, the true church will once again see the need for more frequent meetings in order to remain strong in the face of opposition.